Reddekopp Making a Move
TLN Interview with Darren Reddekopp, Greywolf Golf Course, November 2012
TLN: First off, congratulations on your new position as Superintendent at the Bearspaw Country Club in Calgary. It will certainly be a big change with some very different surroundings. What’s going through your head right now in regards to the new job?
DR: Thanks. Change is good and is one of the reasons I took the job.
The first thing I am thinking about is getting Greywolf ready for winter. The owners and staff at Greywolf and Panorama (Pano) have been great to work with and I want to insure that the course is ready for winter. Like every Superintendent I am thinking about getting fungicides sprayed, installing our tarps and doing all the last minute things before the snow flies.
In terms of the new job I am thinking about transition and moving. Luckily all of my family and many friends are in the area. That makes moving and finding accommodations easier – yes, I will be couch surfing for awhile. Finally, I am thinking about the new course, getting to know the staff, looking at the agronomy programs, and getting ready to tackle the projects that getting underway.
TLN: We’ve known each other for awhile and you always seem to be very thoughtful and relaxed not to mention well-spoken and a very good listener. Is this something you’ve had to develop or does it come fairly naturally?
DR: Thanks. Sorry what were you saying. I wasn't listening! Ha ha. There are those who say I talk too, do not listen enough, and talk about one topic – golf course maintenance.
To answer the question, I think it is a little of both. I also know when you love what you do and you are passionate about it makes talking about the job easier.
TLN: What other qualities do you think a successful superintendent needs?
As I previously mentioned, passion for the job is vital. That makes the long days easier. Also adaptability. I often call the staff I work with the Turf Marines. Superintendents and their staff have to adapt, improvise, and overcome challenges daily. We may be short two staff members, down a mower, short on budget, and a storm is rolling in, but all of us get the job done. Good all around management is key. We have to be able to grow good turf, but also manage a budget, work with and train staff, and communicate what we are doing to member, guests, and other staff.
TLN: You said, “I love living in my cave on top of a mountain” and that you will miss Greywolf and the surroundings. How difficult was the decision to make a move? Was this move part of a career plan? Were you thinking about getting back to Alberta? What do you think might come next?
DR: The decision to leave was very difficult. I love the challenge that Greywolf presents and the location. The site does kick you in the pants (and often times other places!) once in a while but that’s what makes it interesting. I will miss the tight knit staff at Panorama (Pano), the small town feeling, and my colleagues in the Kootenay Chapter. So, yes it was difficult.
In terms of a career plan there is no hard and fast plan. I just want to be at a site that is seeking to improve and is challenging me constantly. Bearspaw is another challenge. Working at a private club and in a tight labour market should be interesting. But the big reason for moving was family and friends who are in the Calgary region. I am looking forward to being more involved the family. What is next? Who knows where the metaphorical golf ball of life ends up? For me it is usually rough, bunker, rough, bunker, maybe fairway and a three jack. Down the road I have thought about teaching but that is a distant plan. For now it is turf management for the foreseeable future.
TLN: Not to sound jealous or anything but you’ve pretty much got every job you applied for. How do you prepare for a job interview and what’s your secret to success?
DR: Not sure about that. I have been turned down by many potential employers and not even made it out of the resume stage on many jobs. There is a lot of great candidates out there. It is an employers’ market.
I think the one thing that has helped me is that generally I have been happy where I was employed. Therefore, if I did not get the job I was happy to stay where I was. I think it makes the interview a little looser and perhaps advantageous for myself. I also have a portfolio that I use to highlight my work history and expand on the resume. It allows me to point to pictures, projects and samples of work that provide another source of reference for potential employers. I have also been using Twitter and blogging to promote myself and the facility I am at. It is a competitive job market now days. I think anything you can do to promote yourself in a different way and highlight the things you can do for a potential employer is key.
TLN: Greywolf is an excellent golf course in an amazing location but has a very unique set of challenges in terms of turf management. What was some of the lessons you learned? Do you wish you had a Mulligan for anything? Any advice for the new guy?
DR: Summer is easy. Surviving the winter is the challenge and the key for Greywolf. No matter what type of grass you have bent or poa it has to survive the winter. Ice prevention is critical. Also do not hesitate to sod. Damage will not recover at Greywolf and the guests expect good turf. I know this contradicts what I just said but only sod if you have to. Sod is going to take two years to root at Greywolf. Sodding does not make up for poor growing conditions it is a band aid in those situations.
If I could have a Mulligan I would like the third week in April 2009 back. That week we decided to sod seven greens instead of twelve. In the spring of 2009 we had massive ice damage and frost heaving. We resodded seven greens in early May but should have sodded twelve in total. About 25% of our heads stripped off the street elbows at the top of the swing joints due to frost heaving. We stopped counting irrigation breaks when we hit 90. I estimate we had about 130 breaks. The Irrigation Foreman needed therapy that spring. Drainlines in bunkers and greens heaved as well. I had never seen anything like it before. The mistake I made was I trying to patch, overseed, and grow back marginal turf in an attempt to limit expense. I was attempting to save the owners’ money as well as my own reputation by not admitting the seriousness of the problem. The first step of recovery was admitting you have a problem. I needed a turf intervention.
What I should have done was told my Director of Golf and the owners we needed to sod twelve greens and not seven. I nearly lost my job in June, but my Director of Golf stuck with me. His loyalty is something I have not forgotten. From 2009 whenever we had marginal turf in the spring, I would just say resod. I then started to investigate ways to prevent ice. That was the hardest year in my career and the year that I learned the most.
As for advice for the new guy, surviving winter is the key and every few winters you are going to have a rough one. Have thick skin and hope Mother Nature helps you out in the spring. Be realistic about where you are with the turf and recovery. My hope is that the next Superintendent does not have to do a massive resod in the spring. All three of your predecessors experienced calling the sod farms. Also good luck. It is a great job and a unique site. You will work with great people that make the job easier.
TLN: You’ve really stepped up your commitment to the industry over the last several years as the BCGSA Kootenay Chapter President and have taken a leadership role with the pesticide issue. Was getting more involved something you always felt you would do at a certain point in your career, is it something that came out of necessity or is there another reason you’ve given so much back to the golf business?
DR: It was my time. We have a small membership in the Kootenys’ and everyone has to step up. The industry has been good to me so I wanted to give a little back. It has been a great experience and I will get involved with AGSA and WCTA down the road when I settle in at Bearspaw. I would recommend the experience to everyone and anyone.
TLN: What do think of the current ‘state of the nation’ of the golf business and how do you think it can be improved?
In our area the state of the nation is not great. There was a small imporvoment this summer but things are still slow. There are too many golf courses and not enough golfers. We are all familiar with reasons. Golf courses and the industry are talking about ways to improve, streamline, cut costs, and get golfers new and old, back to the courses. I support all those initiatives, but I also think we have to look at supply. I hate to say it but courses need to close. I do not want anyone to be out of work and which course should close I’m not sure. I guess the invisible hand of the market make that determination. (Yep I just quoted Adam Smith – Nerd Alert – I paid attention in social studies and I need to get out more!)
TLN: What’s your overall goal for turf quality at your golf course?
DR: “Alive” is always good for us at Greywolf. That is the main goal. Anything after that is a bonus! Consistency is critical. Programs that benefit the turf in the long term is another goal. But we are in a guest satisfaction business and have to consider their wants. At Greywolf scenery often compensates for conditioning. A snow covered mountain peak staring you in the face in July allows the greens can run a little slower.
TLN: On the issue of pesticide use, what’s your personal philosophy when it comes to IPM? I think most people would be surprised how much disease we tolerate in the spring at Greywolf. If we come out of winter with little disease and the turf is healthy after snow melt, it can fight off or sustain a lot of spring damage from fusarium. We know it will grow out. We tolerate disease in the spring. That philosophy changes in the fall. Our first fungicide application is in late August because we want to go into winter clean. Winter is long and I do not want to give disease a chance to get out of control.
DR: In terms of herbicides we use very little in the summer. We have thistle in the unmaintained areas that the next superintendent will have to deal, with but I tolerate quite a few dandelions and clover in our primary rough. It is a temporary problem that goes away and has not reached a critical threshold yet.
TLN: As a business model, do you think a fully organically maintained golf course is viable?
DR: Perhaps in some regions but not at Greywolf or the surrounding courses. As I mentioned surviving winter is the key and without access to different fungicides that help us survive 140 to 150 days of snow cover, Greywolf would have to close. Those were some of the talking points to B.C. politicians. We need to survive the winter and compete with courses in Alberta and the U.S.
Organic fertilizers do not work at Greywolf. We went nearly two years without a day over 30 Celsius. I have been at Greywolf for six years and in those six years we have had one calendar month without a frost delay (July of 2012). So organic fertilizers do not work because we lack soil temperatures most of the year. So no, in our area and for most of Canada a fully organic golf course is not possible without changing the expectations of golfers.
TLN: What, if any, changing role(s) should superintendents expect in their jobs over the next 5-10 years?
DR: Being a solid manager is key. Turf management is critical but only one facet to our business. We need to be able to manage a budget, attract and retain staff, communicate what we as superintendents are doing, as well as market our departments and to some degree ourselves. The condition of our facilities is our best marketing tool, but we also have to be able to communicate what we are doing and how we are doing it to our stakeholders. Turf management does not exist in a silo.
TLN: How do you think golf course superintendents can better market themselves?
DR: I think there are many things that we as Superintendents can do - contribute to the newsletter; communicate to men’s, ladies, and junior clubs, attend their start up events. This is standard stuff. I have also become a big fan of social media like Twitter, blogging, and Facebook. These tools allow Superintendents to instantly communicate and use pictures and video to create a brand. That brand is the Superintendent. It allows us to instantly show that we are dealing with issues and thinking about the long term. It can show we are actively dealing with issues and problems. We may only reach 10% of our membership with social media. If you reach 10% they are going to tell 50% of the membership. If you are contributing to the newsletter you are just blogging old school, so why not take it online?
TLN: Ok, we were getting pretty serious there. To lighten things up, what do you think of the hockey strike?
DR: See you next year. It will go on until either the players and/or owners start to hurt for cash and that is why it will be a long time before it is solved. I believe the best thing we can do for hockey in Canada is ignore the NHL when the strike is resolved. A tough task and do not know if I can do it? We, as fans control the money and therefore the game. We just keep putting up with the owners and players treating us poorly. As hockey fans, we flock back when the strikes are resolved. We are a sure thing. If the buildings were empty, ratings were down, and revenues declined, for a long period of time the NHL and the players would avoid strikes. It’s kind of like the Leaf’s. No need to improve because they sell out every game and make the most money in the league. Why improve? Leaf fans seem to be happy with what they put on the ice every year? Send me your letters Leaf fans!
TLN: You’re kind of becoming a social media guru and have an excellent blog about Greywolf Turf Management. I would assume you will keep at it at Bearspaw but what would you say to other superintendents about the pros and cons of using social media, i.e. Twitter and the internet to talk turf?
DR: How about I muck around, definitely not a guru. I am going to use these tools at Bearspaw and I would recommend other Superintendents use them. Again, I think it is a way to instantly talk to members through words, pictures, and video. It creates a brand for yourself and your department. A disadvantage is it takes time and adds another task to an already busy “to- do” list. Try and post regularly (something I have been guilty of not completing recently at Greywolf). If you would not post it in the club newsletter do not post it online. Watch what you put on Twitter. Use pictures whenever possible. I get more hits on Twitter from pictures than anything I write. Do not complain about members or guests. It is a public forum. Use it to teach rather than complain. Do not be afraid to talk about problems. It shows you are aware of the issue and dealing with them. Also use social media to promote your staff and your staff activities. I have had staff that investigated our Facebook page and blog and commented they want to join our team because it looks like we have fun. On their first day first day I send them out to dig a hole – sorry about that! Think that is called bait and switch in marketing!
TLN: One last question and please be upfront as possible. What things should the WCTA and other associations need to do better for their respective members and the industry as whole?
DR: I have been a proponent of the WCTA and BCGSA joining forces and combining into one association for years. I believe there is strength in numbers. Combining the two associations will reduce duplication of administrative costs and recordkeeping, as well as reduce the costs for industry and how often we approach industry for sponsorship. I believe combining the two associations would make for one strong association.
Finally I just want to say thanks to the team at Greywolf, Panorama as well as all my colleagues in the WCTA and BCGSA. It has been great and I look forward to staying in contact with everyone as well as seeing everyone at conferences and events.