Each year it is our privilege to bring you the thoughts and goals of the incoming president of the Golf Course Superintendents. It gives you, dear reader, a chance right out of the gate, to jump on board all the latest projects while also getting a recap of the last year’s successes, challenges, and changes.
Last month Kevin Breen was elected the new president of the GCSAA to serve the traditional one-year term. Breen served as vice president of the association in 2021 and has been a member of the association’s board of directors since 2015. The new president hails from California’s La Rinconada Country Club, where he has been Head Superintendent since 2011. Previously, he served as Director of Maintenance at Lahontan Golf Club in Truckee, California, and as the golf superintendent at Los Alamos (New Mexico) Golf Course. A 31-year member of GCSAA, Breen is also a past president of both the Sierra Nevada GCSA and the California GCSA.
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?
KB: Coronavirus has obviously disrupted our lives and what we consider “normal.” In broadest terms, it changed our lives, and it also changed the golf industry, but it also provides opportunities to advance our game and our industry.
The most important lesson that we’ve learned from Coronavirus is that although social media provides a great way to connect, it will not replace the human desire that we have to get together face to face.
GCT: You’re obviously referring to the great gains golf made in the number of people taking up the game, sticking with it, and the commensurate increase in rounds played. We had a great year in 2020? For both golf and the GCSAA was 2021 just as strong?
KB: Yes, we’ve continued to see record rounds of golf played and good revenue for facilities.
GCT: Some other things that came out of the pandemic were the various rules regarding carts and social distancing and the like. What rules have been rolled back?
KB: Overall, it’s been a difficult few years for golf course superintendents with new rules and the amount of play, the pressure that is put on our courses, and keeping everyone in the workplace safe and healthy. Now we have supply chain issues, and I think the supers have handled it admirably, and we are all looking forward to moving on.
As we do, there are a number of positive outcomes. First and foremost is a reemphasis on how important golf is to the club. You might not have had food and beverage but you could still play, and most facilities were still profitable.
GCT: And when it comes to public golf courses how important they were to their communities.
KB: Yes, a place for people to gather that didn’t exist anywhere else.
GCT: Golf was indeed at the vanguard of the comeback, both at the grassroots and with their advocacy efforts to keep the course open during the pandemic’s height. Do you have a number on what percentage of facilities were profitable during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, both private and public?
KB: National Golf Foundation keeps the exact numbers, but when I travel around to clubs and talk to people they tell me they have waitlists and are doing well. And at public courses the tee sheets are full. And yes, GCSAA advocacy – our own and in concert with others – was particularly effective, even instrumental in keeping golf open. Right as it became apparent there was going to be a shutdown, GCSAA advocates contacted state governors to clarify and ensure that emergency health orders allowed our supers to access their facilities to continue to perform basic maintenance operations. And we – in conjunction with our allied partners – developed a Back2Golf Guide that contained in one place all the safety guidelines. After that, we conducted a letter-writing campaign to governors and state health officials educating them on the unique nature of golf courses that have Covid protections backed right in, naturally keeping the players and guests safe.
GCT: So what new projects or initiatives are you starting and what old ones are you continuing?
KB: One of the biggest changes coming is the re-evaluation of the conference and trade show so that it meets the needs of both attendees and vendors.
GCT: Last year it was a mix of both live and in-person participation?
KB: Yes, and going forward how we learn, communicate, and congregate has changed because of the pandemic. So going forward we are looking at how to evolve the conference and trade show to meet these new paradigms.
GCT: Tell us about how some of the older projects are advancing. I remember best practice management was at the top of the priority list. You had wanted all 50 states to have bmps by 2020 and accomplished that goal. The next step was to have all of your courses and maintenance facilities adopt the state bmps within the next 2-3 years. How is that coming?
KB: Last year we got the states done, and going forward now we want individual facility adaptation. That’s one of the top goals for the coming year. It has started well; facility adaptation is gathering momentum as golf course superintendents find the state bmps easy to adopt.
GCT: Have you got an update on the First Green Program?
[Author’s Note: That’s the one that brings middle school kids to the golf course to study STEM curriculum in the arena of golf course maintenance, with an eye on getting them interested in careers in the industry.]
KB: We got off to a great start, but then the pandemic hit and we couldn’t bring the school kids in for a time. But now we are ready to start again, and I expect it will be a great success. It brings students, parents, and teachers together and hopefully kindles in them not only a love of the game but of the science behind the game. Perhaps some students may become industry professionals and find a career.
GCT: How did you get started in golf and studying turfgrass sciences?
KB: I was introduced to golf at a very young age by my father who was an avid golfer; I had my first golf clubs before I could walk. I didn’t enjoy playing a lot until I got into the industry which I happened upon more or less by accident.
GCT: Tell us about the happy accident.
KB: I have a degree in meteorology from the University of Nebraska (circa 1986). After college, I went to Colorado with my girlfriend at the time. I thought I’d go into meteorology but I ended up at a ski area.
GCT: Which one?
KB: Keystone. I enjoyed working for the resort and skiing in winter, but in the summertime, I needed a job so I went to Keystone Ranch Golf Course and applied for a maintenance position on the crew, and the rest, as they say, is history. I went on to Colorado State for their turfgrass program and obtained a second degree in horticulture.
When not reporting live from major sports championships or researching golf courses for design, value, and excitement, multiple award-winning sportswriter Jay Flemma is an entertainment, Internet, trademark, and banking lawyer from New York. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Twitter @JayGolfUSA