Past Ten, Next Ten: Interview with Ross Miller

As we roll through the first year of this decade I've asked two standard questions to a few key players in our industry. I wanted to know their thoughts, from their unique role and perspective, on what we saw over this last ten years and what to expect in the ten to come.

This time around I contacted Ross Miller, Superintendent at Trump National's Championship Course in DC. I approached Ross because of his experience with irrigation design, installation, general drainage, renovation and overall managerial skills.

Turfhugger: To what degree have environmental issues affected your role through this past decade?

Ross Miller: Environmental issues have affected all phases of golf course development, from startup to daily maintenance, renovation, and long term sustainability. Permitting for new golf courses has become a very time-intensive and expensive process for new golf course developments, sometimes taking several years and plan re-submittals to gain final approval.

As course renovations and restorations have gained much more of a foothold in the construction market, so have the environmental ramifications. More permitting is needed for these projects, and rightfully so. Many renovations are done to not only bring the course a face lift but more importantly to provide for more environmentally sound property. It is great to see renovations completed to lessen if not eliminate environmental impact from the golf course on the surrounding environment.

As more golf course housing developments continued to rise in the past ten years, our golf course green spaces came to the forefront of environmental impact areas. Most thoughts surrounded harmful pesticides and what they are doing to our environment, and how it could be harmful to human beings. This has brought about a more sound approach to stewardship of the environment, and also to be ahead of the curve on thoughts and practices to care for the environment on our precious golf courses. It has also increased the focus of communicating what happens on the golf course as far as chemicals and fertilizers to homeowners, community and special interest groups. This has been a great way to educate the general public as to a better understanding of environmental impact from a golf course.

Turfhugger: What major changes will we see in the next Ten Years that will affect your role most significantly?

Ross Miller: The golf course industry will continue to be an ever evolving roller coaster as far as changes as we move toward golf courses that are more economically and environmentally sustainable.

As far as water management, just look where we have come in the past few years, with moisture sensors, control of irrigation systems thru mobile phones/palm pilots, remote access of irrigation control systems, etc. These items have all contributed to what has become our #1 priority, and that is water management. From new highly efficient irrigation designs, pump stations that communicate with irrigation control systems, wireless irrigation heads, and decoder-type irrigation systems, these items will continue to be at the forefront of moisture management for years to come to help maximize every gallon of water and every bit of energy used for operating these systems.

Pesticide regulation will continue to become more and more stringent, as our Canadian neighbors to the north, and New York and California continue to set the standard for strict pesticide regulations. I believe that these strict laws have helped to foster new thoughts and new ideas on how to provide quality playing conditions. Many of the thoughts revolve around transitioning from more of a preventative approach to curative approach to stretch budgetary funds, and to be more conscientious of the environment. This also leads to a more informed group of golfers in the coming years, with communicating these reductions of pesticides used, and the focus of minimizing environmental impact/sustainability.

Communication skills for superintendents have come to the forefront over the past ten years, and will continue to evolve and become even more important over the coming years. Look at how many superintendents use blogs to keep their membership/guests informed and to share thoughts and ideas with other fellow superintendents. This along with the Blackberry/IPhone have become extremely useful communication tools, from email blasts to membership with pictures from items of importance on the golf course, to applications from chemical companies to help aid in IPM decision making, and university professors communicating items --- it has become a digital world! I believe this will be something that the majority of us will have to continue to evolve with, or we will be left behind.

Environmental stewardship was a very sore subject thru the 90’s and the early part of the 21st century, but I believe that it has tamed somewhat in that there has been enough ground work thru organizations such as GCSAA with government relations that show we as golf course managers foster a good relationship with the environment. The more we care for the environment on our precious golf facilities now, the more sustainable and environmentally sound it will be for future generations. One item that I hope will change would be that golf course owners would take more of a stance on their properties and government relations with environmental concerns as opposed to their golf course managers; this fact has always irked me a bit.

Another item that I believe will continue to move forward is golf course management companies. More and more courses that were built in the last 20-30 years have come on hard times, and are looking to management companies to run them. This has become extremely apparent in the past two years, and I believe will continue to be a trend for the next 5-10 years. These companies help foster many good ideals in their course managers, on how to do more with less, and how to ‘think outside the box’ to accomplish agronomic programs and maintain quality playing conditions.

Equipment will be forever evolving, with each company claiming to have the ‘latest and greatest’ thing for maintaining golf courses. I believe that most companies will focus on renewable energy/biofuel sources over the next ten years to move away from fossil fuel dependency, as the automotive market is doing now.

Golf course architecture will continue to evolve in that I believe that there will be a continued push on playability for all skills levels, more maintenance friendly designs, and a greater focus on practice facilities. In some recent meetings with the Fazio Design Firm after some recent renovations, there were some great points that focused around the importance of practice facilities in today’s game. It showcased the evolution of practice facilities from the rudimentary facilities of the 1960’s & 1970’s, to the state-of-the-art facilities of today, and the coming years. Another item which many people have discussed will be the fact that the ‘big and bold’ new designs of the 90’s is over. Most if not all courses have to do more with less, and are trying to find new ways to keep up conditions, with smaller budgets. This will be difficult to produce if architects and turf managers cannot work hand in hand to produce these items.