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Golf Course Trades Interview with New GCSAA President Mark Jordan

GCSAA President Mark Jordan

Golf undoubtedly helped lead America’s spiritual recovery from Coronavirus. With Covid protections baked into the sport naturally, people flocked to the links in numbers never seen before, newcomers and lifers alike. Happily, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America was at the forefront of spearheading golf’s fight against Covid. By teaming up with other members of the golf and resort industries they successfully lobbied for course openings and for uniformity, reasonableness, and effectiveness of sanitary guidelines. The GCSAA became a one-stop-shop for all Covid-related information and support.

One year later a new president has ascended, Mark Jordan of Westfield Westfield Country Club in Westfield Center, Ohio. We caught up with the president for a discussion of where the GCSAA goes from here – both in terms of dealing with the pandemic and other strategic initiatives.

GCT: Is dealing with Coronavirus still the number one priority for GCSAA or have the procedures and initiatives you implemented last year worked so well across the country that you can turn to other projects?

MJ: The policies and systems we set up – such as the website clearinghouse for information and CDC guidelines – are still in use and are helpful. We now have the chance to move forward with some other initiatives and programs, including some that we held in abeyance in 2020 due to Covid.

As for new projects, best practice management is at the top of the priority list. We wanted all 50 states to have bmps by 2020, and we accomplished that goal. So the next step is to have all of our courses and maintenance facilities adopt the state bmps. So our short-term goal – within the next 2-3 years – is to have complete facility adaptation of these bmps.

GCT: So each course complies with their home state’s rules?

MJ: Yes, and all the state environmental regulations that will be embedded in the state bmps. There are some customizing nuances that may or may not apply to your facility, and if you’re not doing any renovations or construction you would not need to adhere to the bmps obviously.

Bmps help streamline practices so that when we advocate for the industry either state or national level we all have these templates to point to as to how we manage our golf courses.

GCT: Did those help when GCSAA was working with other members of the golf industry last spring when they worked to get courses open around the country?

MJ: Yes, but what was most useful to us from an advocacy standpoint, was those relationships GCSAA and the rest of the golf industry had developed with politicians and agencies. We came together as an industry on a national level.

So when Covid hit, we utilized our Government Affairs Division to help throughout the country. They helped research law and interpret regulations for local chapters.

GCT: Talk to us about the programs that were implemented last year regarding Covid. What worked well and will continue into this year?

MJ: We had a specific page on our website that identified the industry’s best management practices for everything: all the CDC regs for sanitizing, for example. And when it came to golf course issues specifically – like what to do with the flagstick or carts or rakes for bunkers – we had all the latest information on those issues as well. And now it’s become a matter of updating the site as events happen around the country. We developed that program with the Golf Course Owners Association of America, PGA of America, and the rest of the We Are Golf Coalition.

GCT: I saw figures that said as much as 18%

MJ: I saw 15, but it well could be 15-18% in places, and that’s the bright side of Covid. It introduced new golfers to the game. And with everything else closed or restricted, golf was the biggest avenue to get people outside. And the mental aspect of getting out – health and wellness – was a bonus.

GCT: What new initiatives are you starting that are not Coronavirus related?

MJ: Now that we’ve seen an increase in rounds and a rise in interest from the general public, we want to keep that level in the interest in the game and carry that momentum forward. But there is a little bit of having to watch how things play out and adapt.

Then there is the First Green program, which brings middle school kids to the golf course to study STEM curriculum in the arena of golf course maintenance. And by starting them young, we may inspire some of them into careers in golf, and in particular golf course management.

GCT: That’s Jeff Shelley’s program isn’t? The old cybergolf.com editor-in-chief that I used to write for?

MJ: That’s right, he’s done a wonderful job and it’s a great program.

We also want to bring back the live version of the golf industry show. We are currently evaluating the benefits of having it both virtually and live. That’s a big objective doing both, but we can make the most members happy and able to participate by doing both. A good middle ground so to speak.

GCT: The Goldilocks Zone?

MJ: Yes, as a manner of speaking.

GCT: How did you get started in golf and studying turfgrass sciences?

MJ: I grew up in a really rural area of Ohio called Nova, about 70 miles southwest of Cleveland. The only things we could do in the summer were bale hay or work at the local mom-and-pop golf course, Rolling Acres.

GCT: Rolling Acres? Sounds like a TV show… (Laughter)

MJ: It was just like that! Golf’s Green Acres! It was a mom-and-pop place where you were a jack of all trades. I started out looking for lost golf balls and selling then them to the players on the course. I was a kid, I needed pocket money. But the owner didn’t like me cutting in on his business selling golf balls. He caught me one day, but we got to talking and he said he trades me free golf for washing carts. I said “YEAH!” After all, the only reason why I sold golf balls was to pay for my greens fees. So it was a win-win for both of us!

GCT: So after cart washing what came next?

MJ: I moved up to working in the clubhouse, which was actually an old converted farmhouse that also had the club’s restaurant. And so I’d work the pro shop in the morning, wash the carts in the afternoon, and then cut the greens the next morning.

GCT: …And then go play 18, right?!

MJ: Of course. And it was working at the course – and in particular on the course – that gave me the most satisfaction. Maintaining the pristine conditioning of the golf course for the golfers, which included me, was something I could be proud of. And I loved it so much, I went to Ohio State-Wooster and got a degree in turfgrass management.

GCT: And then it was on to Columbus?

MJ: Yes. After Wooster, I went on to Ohio State in Columbus and got my 4-year degree in agronomy and turfgrass science. Right now I’m at Westfield Golf Club, where I’ve been for 32 years s, 33 years in November.

GCT: Why do presidents only serve one year terms? Why are there so few repeat presidents?

MJ: You’re right in noticing that – there may only be two or three presidents that served more than one term, and those were quite early in the GCSAA’s development. That was to create continuity of our vision as an organization. But we wrote into our by-laws at some point that presidents serve one-year terms. The reason why is the size of the job.
When you look at the responsibility for that year, it’s large. Besides all the duties of running a national organization, we also still work our jobs at our respective clubs, and so the balance of time is tough to sustain. I don’t know if it could be done serving a multi-year term. It’s also a huge help having a strong leadership team like Rhett Evans our CEO – his primary job is to build a team at our Lawrence HQ to carry out the vision and strategies of the organization. Rhett and the whole team did a phenomenal job at keeping the GCSAA at the forefront of the golf industry’s response to Covid, a huge job that the whole team handles admirably right to this day.

Jay Flemma is an entertainment, Internet, trademark, and banking lawyer from NY. Twitter @JayGolfUSA

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