Off and running at the Opening Session

The Opening Session at GIS 2019 honored the past and looked to the future in a festive, often poignant program that kicked off the trade show.


Powell family GCSAA
2019 Old Tom Morris Award recipients Renee Powell (center left) and Larry Powell (center right) with GCSAA President Darren J. Davis, CGCS, (left) and GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans (right) at the Opening Session Feb. 6. Photos by Roger Billings

With a nod to the past and an eye to the future, the Opening Session, presented in partnership with Syngenta, kicked off the trade show portion of the 2019 Golf Industry Show on Wednesday in San Diego.

The 90-minute production was part recognition, part celebration, part cause for reflection. Media personality Lauren Thompson, host for Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” and NBC’s “The Champion Within,” hosted the event, which played to a packed house. Thompson paid homage to the crowd. “Superintendents are the true stewards of the game of golf,” she said.

Among the event’s highlights:

  • GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans accepted a donation of $1 million from the Kendrick B. Melrose Family Foundation to the Environmental Institute for Golf, GCSAA’s philanthropic organization, to support the professional development of golf course equipment managers. It was the second such $1 million donation — the first was in 2012 — from the Melrose Family Foundation, which is supported by Ken Melrose, former CEO and chairman of The Toro Co.
  • Recognition of 2018 GCSAA President Darren J. Davis, CGCS, who, during an interview on stage by Thompson, credited his long years of professional service to “the inability to say no,” he said with a laugh. “Early on, I realized this profession was my calling, and I wanted to give back.” Davis will serve another year on the GCSAA Board of Directors as Past President, and, “I’ll see more of the paying job this year,” he said, referring to his post at Olde Florida Golf Club in Naples, Fla. “If nothing else, my boat might get out more than twice this year.”
  • Recognition of the 10 superintendents who earned Certified Golf Course Superintendent (CGCS) status in 2018.

The Opening Session — previously held the evening before the opening of the trade show — was moved this year to the morning of the opening. The event also served as a stage upon which the winners of GCSAA’s top awards were recognized, and there were a few changes in that regard, too.

For instance, the winner of the President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship — which is presented for exceptional environmental contributions to the game of golf — went not to an individual but a company: CourseCo. Fittingly, the company saluted its superintendents: “I know I’m biased, but our current group of superintendents are the best in the country,” said CourseCo chief operating officer Tom Bugbee after accepting the award.

The Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award — presented annually to an individual or individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the golf course superintendent profession — went to industry stalwarts Edward “Ted” Horton, CGCS, and Tamas “Tom” Tanto.

Tanto provided perhaps the most poignant moment at the Opening Session when he recounted a tale from his early years. A native of Hungary who emigrated to the United States as an 18-year-old in the aftermath of World War II, Tanto served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command. He recalled being in Germany in 1961. “I was in a crowd, and somebody referred to me as an American,” an emotional Tanto said around pauses. “It was the first time I realized the great fortune for having given me the opportunity to experience the American dream.”

The last wrinkle came in the awarding of the Old Tom Morris Award, GCSAA’s highest honor, which is presented to an individual who, through a continuing lifetime commitment to the game of golf, has helped mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris.

Powells Opening Session
Lauren Thompson interviews Renee and Larry Powell during the Opening Session.

For the first time, the award went to a group of individuals: the pioneering Powell family, which created and still maintains Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio, the first and only golf course in the U.S. designed, built and owned by an African-American. Late patriarch William Powell hand-created the course, which opened in 1948. His son, Larry, a 44-year GCSAA member, still serves as the course’s superintendent, and William Powell’s daughter, Renee, is its PGA professional.

Larry and Renee Powell were interviewed by Thompson on stage after receiving the Old Tom Morris Award and spoke reverentially about their late father. “He was so determined to return fairness to the game of golf,” Renee said.

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.