What is it about the turf management industry that keeps you loving your career choice?

Brock Phipps, head groundskeeper, Springfield (IL) Cardinals

I feel very fortunate to be able to come to work every day and absolutely love working in the sports turf business. There are only a certain number of us doing what we do and how awesome is it to work at minor league ballpark. Every day is different and has its own challenges, which is why I thrive and challenge myself and my crew daily. Sure, there will be weather issues and long days when you get home and the family are already in bed. That is when I start to second guess my career path and wonder if all the time and effort is really benefitting anyone. Not to mention management squeezing more and more out of the playing surface to generate revenue. But the next morning when I open the gate and overlook the stadium and field, all those negative thoughts seem to be a thing of the past.

Anthony DeFeo, CSFM, assistant head groundskeeper, Baltimore Orioles, Sarasota, FL

Yes after many years I still love being in the turf management industry. It’s hard to pinpoint one reason; it’s a bunch of reasons why this is still my career. I have built a great network of turf friends and I love seeing their social media pictures of their fields and hearing tales of getting through a season. Being outdoors has and always been a huge perk of the job and still is. Working, shaping mounds and plates, edging, making our place the best it can be is again still exciting. A new bonus of the job as I get older, I now get to see old interns and assistant thrive personally and professionally. Lastly, I have more good days then bad. So until the bad days outnumber the good, you’ll find me on a ball field.

Joshua Bertrand, director of public works, Glendale, CO

I enjoy the people and their persistence in this industry. Hal Borland said, “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” It’s this persistence aspect of turf industry that keeps me loving my career.

Why? In almost any discussion of the attributes of successful people, persistence is often mentioned as one (if not the most important) factor of success. Abe Lincoln persisted after numerous setbacks in his career, Bill Gates persisted in his family’s garage and on and on.

Successful people find a way to persist and the same holds true with the turf industry. People in this industry believe the results of the efforts they make today may not be seen or realized for a long time, but they believe that everything they do will count toward their desired outcome in the end. It’s easy to persist when things are going well, but in the turf industry, the best persist by finding ways to keep going despite major setbacks and a lack of evidence that they are moving closer to their goals. Everyone in the turf industry, at some point, has put down fertilizer then had to wait weeks to see the results. That takes belief in what you are doing!

Another good quote is from entrepreneur Jim Rohn who said, “If you really want something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” There are not many people in the turf industry making excuses or looking for a way out. Working in this industry one is surrounded by people who do not stubbornly pursue a course of action when the plan is not working, but rather look for better ways that will increase their chances of success. They are not tied to their ego and are quick to admit when something is not working. Also, most are quick to adapt to the ideas of others that have been shown to work well. Just listen to conversations of people walking out of the educational sessions or on the trade floor at the STMA Conference, they just learned a new idea and want to put it in their program.

Finally while it may seem to those outside the industry that most of the successful people in the turf industry act alone and don’t need anyone as they watch them ride on their mower in the early morning. My experience is the opposite; most people in this industry have a carefully chosen group of people they admire and emulate, whether it’s a people actually involved in their lives or figures they have read about and emulate. For example, I know successful turf managers can fire off a good George Toma quote when the situation arises.

In my career I truly enjoy the persistence that pervades throughout the turf industry in the worthy pursuit of safe playing surfaces.

Zach Ricketts, associate head groundskeeper, Oakland Athletics

There are a couple reasons why I love my career choice. The first is being able to work with all types of people, young interns, veteran staff, coaches, players and front office personnel. You are able to meet and help out so many people. The other reason is that I absolutely love working with my hands, outside. I feel like it is what I was born to do. I am truly blessed.

Jeff Haag, turf specialist, Xavier University

I still love my career choice as a sports turf manager for several reasons: 1) Even though weather is always a challenge, especially in the heat of summer, there is never a dull moment putting to use what one has learned over the years from observations, and research to combat summer heat on cool season turf; 2) it is an ever-changing industry with new developments in turf health products, equipment, and on going research in turf health care; 3) as a sports turf manager you get to have personal interactions with coaches and players; and 4) it is an industry where other turf managers and researchers are willing to share information and ideas.

David J. Pinsonneault, CSFM, CPRP, DPW Director, Lexington, MA

After 28 years I continue to have a love and passion for the turf management industry. Managing turfgrass brings challenges as well as opportunities and rewards. I know that my management practices have a direct result on whether a field is playable or looks good. I also know that it takes a team (co-workers, vendors, supervisors, etc.) to accomplish the goal of safe, aesthetically pleasing turf. Being part of a team, trying new techniques and technologies and then seeing the results keep the passion going. The reward at the end of the day is seeing the youth and adults of all ages and abilities playing outdoor sports and enjoying their experience because the field played well, looked good and was safe. They can concentrate and enjoy their activity knowing they don’t have to worry about the turfgrass they are on. I also feel that what we do as a profession promotes environmental stewardship and being healthy, which are both relevant and important in today’s society. I appreciate that the people in this industry work together and network to continually improve what we provide to our user groups. I am proud to be a part of the turf management industry.

Keith Winter, head groundskeeper, Fort Wayne TinCaps

When I transitioned out of television after a 25-year career into the world of professional baseball grounds keeping, people said that I was “living my dream.” That was probably true for the honeymoon phase of the first year or so of taking care of a pro field, but the reality of the time and hard work associated with the job ultimately sets in.

It is that hard work and “grind” of a baseball season that still keeps me motivated and striving for excellence a dozen years later. Because this is a second career, and I am in a different stage of life than many younger sports turf managers, my perspective and view of the bigger picture is vastly different. I have already raised my family and was able to be present for every game and practice my three sons took part in. If someone said I would have had to sacrifice that to be a groundskeeper, I likely would have moved on to something else. But that “something else” led me into this field where God has blessed me to have the time, passion, and perspective to stay engaged and try to mentor and educate others in the reality of what this job is and isn’t.

As an industry, I feel the future challenge is to get the pay scale and work schedule to a level that can attract and retain recent university-educated turf management students who are the future of this profession.

Brian Scott, professor of horticulture, Mt. San Antonio College

I chose my profession because I love helping others find success. I have students who have ended up finding success throughout the industry (arboriculture, irrigation, nursery, landscape design and construction, soil science, pathology, and so on). That said, my passion is the sports turf management industry. Even though there are some challenging aspects to this industry such as a low pay scale compared to jobs with similar requirements, the driving force behind my love of this industry are the people.

Sports turf managers as a whole have a strong desire to teach their employees how to be successful, not worrying about them becoming more successful than they are. In fact, those whom I have spoken with actually desire their apprentices to become more successful. This ‘pay it forward’ mentality is a unique attribute. Another attribute of many in this industry is their approachability. From Steve Wightman to Luke Yoder, Eric Hansen, Jordan Lorenz and so many others have all been very open and accessible to my students. Many of my students end up getting hired due to face-to-face meetings of these turf managers.

I have now been teaching for 17 years and have seen countless students fulfill their dreams. Giovanni Murillo was just a kid when he showed up and told me he wanted to become the head groundskeeper at Dodger Stadium one day. Recently he became the field manager of Banc of California Stadium, the new stadium for Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC). Blake Bernstein had a degree from Arizona State, but was not content with his career. He wanted to get into sports turf management. He now works at Dodger Stadium, where he was able to work at the World Series this year. He also won the Toro Super Bowl Scholarship (given to one student in the nation) and was able to work on the grounds crew this year. Sean McLaughlin, another one of my students, won the same scholarship last year. These are just a few examples of why I still love doing what I do. There are few joys in life that compare to seeing my students’ dreams realized.

Kevin Mercer, CSFM, Denison University

I am one of the lucky ones. I wake up every day and still love what I do after 19 years of being a grounds/sports turf manager in the industry. My grandfather taught me at a lot about farming, gardening and lawn care. I remember how he walked along side of me when I first operated a push mower at the age 9. He would point at all the little areas I missed under the trees, shrubs and fence line. His no nonsense approach about doing a job right and paying attention to the details has help guided me throughout my career. He died on my birthday back in 1991, so I feel like I him doing him proud from my work ethics he instilled in me and managing my team the same way he would by appreciating them as individuals that bring their own unique talents to the job each day.

I also had some great mentors, bosses and earned friendships from peers throughout the years. I have work at state government and Ivy League schools, but I am lucky to have found Denison University that truly understands the importance of safe athletic fields and professional looking landscapes. I think you really have to spend a little time outside of your comfort zone and even get humble a few times along the way to truly appreciate how far you came and where you need to go.

Dave Anderson, Hempfield (PA) School District

Looking back to near 40 years in the industry, and with retirement coming soon, I still have a passion and an interest in trying to maintain safe, well playable, and aesthetic athletic fields. I still get excited about the beginning of spring sports season and the challenge of getting baseball/softball fields ready following a long winter or a wet early spring. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to get a football field torn up after a game played heavy rainstorm, ready for a soccer game, that evening. It’s still fun taking soil tests, monitoring moisture levels, and working through the threat of disease and insect pests. I remember back and chuckle over the “battles” I had with field hockey and baseball coaches over how low to cut their fields. Also it’s been a good experience being part of KAFMO and making relationships and sharing knowledge with others in the industry. Sometimes in a school setting it is difficult to find someone to understand or care with the field concerns that we face. It was good to get together with other field mangers to commiserate some of the things we all have to deal with.

I must admit though, with the increase in artificial turf fields, my emphasis, in some ways, has gone from agrarian to custodian. I don’t care for that, and had there been as many synthetic turf fields when I started as there are now, I can’t imagine that I would have be drawn into this industry. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for synthetic playing surfaces and they have their place. I’m just glad that a majority of my career was spent working with natural playing surfaces.