Golf Course Management

MAR 2019

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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32 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 03.19 It started in 2006. e Westchester County (N.Y.) Board of Legislators was considering banning the use of all fertilizer products containing phosphate on properties in the county, including golf courses. Bob Nielsen, CGCS, at Bedford Golf and Tennis Club decided he couldn't sit back and watch it happen. No, he'd seen enough, and it was time to get active because, from Nielsen's perspective, the regulatory environ - ment wasn't going to get any better for super- intendents. irteen years later, Nielsen, a 28-year GCSAA member, can safely say he was right, having racked up a number of advocacy wins, losses and interesting experiences along the way. Nielsen's first foray into advocacy wasn't exactly easy or positive. "Man, I learned a lot from that experience — primarily, don't show your entire hand from the start," says Nielsen, reflecting on his 2006 meeting in Westches - ter County. Like most superintendents get- ting involved in a policy issue for the first time, Nielsen wasn't too excited to provide testimony at a public hearing. In fact, he was downright terrified, so instead of speaking, he submitted a two-page letter to the county out - lining his reasons for opposing the ban. Golf was on the record in support of phosphate and against the proposal. Days later, Nielsen decided to attend the hearing, not to speak, but to follow the pro - ceedings and watch the vote. What he discov- ered was that the state's water coordinator had brought in a "superintendent" from the coun - ty's golf courses who would counter Nielsen's claims. is gentleman stated he hadn't used phosphorus on the county's courses in five years and had not experienced any decline in turf quality or any other detrimental effects. Turns out, he wasn't really a superinten - dent at all, but the county had heard exactly what it needed to pass the ban, which it pro - ceeded to do. Although Nielsen came out on the losing end, he had learned a lot in his first foray into politics and was eager for the next one. Eleven state lobby days in Albany, N.Y., and seven National Golf Days on Capitol Hill later, Nielsen is a reliable old hand in the advocacy world, and his peers recognize it. Nielsen is the 2019 recipient of the GCSAA Excellence in Government Affairs Award for his years of advocating for golf course man - agement at the local, state and federal levels of government. Of all the boards, committees and task groups Nielsen has served on and contributed to, he feels one of the greatest efforts he has been a part of is the development of best man - agement practices for the state of New York. "I knew from the get-go that BMPs were going to tie into advocacy," Nielsen says. "In New York, people have been so supportive of us doing BMPs." In recent years, golf course superintendents have effectively developed and communicated their use of BMPs to lawmakers, resulting in policy wins not only in New York, but also in Virginia, Florida and elsewhere. As Nielsen says, "You can write BMPs, but if you don't communicate them, you are missing much of their value." In New York, lawmakers have not only recognized BMPs in legislation, they also have supported their development and implemen - tation with state funding, thanks to years of superintendents consistently showing up to demonstrate their proactive approach to en - vironmental stewardship. While the funding has come and gone from one legislature to the next, the message has resonated on both sides of the aisle. "It doesn't matter which party you're talking to," Nielsen says. "ey both like to hear about our BMPs." Not that it is always easy. e interests of club members and political leaders in a com - munity sometimes differ. "is can be quite the tightrope to walk," Bedford's greens com - mittee chair John Fink says, "but Bob does it seamlessly." Nielsen's proactive, hands-on approach hasn't gone unnoticed. When reflecting on Nielsen's time at Bedford, Fink says, "Bob has been a part of our club for over 35 years, which is an amazing feat at any club. He continues to maintain Bedford at a level that makes it one of the premier golf courses in the Met section. Not only are we honored at Bedford to have him, we are very fortunate as well." In the end, Nielsen's view of advocacy is holistic, and he recognizes the importance of playing the long game. "When we come with a message like BMPs, lawmakers really listen," he says. "We are changing the public's opin - ion of golf. We are not asking for ridiculous things. Our requests are very sensible. is all helps in the long run." Indeed, it does. ank you for your years of advocacy, Bob Nielsen, and congratulations on win - ning the 2019 Excellence in Government Af- fairs Award. Michael Lee is GCSAA's manager of government affairs. Award-winning advocate's path started inauspiciously (advocacy) Michael Lee Excellence in Government Affairs Award winner Bob Nielsen, CGCS, speaks during the Quorum Call session at the Golf Industry Show in February in San Diego. Photo by Andrew Hartsock

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