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Tennessee Turfgrass Association Member Spotlight on Shelia Finney

Former Job Title: Golf Course Superintendent

Location: Gaylord Springs Golf Links, Nashville, TN

Number of years in this position: 25

Where did you attend college? Austin Peay State University

What was your major? Drama and Speech Communication

How long have you been a member of the Tennessee Turfgrass Association (TTA)? Since 1987

What positions have you held with TTA?
Board member – 2006, 2007 and 2008
Education Committee- 2006 and 2007
Awards & Scholarship Committee – 2006 and 2007
Marketing Committee -2007 (chair), 2008 and 2009
Conference & Tradeshow – 2010 and 2011
IT Director/Webmaster – since 2008

What year did you get started in the turfgrass industry? 1985

Why did you choose a career in the turfgrass industry?
I fell into it by accident and fell in love with it. I had been working at a nursery on Franklin Road, and the owner suggested that I apply for a job at a golf course as a landscaper. I went to four different golf courses in the space of a couple of hours. The last one was Richland Country Club, where Jim Kirkley was the superintendent. When I walked into his office, he said, “You’re that girl looking for the landscape job. I’ll pay you $3.35 an hour, and all the water you can drink.” He hired me on the spot. He believed that a woman could do everything a man could do. I had never even run a weed eater, and he had me on tractors with a pull-behind mowing unit within a week. He pushed very hard for me to learn as much as possible.

What did you do before your position at Gaylord Springs G.C., and how long were you there? I was at Richland Country Club from 1985 to 1990. I started off as a greens keeper and was promoted to landscape manager.

What did you enjoy most about your job at Gaylord Springs G.C.? That it was different every day! You could be outside on the course one minute, and the next minute inside handling budgets and paperwork. I loved that it was part science and part computer work, and I loved the nuances of preparing a golf course for the game of golf. Then, there was also the human-resources aspect of managing a crew. Watching people grow in their positions and learn new skills is a joy. Being an environmental steward on the piece of property you are responsible for is an added perk.

Who have been your mentors in the industry? Everyone that that I come in contact with! There is always something to learn from everyone. Being in the turf industry is like being a part of a big family. We are always there for each other.

Have you won any job-related awards? If so, what?
I won TTA Professional of the Year in 2008, and I won several awards at Gaylord (Employee of the Month sort of thing).

What have been your contributions to the industry (brag a little!)? As a golf course superintendent, I’ve been on the board for the Middle TN Golf Course Superintendents Association for more than 20 years. At GCSAA at a national level, I’ve served on several committees, including the Environmental Programs Committee, and on the Board Policy Oversight Task Group, and I am currently on the Government Relations Committee. I serve as the voting chapter delegate for TNGCSA to GCSAA, which is a position I’ve held for several years. I’m also the TN chapter liaison for GCSAA.

I purely love helping any member who needs help with anything. I enjoy being an advocate to the turfgrass industry. As turfgrass professionals, we are all land stewards and are much better at being “behind the scenes” than letting people know what we do and how important it is.

For both TTA and TGCSA, I serve as the webmaster for their websites and also send out email blasts for both associations.

How has TTA enhanced your career?
Working with all the people who are members of TTA has been a wonderful resource. They are a wealth of information and are always willing to help everyone.

Trying to help TTA grow has pushed me outside of my comfort zone occasionally and has made me learn new skills, such as being the webmaster. I’m much better on a computer than I was years ago.

Do you have any specific goals for the coming year, and if so, what are they?
I’m ready to start a new chapter of my life. There are so many things that I will miss about being a superintendent. After 25 years, I know every square inch of Gaylord Springs. My new role with the associations, however, will allow me to stay in the field that I love with the people I care about and not get up at 3:30 a.m.! In my new role, I get to be even more involved with TTA and TGCSA (ETGCSA, MTGCSA and MAGCSA) and help all the associations grow and flourish. I plan to help them push more into social media and make the websites even better with more information. If a member has a question about anything, he or she should be able to get it easily in the format they are comfortable with. I want to give all of our members more personal attention by visiting them at their course or business. Expect to see me!

There are some exciting new changes coming to the Conference and Tradeshow for our 50th Anniversary. This is going to be an awesome year!

What are your hobbies?
I own an eight-acre piece of property where I have a rather large garden (8,000 square feet) and chickens and honeybees. That takes up some time, and my friends love getting free vegetables and eggs.

I love to travel. Last year I went to Italy, which was fantastic. I don’t know where I’m going next.

Tell us a little about your family. I’m divorced, with one grown son, James, who is 35. I have two dogs that are my babies – a Border Collie named Toby and an Australian Shepherd named Pinto.

This article is reprinted, with permission, from the April/May 2015 issue of Tennessee Turfgrass magazine, published by Leading Edge Communications, for the Tennessee Turfgrass Association.

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