Virtually yours: Kicking off the 2021 Golf Industry Show

The Opening Session championed superintendents and featured one of their most notable fans, Jim Nantz.


Broadcaster Jim Nantz has climbed to the highest heights in his career, covering Super Bowls, Final Fours and the Masters. Yet it was his scaling of one wall in particular that was on his mind Tuesday.

Jim Nantz Golf Industry Show

GCSAA’s 2021 Old Tom Morris Award recipient, Nantz was recognized during the virtual Golf Industry Show’s Opening Session, presented in partnership with Syngenta. During a fireside chat with host Lauren Thompson (right), Nantz revealed that since 2000, he has made a habit of visiting the gravesite of Old Tom Morris when the Old Course in Scotland hosts the Open Championship. Doing so isn’t a simple task, and one gets the feeling Old Tom, greenkeeper extraordinaire who triumphed in four Open Championships, would be honored that an award that bears his name has been given to someone who went the extra mile to pay homage.

“I decided on midnight eve of the final round to climb the wall, the wrought-iron fence at the cemetery, and go pay a visit to the gravesite of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, buried side by side,” Nantz said. “I know it sounds a little ghoulish, but I’m into the history of the game. What can I say? I love everything about it, and I always wanted to go pay my respects. The first time I did it was the eve of Tiger (Woods) completing the career grand slam (in 2000), and I thought, what better thing could I do than go make a midnight call to the gravesite of the Morrises?”

Nantz’s story meshed well with the theme of the Opening Session — that nothing is impossible, even if it may appear so in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans launched the hour-long session by mentioning he was receiving texts asking whether the Opening Session was actually live. “Here it is. Going to show you,” said Evans, holding up his phone, which indicated it was 10:06 a.m., Feb. 2. “We are live, folks. Who could’ve imagined last year in Orlando (at GIS) the world would have changed so much? When we think about that decision to go virtual, it certainly was something I, the Board of Directors and staff lost sleep over. We know how much our annual gathering means to so many of you. As we look back over the course of the last six months, we are confident we made the right decision. And while it feels a bit like we’ve been flying an airplane while we were building it, we’re doing it. It truly has been a group effort, which is fitting because the last year has been all about group efforts.”

Syngenta’s Mike Parkin, global head of professional solutions, delivered a similar message about the industry’s fortitude. “I guess what this virtual event and the past year proves is that the golf industry is both resilient and innovative. Superintendents especially have stepped up and done an amazing job,” Parkin said. “While thousands of golf courses were forced to close to golfers, turf teams around the world carried on. You remained committed to your work, readying courses for golf’s return. And wow, look what happened. Record numbers of players. Record rounds played. Golf is back with huge demand.”

The annual Health in Action 5K, sponsored by Syngenta, remained a top priority despite not being staged at one common site. More than 230 people participated, and they did it, Evans said, in true golf industry fashion: by finding a way. “Running on beaches. In snowshoes. Running on trails. Treadmills in their basements,” said Evans, adding that entry proceeds from the 5K go to the GCSAA Disaster Relief Fund, which supports members affected by the pandemic.

Golf Industry Show Opening Session
GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans appeared live from the association’s headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., during the 2021 Golf Industry Show Opening Session on Tuesday, Feb. 2. Photos by Roger Billings

John R. Fulling Jr., CGCS, from Kalamzoo (Mich.) Country Club, oversaw the association during the national crisis as its 84th president. Although it wasn’t always easy, Fulling said he is proud of how GCSAA persevered during the biggest collective challenge of our lifetimes. One highlight was how the association still managed to complete its goal of establishing golf course best management practices in all 50 states on his watch.

Nantz even had a shoutout to one of Fulling’s loves: Fulling’s band (he’s the drummer), which is called The Bronk Brothers. “As I’m preparing for this Sunday’s Super Bowl, and there’s a guy named Gronk (Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski), and if he finds the end zone, I just might end up calling him Bronk after The Bronk Brothers,” Nantz said. “I don’t know; it’s in my head now.”

More thoughts from Jim Nantz at GIS 2021

  • On what the Old Tom Morris Award means to him: “I’m just completely touched. I just want everyone to know you honored me way more than I deserve, and I hope you hear my attempts to shine a light on what all of you are doing, because this is the greatest game. ... This game’s not about whose winning tournaments. It’s about something much bigger than that, richer than that. And you are on the foundation of it. You make it go. And I’m just grateful. I feel a tug to want people to know how much you mean to our sport.”
  • On broadcasting in front of millions of viewers, including using the phrase “Hello friends” as part of his intros: “I do it (broadcasting on national TV) with a grateful heart. But I’ve always approached it, when that moment arrives at 6 o’clock this Sunday evening (for the Super Bowl), I dip into my heart, look into that camera, and say, ‘Hello friends.’ The reason I do that is not because of some cheesy moment that I’m trying to draw attention to myself. It’s one of the last things I kind of had a full discussion with my dad (who battled Alzheimer’s before passing away in 2008) about before his ability to remember things had totally slipped away. He was getting treated in 2002 when I left to go up to Minneapolis to call the PGA at Hazeltine. I said ‘Dad, you have more friends than anyone I’ve ever known in my life.’ ... And when I come on the air Saturday I’m going to speak to you and I’m going to say, ‘Hello friends.’ I’m going to look into that camera, and that’s for you. I did it that Saturday and I’ve done it ever since. You don’t see 150 million when you look into that dark lens. But I do see my dad, and it makes me feel he’s a part of it.”
  • On his broadcast heroes, including Jim McKay, Jack Whitaker and Pat Summerall: “I wanted to be something like that, these guys that were not on ego trips. They were storytellers, and they were men of the world who understood people and could tell a story that would enrapture you. They had a certain cadence and pitch to their voice that mesmerized me, and I wanted to be one of those voices. I didn’t want to be on TV. I still could care less if they ever put us on television. I just wanted to be a voice to try to tell a story of something that was unfolding in front of us.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.