'The voice' of turf equipment managers awarded

Budding Award winner Trent Manning has developed a following through his podcast, speaking and more.


Trent Manning
A regular presenter at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show and longtime advocate for golf course equipment managers, Trent Manning was named the winner of the 2022 Edwin Budding Award. Photo by Roger Billings

It might be difficult for a first-time listener of the “Reel Turf Techs” podcast to believe, but the stomach at the center of the man behind that podcast is still far from settled when it comes to public speaking.

“It does not come naturally,” Trent Manning, CTEM, says in his sonorous, soothing drawl. “The first time I spoke in front of a small group, I had anxiety so bad, I thought I was going to throw up, pass out and have a heart attack. That was the first time I spoke in front of 30 people. It’s definitely gotten easier. I’m not going to say I don’t get nervous at all. It’s not something I enjoy doing, but I love giving back. I think most equipment managers, technicians … we prefer being the person behind the scenes taking care of stuff. We don’t need credit or accolades for doing our job. We like being the unsung heroes.”

Despite a natural aversion to the spotlight, Manning has spent a considerable amount of the past few years in it. A two-time finalist for — and 2018 winner of — GCM’s Most Valuable Technician Award, presented in partnership with Foley Company, Manning keeps busy as equipment manager for two affiliated golf courses, Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta and Ansley Golf Club at Settindown Creek in Roswell, Ga. Off the clock, Manning, a nine-year association member, is quite vocal in education and advocation for his profession of three decades, making regular appearances nationally and internationally.

He’s the creator of and the driving force behind the 130-member WhatsApp group dedicated to golf course equipment managers.

“We started a community of equipment managers, technicians, mechanics … whatever you call yourself,” Manning says. “We’ve got over 1,000 years of experience in the golf industry. Actually, we’re up to 1,100 years. We share problems on equipment, the daily struggles on a golf course. It’s moral support and technical help. It’s a very positive community. There’s no negative talk. You just ask a question, and you get honest feedback. It’s totally different from Facebook. It’s the exact opposite. (On Facebook), you say you’ve got a problem with a John Deere, people say, ‘Buy a Toro.’”

And then there’s that podcast, “Reel Turf Techs,” and affiliated website (reelturftechs.com). Over two years, RTT already boasts 90 episodes and more than 30,000 downloads.

“It’s been a surprise,” Manning says. “My hope, when I started this, was that maybe 10 people might listen and maybe one might learn something. The feedback I’ve gotten from people, people saying it changed their lives, is hard for me to believe. We get close to 150 listeners for every episode in the first seven days. I never dreamed it would turn into this. So many speaking opportunities, across the country and internationally, come from it, just from me spreading the word.

“I think the biggest thing is the people, the connections I’ve made from it, especially how we all struggle at times in our life, the mental health aspects of the job. That’s something personal to me — how I dealt with it. Me sharing my story about my mental health challenges got other people to share their stories on mental health. I’ve had friends reach out after I spoke that said, ‘That moved me. Now I’m getting the help I need.’”

The podcast, the website, the WhatsApp group, the speaking engagements — it constantly churns, creating an infinite feedback loop, where a revelation on a podcast provides content for the website, which might lead to a speaking invitation, which generates discussion on WhatsApp, which … well, you get the idea.

And earlier this year, it culminated in Manning being named winner of the 2022 Edwin Budding Award, named for the inventor of the lawn mower and given annually to an equipment manager or related innovator, technician or engineer who has made a significant impact on the golf course and turf industry.

“It really meant the world to me,” Manning says, “to be nominated by my peers, to win a lifetime achievement award voted on by my peers. It definitely caught me by surprise. When (GCSAA President) Kevin Breen called saying I had won, I was shocked and speechless. Definitely, the podcast is why I won the award. People who win the Edwin Budding Award are known by a large number of people in the industry. People who win the MVT, nobody’s ever heard of them.”

Real Turf Techs podcast recording
Manning, left, recorded an episode of his “Reel Turf Techs” podcast on the floor of the trade show at the 2023 Conference and Show in Orlando. Photo by Tyler Stover

‘Just an awesome dude’

Count Kayla Kipp, CTEM, among the most dedicated listeners to “Reel Turf Techs.” Kipp, equipment manager at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., seven-year association member and subject of RTT episode Nos. 7 and 67, has listened to every one.

“I drive a lot, and it makes the time pass,” says Kipp, who first encountered Manning when they served together on the GCSAA Equipment Manager Task Group in 2019. “It’s nice to hear all the other techs he interviews and where they’re at in their careers. We don’t all get to travel around the way Trent has. They’re funny, sad; he talks about hardships, the mental health issues we’ve all dealt with. It’s awesome the way he relates to people.

“He’s just an awesome dude. He’s 100% a great friend to me. I call him my turf brother. I call him up randomly all the time, and he’s always willing to help, even if it’s just personal stuff. As far as the industry goes, I don’t know if I, as an individual, would be in this industry if there weren’t a man like him in it. He’s so welcoming, so accepting and smart, just plain smart. What he did with the ‘Reel Turf Techs’ podcast in bringing us all together was just monumental.”

Like Kipp, Justin Prescott, CTEM, worked with Manning on the GCSAA’s EM Task Group. Through the years, that task group was crucial to the formulation of the Equipment Management Certificate Program and, starting in 2022, the Certified Turf Equipment Manager program.

“I first learned of Trent about five or six years ago,” says Prescott, equipment manager at Kenosha (Wis.) Country Club and five-year association member (and RTT Episode 9 subject). “He had recently won the MVT Award, and I was looking up to those guys I wanted to be like, the guys who did things right. He was one of those names who stood out.”

Kipp is quite fond of the WhatsApp group. “I check it often — once an hour,” she says. “It can stack up pretty quick. If I’m out of it for a couple of days, there will be 300-plus messages. Once I was out for a week, and it said ‘999-plus.’”

Prescott prefers the podcast over the app.

“Trent is the voice of golf course equipment technicians,” Prescott says. “He’s brought us recognition and acknowledgment and just shined a light on those of us who take our jobs seriously. We’re not just turning wrenches. We’re trying to make machines the best they can be. I believe there are a number of people trying to do that, but Trent found that vehicle to deliver it to everyone. The foresight in the fella is just amazing. He saw a need, and rather than try to find somebody to fill that need, he fulfilled it.”

A WhatsApp regular and RTT podcast fan, Chad Braun was thrilled to learn that Manning had been named the Budding Award winner. Braun, equipment manager at Town & Country Club in St. Paul, Minn., 10-year association member and subject of RTT podcast No. 57, appreciates that Manning has multiple vehicles for his drive to advance the profession.

“He’s just a super passionate guy who likes to promote the profession,” Braun says. “That’s evident with his teaching over the years, and it’s obviously evolved from that. I think the podcast is what really brought his efforts to light. And the WhatsApp group, that all started from Twitter. Twitter is such a great tool to share information. Most of us in the WhatsApp group are geared the same way. We like to share knowledge with our peers and expand our knowledge base.”

Braun says Manning obviously has grown into his role as the voice of the golf course equipment manager profession.

“I first saw him maybe six to eight years ago doing a presentation, and he maybe looked like a rookie,” Braun says. “He’s far from it now. He seems very comfortable in front of groups and expresses himself very well. He’s easy to follow. I enjoy going to his seminars. I started doing seminars myself. I’ve done it four or five times, and I’m just starting to be comfortable in front of a crowd. Trent just looks like he belongs up there.”

Mobile water trailer

Dew roller
Just a few of the inventions/improvements Manning has made in his three decades in the industry include a mobile water trailer (top) and a dew roller (above). Photos courtesy of Trent Manning

‘A work in progress’

Despite countless hours spent on his many education and advocacy efforts, Manning still finds time for his, you know, day job.

“Monday through Friday, 6:30 to 3,” he says with a laugh. “It is a challenge, though, keeping all that straight.”

“And he still gets in his Sunday fishing,” Kipp marvels. “It’s incredible. It’s like he’s super-human.”

Manning admits he’s fortunate to work at a facility and on a team that allows him to pursue his professional passions.

“I couldn’t work for a better club,” he says. “They’re very understanding of what I’m doing, or trying to do, for the industry. All the travel opportunities that this has led me to also benefits the club. Some of the shops I see and ideas I’m able to pick up and bring back to our club, it’s hard to put a value on that.”

That’s the vision he hopes to develop through all his digital properties. He wants the website to grow into a one-stop shop for equipment managers, featuring tips, tricks, technical manuals — you name it.

“It’s a resource for technicians not only to get the podcast, but also to get updates on the industry, technical resources, manuals,” Manning says. “It’s still a work in progress. I need to keep adding stuff. The list of things to do just never ends. I’ve got a lot of ideas. I want to get more involved in YouTube, and how-to videos, shop tours. Those are some of the things I’m thinking about.”

You might notice Manning didn’t mention anything about resting on his laurels.

“No. I’ve never been wired that way,” he says. “You’ve got to keep on keepin’ on, and hopefully that will bring more opportunities to give back to the industry. I’m excited to see what happens next.”

Andrew Hartsock (ahartsock@gcsaa.org) is GCM’s senior managing editor.