I was fortunate enough to be selected by BIGGA to travel with 9 other greenkeepers to the GCSAA show in Orlando, Florida. Arriving on the evening of Saturday 5th Feb, we had another day to acclimatise and get to know our fellow delegates before the festivities began.

Monday 7th Feb consisted of two course visits, the first being to Orange County National, a 45 hole complex with possible the biggest driving range in the world (The Tiger commercial where he plays keepy uppy was filmed there) where we were given a tour of the maintenance facility as well as both courses, Panther Lake and Crooked Cat as well as the 9 hole short course. Chris Brocious the clubs equipment technician was our host who answered all our questions. A total of 90,000 rounds are played every year at OCN and is open 265 days a year. After lunch we visited Marriot Grande Pines and the Faldo Golf Institute where the superintendent Chris Flynn gave us a tour of his immaculate maintenance facility and golf course which has 18 staff a budget of $1.2 million and does 42,000 rounds per year. As a resort course this was especially interesting for me as there were many similarities to our course and hotel. Chris was very informative and honest about everything from nutrient programmes to environmental aspirations and overseeding cool season grasses. Following the tour of Grande Pines we were taken accross the road to the Faldo Golf Institute which Chris also takes care of. The facilty has a “fun” 9 hole course as well as numerous practice areas, driving range etc. A team of 10 staff with a budget of $750,000 take care of this impressive area.

Tuesday 8th Feb. We joined a group of around 200 superintendents and greenkeepers from around the world on a field trip to various courses in the Orlando Area. Split into 4 groups of 50 we were taken on a bus tour, our first stop was Shingle Creek followed by Bay Hill (where the Arnold Palmer Invitiational will be hosted later this month before ending the tour at The Ritz Carlton which was designed by Greg Norman. Our group were all in agreement that the Ritz Carlton was the most impressive course we had seen from a maintenance and presentation standpoint. With a budget of $1.4 million and a staff of 26 they deliver an impressive course as well as the landscape areas around the hotel with an excellent eye for detail. All tours were extremely professional with all superintendents being very open to questions and answering with confidence and honestly. It was interesting seeing the various different philosophies for overseeding and heights of cut that were used on the greens at all the courses, but with relatively high budgets and constant changes in grasses available for overseeding it is a real challenge for these courses to continually develop and improve, especially with the amount of rounds played on each course each year. Following the field trip our group were invited to an evening John Deere VIP reception in downtown Orlando for food, drink and networking with superintendents from around the world.

Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th Feb. were the 2 days of “The Show” which is the largest golf maintenance exhibition in the world. Due to the financial climate it was apparently smaller than usual but it still took 2 days to manoeuvre around. Everything from machinery, fertiliser/chemicals, universities, irrigation to name but a few were represented in a truly massive area. On the Wednesday afternoon we were part of an hour Q&A session arranged by Bernhard and Co with Tim Heirs from Old Collier Golf Club in Naples Florida for an insight into his maintenance operation, ideas on communication and resource management. On the Wednesday evening we were invited to our trip sponsors Bernhard and Co’s drinks reception which was a gathering of all previous delegates on the BIGGA and GCSAA delegations which have travelled previously to The States as well as our American colleagues who have made the trip for the British version of the show in Harrogate. On Thursday evening I was able to meet up with all the superintendents from The Kohler courses in Wisconsin for dinner and a good catch up with the guys who I had not seen since the 2007 US Senior Open at Whistling Straits.

Friday 11th Feb. was our day for education where we attended a full day seminar hosted at the Orange County Convention Centre with the topic The Science of Physical Properties in the Real World, Beyond the Textbooks, presented by David Doherty of the International Sports Turf Research Centre. The day consisted of discussions on aeration practices, rootzones and growing mediums on how to maintain turf with advise on his many years of experience. On Friday evening we were invited to The Ramsomes Jacobsen drinks reception at Universal Studios where we met many familiar faces from the UK and had time to reflect on what was a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable week, before flying home the next day.

My thanks must go to BIGGA and the trip sponsors Bernhard and Co who have now taken 90 greenkeepers from the UK out to The States as well as bringing 20 the other way in the past 10 years or so. The organisation of our chaperones for the week Kim Furnell and Gina Putnam was first class and helped deliver what was a great experience and brought together 10 like-minded individuals for a memorable week.

Derek Robson