President’s Message June/July 2018 – What is Professionalism?

By Peter Sorokovsky

I have often wondered about this and to me, it seems professionalism can come in many forms.  Many of these points may seem contentious but hopefully open dialogue and discussion will help make us think more before making decisions.  By no means is this an exhaustive list and while you don’t have to agree with me, I do want us as an industry to grow, so here goes...

Professionalism is not about the clothes we wear at a meeting or tradeshow, however, it is about treating our staff with respect and honesty and realizing that our staff are the ones who make us look good.  Professionalism knows when to reprimand staff but never forgets to give praise when praise is due and evaluates staff regularly to help them grow, even if it’s to move toward another career path.  

Professionalism is not about how big your budget is but is about how wisely that budget is used, especially when it comes to rewarding staff for their efforts.  A carefully managed budget will often have available funds for raises to those who deserve it and how will you know they are deserving if they are not evaluated regularly.

I may get in trouble here and am fully prepared for that, but professionalism is not saying one thing, “We are stewards of our environment,” and then turning around and spraying fungicides every three weeks whether we need to or not.  

Diseases occur because we have created a better environment for the disease than the turf.  Professionalism knows what the research says about each different disease and when possible, uses the non-pesticide option to deal with it before the disease becomes a problem.  

Professionalism knows that without good scientific research, growing good turf is more guesswork than informed decision making.  Yes, growing good turf can occur without scientific research, it just takes more experience and learning from mistakes hence the learning curve is longer.  Why take that chance?

Professionalism is not cutting greens at 0.085” because you can and “brag” about it. Professionalism is cutting greens at the highest height possible and still maintaining putting speeds at acceptable levels for your clientele.  It is far more impressive to cut greens at 0.140” and, via cultural practices, have putting speeds of 11. 

The research says that for every 0.025”, the photosynthetic potential of the turf increases by 40%, so that turf grown at 0.140” has well over double the growth potential of the shorter turf.  Which do you think has the better ability to fight off stress when it comes (rhetorical question)? Which do you think need more pesticides and water to keep it alive (another rhetorical question)?

Professionalism is not relying on consultants to tell you what your programs should be. However, professionalism knows when to use said tool in said tool box. 

Professionalism knows how to read soil and tissue results and come up with a program to balance soils and improve turf growth.  Professionalism knows that soil and tissue tests must be taken regularly because without good information, good informed decisions on any program do not occur.  Conversely, no person has all the knowledge and can make every decision independent of a good team.  Sometimes professionalism knows when to let someone else make the right decision.

Professionalism is not about how good a deal you can get from your supplier but rather how quickly you pay for supplies.  I may really get in trouble for this one but how many of us actually buy our suppliers a coffee?  

Professionalism asks, “What can I do for my industry?” rather than, “What can I get out of my industry?”  I believe our industry is at a tipping point and without professionalism, will tip the wrong way.  Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel because of discussions such as the ones that occurred at the latest WCTA conference.  A diverse group of people from all sectors of the industry getting together to discuss a wide variety of topics gives me hope. 

Now I may really, really get in trouble, but something that does not give me hope is the depleting funding for turf research.  Looking at this as a snapshot of the industry, I see a fundamental lack of understanding and attention to what has got golf and sportsturf management to where it is today. 

We are all standing on the shoulders of turf research - period.  Without research of the USGA style green back in 1960, we would be core aerating a minimum of 4 times a year to reduce soil compaction on putting greens.  Without research we would not have disease resistant stands of turfgrass.  Without research we would not know how to….. fill in your favourite topic and we would not have the great turfgrass on our great golf courses and sportsfields we do now. 

If you’re still reading, thank-you.  The question I’m hoping you will think about is, “How do we make the connection between research and professionalism to the business of turf management?”

I believe this question needs to be asked because without good grass we would still be putting on oilsand greens and walking thru weed infested fairways, losing more golf balls.  We would not have 200 plus rounds of play a day, we would not be teaching lessons, we would not be selling fertilizer, we would not be…. fill in industry. 

Decision-makers and end users of our facilities often take that little turfgrass plant for granted and think it will always be there to support the sports we all love.  But if your business model relies on something so heavily, does it not make sense to invest in its improvement and sustainability?

Maybe you answer no to that question or perhaps feel suppliers can do the research.  But suppliers don’t write turf management textbooks.  In addition, outside influences are affecting us more than ever, like water and pesticide restrictions, and there’s simply too much at stake to rely on someone else to do our research work for us.