Summary of National Golf Day 2017
Washington, D.C., April 25-26
By Greg Brandriet, Elkhorn Ridge Golf Club
National Golf Day began 10 years ago when a group of golf’s leading organizations came together to form the coalition called “We Are Golf”. Together with the GCSAA, the NGOCA, PGA, USGA, and the World Golf Foundation, We Are Golf promotes the economic, charitable, environmental and fitness benefits to congressional leaders and the public. National Golf Day serves another purpose for the GCSAA through the Ambassador program, which assigns a GCSAA member from each state to their respective congressional member to communicate directly on policies and regulations that affect the game of golf. The Ambassador program is in its third year, and all three of our congressional members have been assigned; Dan Wegener from Sioux Falls with Rep. Kristy Noem, Charles Kormann from Aberdeen with Sen. Mike Rounds, and myself to Sen. John Thune.
Dan and I were in attendance this year, and the event certainly exceeded our expectations. There were several events throughout the week put on by many different groups, but the GCSAA led the way in both numbers and visual impact. Our presence focused on not only our individual congressional meetings, but also a first-ever turf service project on the National Mall, something we were all looking forward to tackling, even with the 90% chance of rain.
The week began on Monday evening when we received a briefing on the National Mall service project. The briefing was led by Chava McKeel, GCSAA Government Affairs Director, and National Parks Director Michael Stachowicz, a former superintendent who took over care of the National Mall 5 years ago. On Tuesday morning, over 100 GCSAA members, all the way up to CEO Rhett Evans, outgoing president Pete Grass, and incoming president Bill Maynard, put on their rain gear and boarded buses to the Mall. We arrived to see an impressive row of John Deere equipment, boxes of supplies and the GCSAA Mid-Atlantic chapter ready to lead their teams through the project.
There were 10 “teams” assigned to different projects, and Dan and I lucked out with jobs on the aerating/seeding team which meant sitting on tractors all morning…one of which had a heated cab and radio which was a comfort in the intermittent rainfall. Other teams tackled edging, irrigation work, mowing, aerovating, path repair and mulching. We also served as entertainment for several tourists, many of whom had obviously never seen a Vertidrain before. When all was said and done, Mr. Stachowicz said we had performed two weeks of Parks Department work in about 4 hours! The first three sections of the Mall below our nation’s Capital sparkled bright green in the drizzling rain, as many tourists, residents and joggers stopped to thank us for cleaning up the Mall. As we wrapped up and boarded the buses, the group was all smiles as we talked about what else we can do next year.
Tuesday evening, we were briefed on the governmental issues on the GCSAA lobbying agenda. These include H-2B Visa immigration reform, the EPA and WOTUS (Waters Of The United States) rule, and regulatory reform being among the main issues. Our briefing included a presentation from Soapbox Media, a company hired by the GCSAA to arrange, schedule and keep updated the list of every single congressional meeting that week. We were given a complete itinerary along with “leave behind” folders for each member with all the information pertinent to National Golf Day and the GCSAA. The entire program was extremely well organized and we had a clear agenda heading into Wednesday. For each individual meeting, Dan and I were joined by Michael Lee, GCSAA Manager of Government Affairs. Michael worked as the Oklahoma State director for Senator James Inhofe for 8 years, so he brings a bounty of policy experience to the table. WHY he decided to tag along with Dan and I, well, it’s hard not to like South Dakotans. He was a great asset to have, and it really showed our state officials that we are serious about golf and politics.
Wednesday, officially National Golf Day, was our big day on Capitol Hill. Our first meeting was at the South Dakota Sunrise Coffee event, a small gathering held once a month where all three congress members and some of their staff attend to shake hands to the visitors from South Dakota. Dan and I shook hands and took pictures with Noem, Thune and Rounds, and then it was off to our individual meetings.
The next meeting was in Senator Thune’s office, where we sat down with Jon Abdnor, Thune’s Military Legislative assistant who also handles environmental policy. Senator Thune came in for the last few minutes to share his interests and we were able to thank him personally for co-sponsoring two major bills of interest. A quick picture and a handshake and we were off to lunch.
At 2 p.m. we met with Senator Rounds’ Deputy Legislative Director, Amanda Tharpe. The Senator was in a briefing at the White House regarding North Korea, a slightly more serious situation than golf, so we excused his absence! Another productive meeting, but kind of easy again because Senator Rounds also Co-Sponsors the same bills as Sen. Thune.
A 3 p.m. meeting was scheduled with Rep. Noem, but the meeting prior to ours ran late (thank the SD Truckers Association for that…) so we again met with her Legislative Assistant, Andrew Fisher. Another productive meeting, and our foot in the door for 2018 as we plan our next trip.
As the day ended, we sat at a little burger joint down the street with other GCSAA staff and superintendents and reminisced about the prior two days, while simultaneously planning what we could do the same, or different, in the years to come. One of the recurring topics of conversation over those couple days was how important it is to proactively promote the benefits of golf, and just how much the GCSAA has stepped up to do that. In all the Golf Day attendees and representatives, the GCSAA was by far the best represented group out of any single other golf related entity. I can speak for Dan when I say that we have an amazing and talented group of like-minded individuals leading the GCSAA, both at the national and state levels.
New friends were made, business relationships were formed that will bring some recognition to our SD chapter, and we learned a lot about how much time and people it takes to make government work. And we also noticed they could use a few more superintendents working around the Capitol grounds!