GCM’s guide to the 2021 Golf Industry Show

The show must go on(line)! Here’s everything you need to navigate GIS 2021, from the virtual platform itself to the education lineup, trade show, special events and more.


Virtual Golf Industry Show
The where may be different — sprawling convention center versus a space of one’s own — but the what of the 2021 Golf Industry Show Feb. 2-4 remains the same: an engaging, interactive, information-rich experience to help you improve your golf facility, grow your skill set and advance your career. Here, learn all about using the virtual platform, what’s new and noteworthy in the GCSAA Education Conference, what you’ll find on the virtual trade show floor — including companies with special goings-on and giveaways — and more.

Welcome to your virtual Golf Industry Show!

GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans gives you a look at the education- and value-packed experience that awaits at GIS 2021. Watch his helpful preview, and read on for all the details on the virtual event.

The virtual GIS platform: No downloading required

Don’t bother asking Ed Several for a peek behind the curtain of the virtual Golf Industry Show.

It’s not that he can’t — or won’t — disclose the nitty and the gritty of the technology that will make it happen. It’s just that he and his team at EnsembleIQ have spent so much time poring over the behind-the-scenes details that, from an attendee’s standpoint, it shouldn’t matter what’s under the hood.

“Don’t worry about the platform,” says Several, executive vice president for events and conferences for EnsembleIQ, the GIS 2021 “producer” that, because of the global pandemic, has been charged with bringing the annual conference and show from a must-go, in-person event to an equally essential virtual one.

“The technology is irrelevant to your members. It’s about the fact that GCSAA has made the investment to bring its members and other industry stakeholders together virtually using a variety of different technologies that are grounded in the idea of first connections,” Several says. “The Golf Industry Show has always been known for connecting members, non-member superintendents and stakeholders together, to make them energized and really set the path for the future. In fact, the Golf Industry Show has always been a barometer of the coming year, and this year is no different. This will just be done with a platform that is easy to get in, get on and get going.”

Several and Co. have latched on to a catchphrase — “Just click and go” — to encapsulate just how easy it will be for attendees to experience GIS 2021. It really is, Several says, that easy.

“There’s nothing to download — no apps, no special add-ons,” he says. “You simply click on the link, put in the email you registered with, click and go. That’s it.”

Even the list of system requirements is easy to navigate. Though Several says GIS 2021 can be visited via cellphone, he suggests a larger screen size — at minimum a tablet; better yet, a laptop or desktop computer — for a better user experience. Beyond that?

“Internet Explorer is not a good browser to use,” Several says. “We recommend Google Chrome. As long as you can download Chrome on your system, you’ll be OK. We do recommend closing all other tabs and that you not go in through a company VPN. No matter what it is, it will be blocked. As long as you don’t go in through a company VPN, as long as you can download Chrome, you should have a wonderful experience.”

‘Not just another Zoom call’

But what, exactly, is that experience? Maybe it’s easier to start with what it isn’t.

“It’s not just another Zoom call. It’s not just another webinar,” says Several, a regular visitor to both GIS and the PGA Merchandise Show and whose company has been honing the art of virtual events since before, but especially during, the pandemic. “People are concerned it’s not going to be engaging. One of the biggest issues is, people have gone to bad virtual events. We provide a different experience. We have people calling back saying, ‘Wow, that was the easiest experience, the most engaging. I was able to meet colleagues. I was able to catch up.’ While we all want to meet face to face, I recognize we can’t. This has got us closest to that.”

OK, so it’s not Zoom, but what is it? Simply put, it’s not a thing to be watched so much as experienced.

“Unlike a Zoom meeting or Teams or Google Chat, this is fully immersive,” Several says. “It’s a virtual event. It has booths, not flat art. It has 2D, 3D booths, where you’re able to explore products. We’ll have the mix-and-mingle opportunities GIS is famous for, where you can literally meet other colleagues and have a private conversation between two, three, four, six people. The receptions that always happen at GIS will happen virtually. A Zoom call is a bunch of video boxes, people talking over each other, no idea who’s there. This event is like being at an in-person GIS. You set how you want to explore.”

Preview the virtual GIS experience:

Upon arrival — remember, “Just click and go” — attendees will land in a virtual lobby. They’ll face a series of panels displaying two hours’ worth of upcoming education sessions, an apt visual for the front-and-center importance of education in the GIS experience.

Visitors then can click to go (minus all the walking) to one of those sessions, or head off to, say, the auditorium or trade show floor. Don’t worry about getting lost: There will be a handy navigation bar, including a map, along the bottom of the screen, as well as a search function at the top. There will also be a virtual help desk for all manners of assistance.

Nice to see you

Several’s company has been overseeing virtual events like GIS a few times a week since summer. He sees each event as a way to perfect the experience, the cornerstone of which is personal interaction. Attendees can enter a room — a lounge, classroom or huge auditorium — and scan the room. Folks at an event can huddle in small groups (Several suggests six people or fewer) and chat via text or video without interruption.

“It’s like being at a live event,” Several says. “You can look around and see people’s badges — exhibitors, colleagues. Our chat feature lets us see everyone who’s attending. Would you like to meet someone new or catch up with an old friend?”

Several also touts the trade show (for more, see “The virtual GIS trade show: The world at your fingertips,” below). Attendees will be able to find exhibitors from the search function or by “strolling” the virtual trade show floor. A click leads to a virtual visit — Several says it has been gamified, allowing attendees to collect points for making booth visits — during which visitors can chat with booth representatives and view presentations.

“We wanted to make sure people are able to take home materials like they do at an in-person GIS,” he says. “You’ll have a show bag. When you visit a booth, unlike at a live show, you can add videos and audio files to your show bag as well as printed materials for later viewing.”

Several stresses that while he understands the benefits of an in-person GIS, he’s confident the virtual version will prove a valuable, engaging alternative until the live show returns.

“This is like no website. This is an actual, virtual experience,” he says. “You’ll see detailed booths, have the ability to chat and network. You’ll be able to earn continuing education credits — that’s very important — and you won’t have to leave your place of business or your home. And it’s just so engaging. There’s so much to experience, like pop-up notifications and videos. This is really going to be the same as an in-person event, simply done virtually given the environment, until we can get back to a live event.”

— Andrew Hartsock, GCM managing editor

GIS pricing and registration

If there is one overarching positive to a virtual Golf Industry Show as opposed to a traditional in-person event, it’s the budget-friendly value it will deliver to attendees. To neatly wrap it up in one well-worn cliché: Virtual GIS will offer plenty of bang for the buck.

“When we made the decision to transition to a virtual show, we knew that the virtual format would offer opportunities for those who have been unable to attend due to the travel expenses or time commitments of an in-person event,” GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans says. “It also opens up the option for every member of the maintenance team to participate.”

Click on image to enlarge:

Golf Industry Show prices

Indeed, the real showstopper is the Facility All-Access Package, which includes 88 education sessions that can be viewed during the event as well as on-demand for 30 days after. The package also includes the virtual trade show, networking events, virtual visits from special guests and more for $850 ($1,050 for non-members of GCSAA) for an unlimited number of team members. Each team member who registers will receive 3.0 GCSAA continuing education points (CEUs). The Individual All-Access Package is $600 for GCSAA members ($750 for non-members).

“The Facility Package is a great value for everyone on the team to not only further their own professional development, but to also benefit the facility with the insight, innovations and connections that are made at GIS,” Evans says.

In addition to the All-Access packages, Base packages are available that include 46 education sessions with seven days of on-demand access, plus access to the trade show and other events. The Facility Base Package is $500 for GCSAA members ($700 for non-members), with 1.5 continuing education points for each registered participant. The Individual Base Package is $350 for GCSAA members ($500 for non-members).

Go to the Golf Industry Show website for more information and to register for the 2021 Golf Industry Show.

— Scott Hollister, GCM editor-in-chief

Education at GIS 2021: Some things will never change

... And the quality of the education on tap at the Golf Industry Show is among those constants. Plus, the shift to a virtual GIS has opened up opportunities to share the knowledge with your entire staff and attend more education sessions than ever before, free of the time conflicts and constraints inevitable at a traditional GIS.

Both the Individual All-Access Package and the Facility All-Access Package include all 88 education sessions in the 2021 GIS education catalog, and the Facility option extends that to an unlimited number of team members at a single facility. Each participant will receive 3.0 GCSAA continuing education points. Even better? All education sessions will remain available on demand for 30 days post-GIS, allowing you to partake at your own pace, hit replay, and check out any and all sessions your heart desires.

GCSAA Education Conference
Here’s a look at some of what’s new and noteworthy in education at GIS 2021. Visit the Golf Industry Show website to browse the full 88-session lineup, complete with detailed course descriptions and presenter bios.

Freshly forged tracks. Tracks are recommended GIS agendas for those in certain roles or with a particular area of interest, and debuting in 2021 are tracks tailored to construction and crew members. Featuring new education developed by the Golf Course Builders Association of America, the Construction Track offers a blueprint for taking on various repairs and renovations. Among the sessions are “Bunkers: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know and More,” “Greens Construction: Options for Any Budget” and “How to Prepare for a Golf Course Renovation.” The three sessions in the Crew Track are aimed at up-and-coming crew members — perfect for facilities that opt for the Facility All-Access Package — and cover weed identification, irrigation troubleshooting, and sprayer cleaning and maintenance.

Strictly business. Sure, your turf smarts may be second to none, but the superintendent position often demands business savvy on par with agronomic know-how. Those looking to sharpen up in this arena will find insights aplenty on the Business Management Track. Topics touch on everything from leadership to budgeting basics, with sessions such as “The Business of Golf: A Superintendent’s Guide,” “Communication Skills to Get You to the Top and Keep You There” and “Creating an Effective Multi-Generational Team.”

Mental health matters. After a year as collectively challenging as 2020, an emphasis on mental health is perhaps more appropriate than ever. In the one-hour session Taking Steps Toward Emotional Wellness: A Beginning, a panel of turf professionals, joined by a licensed counselor, will share their stories and discuss strategies for reducing stress, finding balance, overcoming setbacks and cultivating overall emotional well-being, even in our most trying times. This session will premiere at 1 p.m. EST, Thursday, Feb. 4.

Bright ideas in the shop. Equipment managers Trent Manning and Austin Wright invite you into their shops for a study of practical solutions and handy hacks in the session Tips and Tricks for Your Maintenance Facility. Attendees will discover creative means for making their maintenance facility operations safer, more efficient and more cost-effective. This session will debut at 2 p.m. EST, Tuesday, Feb. 2.

All things agronomy. Looking for a good old-fashioned trip to turf school? Look no further. Agronomy has always been the cornerstone of GIS education, and the new Agronomy Track filters the golf course maintenance-focused sessions from all the rest for your easy consumption. Get schooled on wetting agents, bunker sand selection, turf light requirements, earthworms, topdressing, fungicide use and much more, plus find several sessions devoted to management of specific turfgrasses.

Women in turf. Gather to hear anecdotes and advice from five women who’ve climbed the ladder in various sectors of the golf industry, from course maintenance to design to ownership, in Stories of Success: Journeys to Leadership, debuting at 3 p.m. EST, Wednesday, Feb. 3. The leading women on hand will be Jan Bel Jan, ASGCA; Kelly Kuchelmeister; Nancy Miller, CGCS; Lucy Sellick; and Jennifer Torres.

Power Hours. Enjoy fast-paced, quick doses of wisdom à la sessions like “Lightning Round Learning!”? These events have been dubbed “Power Hours” for 2021, and the roster is as robust as ever. On the agenda are perennial favorites Lightning Round Learning! (noon EST, Tuesday, Feb. 2); Why Didn’t I Think of That? Ideas That Make an Impact at Your Course (2 p.m. EST, Thursday, Feb. 4); and Turfgrass Talk Show (3 p.m. EST, Thursday, Feb. 4). In Turf Solutions: Everything But the Kitchen Sink (1 p.m. EST, Tuesday, Feb. 2), agronomist Ken Mauser, general manager Todd Ford and nematologist William Crow, Ph.D., will take your questions and offer expertise to help you tackle whatever may be troubling your turf.

Labor lab. Staffing continues to be a top challenge for golf course maintenance departments nationwide. In Labor Session: Strategies for Pushing Through Adversity, five superintendents — including 2020 Leo Feser Award winner Tyler Bloom — will outline the outside-the-box approaches that have helped them navigate the tough labor market, sure to inspire ideas for your own workforce-building efforts. This session will debut at 1 p.m. EST, Wednesday, Feb. 3.

Next-level BMPs. As of 2020’s end, all 50 states have published golf course best management practices. The next step? BMPs for individual golf facilities. In Golf Course Best Management Practices Success Stories: Key Water Use BMPs, superintendents Glenn Matthews, CGCS, of Visalia (Calif.) Country Club and Blake Meentemeyer of TPC Scottsdale will share how they’ve developed and implemented facility-specific water BMPs to better dial in use of this precious resource. This session will premiere at 2 p.m. EST, Thursday, Feb. 4.

A leg up for assistants. Charles “Bud” White, former USGA Green Section director for the Southeast and Mid-Continent regions, will distill Ten Years of Experience in One Hour in this session geared toward assistant superintendents (attend it first at 1 p.m. EST, Wednesday, Feb. 3). White will provide a primer on skills that are key to advancement in the profession but that some assistants may not be exposed to depending on how their current facility operates. Subjects covered will include performing and interpreting soil, water and tissue tests; establishing better pesticide and fertilizer programs; and improving communication with crew members and customers.

— Megan Hirt, GCMOnline.com editor

The virtual GIS trade show: The world at your fingertips

Picture this: With one click of your mouse, you enter a world of Golf Industry Show trade show floor wonders. Although the event won’t be on location in Las Vegas, it still looks that way.

“Windows with images of Las Vegas behind them will be visible when you enter a booth,” says Melissa Householder, CEM, GCSAA’s trade show manager. “We want to make it feel as much like a physical show as we can.”

This year’s trade show floor at the virtual Golf Industry Show might be the largest in history. Even though there won’t be nearly 200,000 square feet of floor to navigate while visiting hundreds of booths and exhibitors, the possibilities are endless for what amounts to an informative, personable encounter for a global audience that can participate whether in Des Moines, Iowa, or Sydney, Australia.

2021 golf industry trade show
“Capacity for a virtual show is unlimited,” says Matt Brown, GCSAA’s director of corporate sales. “You don’t lay out a floor plan. You build attendees a space in a virtual platform. Since we are not having an in-person show this year because of the pandemic, out of lemons you make lemonade.”

Syngenta Communications Manager Mark LaFleur says, “I’m excited about the challenge of engaging with superintendents remotely. Professionally, it’s always nice to push yourself to grow and learn. If anything is going to help you grow and learn, learning how to effectively communicate with superintendents virtually is one way to grow.”

Shop till you drop

GCSAA began researching virtual trade show information in April. A consultant provided a study of best-in-class virtual trade shows that have been successful. “First, we found out that people will attend. And, when attendees enter a booth, all exhibitors will know who entered their booth,” Brown says. “Exhibitors that have embraced the technology, taken the opportunity to get in front of an audience, have had the most success.”

So, just what will a virtual trade show look like when an attendee visits a booth? Think of it as a big shopping mall. Or look at it as convenient as online shopping. Here’s how to take it all in — and when you do, earn points for prizes (more on that later). In any case, the trade show floor will be instant engagement in a virtual format. Here is a menu of what awaits upon entry:

First, a simple click of your mouse provides entrance into the trade show floor. There will be multiple halls to click on that mimic the actual trade show floor. Each hall will have 15 booths, listed in alphabetical order, and each booth will have the exhibitor’s logo, and attendees can click into them from the floor. There will be signage to aid navigation between halls. John Deere and The Toro Co. each will have their own hall.

A search function makes it easy to search by company name and product category. Once you click onto a particular interactive booth, you have access to it. There will be a digital briefcase that serves as a carrying case to safely contain items such as fact sheets, brochures and PDFs for your future reference. Interactive chat function tools will connect you to a company employee or one of its representatives in real time.

Once you enter a booth, you and an unlimited number of your staff can stay in it for as long as you want.

Some exhibitors’ booths will have their own education programs.

A university student hub will have its own hall.

GCSAA’s offerings — member services, Rounds 4 Research, government affairs, the Silent Auction, merchandise and BMPs — will be located in one hall.

Attendees will earn points based on booth visits. A variety of yet-to-be-determined prizes will be awarded based on points accumulated.

A virtual ROI

AgStone, a manufacturer of wetting agents, has explored other virtual shows to see how they have done. Its owner, Nathan Welch, says one of its consultants who analyzed virtual shows delivered an optimistic message, which makes him hopeful. A key to his participation in the virtual trade show has to do with keeping the company name visible, especially with numerous wetting agent competitors in the marketplace.

“We don’t want the brand recognition to go away,” Welch says, adding that AgStone has been constantly building and tweaking its presentations for the virtual format. “As we study virtual shows, we’re doing things that will enhance it and give us tangible ways to bring a return on our investment.”

Golf Industry Show 2021
Alison McFee, Bayer’s head of marketing for U.S. turf and ornamentals, says, “While we always look forward to engaging with superintendents and industry partners in person and will certainly miss that, we are excited about the fact that the virtual platform opens the show to a broader audience who otherwise may not have been able to experience it due to the associated travel costs. The online platform also allows people to enjoy the show — or at least many aspects of it — at their own pace based on a schedule that works for them, which is exceptionally convenient.

“As a marketer, I’m also intrigued with the creative possibilities that a digital environment affords when it comes to sharing information on new products and solutions in a fun and engaging way. And Bayer definitely has some exciting things in the works that we are eager to share with customers and the broader industry. Golf course management is a great industry to support and to be a part of, and GIS is the premiere show. It will be interesting to see it come to life in a whole new way in 2021.”

Choose your own adventure — and fill your swag bag

And, yes, exhibitors will continue to provide goodies — staples of in-person trade show experiences — that attendees will be able to get their hands on. Syngenta, for example, is asking superintendents to share their positive turf perspectives for a chance to win one of seven Solo Stoves. “We are committed to making GIS more engaging than, ‘Hey, we have three new products that we launched.’ So, we’re doing some things different,” LaFleur says.

“One thing I remember as someone who grew up in the 1970s into the ’80s is, ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ (which, in LaFleur’s youth, featured game books that placed readers in a role that called for them to make choices that determined actions and outcomes). We’re creating an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure video where you can pick from one of five different diseases to learn how to best prevent them. You can then learn how you’d control diseases differently from preventive to curative. Superintendents will be able to select different tools to learn more about them along the way.”

Editor’s note: Many exhibitors at the 2021 GIS trade show will be running special promotions, hosting must-see demonstrations, offering one-on-one face time with reps and experts, and giving away some big-time prizes. Check out what several companies have in store in the digital version of the January 2021 issue of GCM, and look for more information on GCMOnline.com in the coming weeks.

A virtual GIS intrigues at least one of GCSAA’s past presidents. He cannot wait to dive right in — and he hopes others will join him.

“I think it is absolutely wonderful GCSAA has come up with something for the show. I’ll try it,” says Gerald Faubel, CGCS Retired, a 55-year association member who served GCSAA as its president in 1990. “GCSAA has been very innovative. It makes you proud of the association.”

— Howard Richman, GCM associate editor

Special events at GIS 2021

Although the glitz, glamor and gaming of Las Vegas will, regrettably, not be a part of the Golf Industry Show experience in 2021, there will still be plenty of bright lights and big moments in the virtual GIS experience taking its place.

From the presentation of GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award (to CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz) to a one-of-a-kind panel discussion with the leaders of golf’s most prominent organizations, the 2021 virtual GIS, Feb. 2-4, promises to offer attendees the same exclusive opportunities they’ve come to expect at in-person versions of the event.

“GIS has always been a unique opportunity to turn a spotlight on the golf course management industry, the job of the superintendent, and to bring together thought leaders from all corners of the game of golf,” GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans says. “And even though we’re not gathering in person this year, we’re confident that the virtual GIS experience gives us a similar opportunity, and we’re excited by the events that we’re going to be able to present to attendees.”

Many of the most notable events during the week will be presented “Live from GCSAA.” A production crew will be on-site at association headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., to oversee daily live events that will feature familiar faces, such as Golf Channel’s Lauren Thompson — an integral part of GIS in 2019 and 2020 — Evans and GCSAA President John R. Fulling Jr., CGCS, among others.

Lauren Thompson golf
Lauren Thompson of Golf Channel

Those unable to attend these big events as they happen won’t be left out in the cold. Three of the week’s most notable events — the Opening Session and the two General Sessions — will be available to attendees on-demand for 30 days following the conclusion of the virtual GIS.

Here’s a closer, day-by-day look at some of the most noteworthy events taking place during the 2021 virtual GIS, all coming to a computer, tablet or smartphone near you.

Tuesday: Opening day

The curtain will rise on virtual GIS on Tuesday, Feb. 2, with the Opening Session. Presented in partnership with Syngenta, the event will be among those presented live in their entirety and will be hosted by Thompson. In addition to welcoming attendees to the virtual GIS and offering a full preview of the week ahead, the Opening Session will also feature a retrospective of Fulling’s unique year as GCSAA president and the presentation of the Old Tom Morris Award to Nantz, a three-time Emmy winner and the lead anchor for CBS Sports’ coverage of golf, the NFL and college basketball.

Editor’s note: Read much more about Nantz and the Old Tom Morris Award in Jim Nantz: Calling the shots.

Day One of the virtual GIS will also feature a quartet of hourlong Education Power Hours, popular sessions from in-person editions of GIS that have been transformed for the virtual event; the first day of the trade show, which will offer 24-hour access during the event; a virtual reception for equipment managers; as well as another reception to acknowledge the contributions of those involved in the Environmental Institute for Golf and GCSAA’s government affairs activities.

Wednesday: Hump day

A one-time tag line for previous Golf Industry Shows described the event as a place “where the world of golf comes together.” That will certainly be apropos on Day Two of the 2021 virtual GIS when a panel discussion featuring the leaders of golf’s major organizations will take the spotlight during the week’s first General Session.

2021 Golf Industry Show
Dubbed Managing the Challenges of Disruptive Change, this discussion will be hosted by Evans and will feature a panel including USGA CEO Mike Davis, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, LPGA Tour Commissioner Michael Wahn and PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh.

“While golf has been an escape for many during the pandemic, all aspects of the game were forced to change in light of COVID-19, from schedules being adjusted to professional events being played without fans,” Evans says. “The session will take a look at how golf is managing the crisis, how its moving forward to face other challenges and how golf facilities can use the same leadership tactics for their own operations.”

In addition to a deep dive into a year defined by disruptive change, other topics on the docket include the future of the game, advocacy efforts, outcomes of the 2020 election, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and environmental advancements.

Two more Education Power Hours are also on tap Wednesday, one focusing on labor in golf course management and the other on leadership development. Special events that highlight GCSAA certification, chapter management and GCSAA’s Grassroots Ambassador Program are also scheduled for Wednesday, as are the Ladies Leading Turf and EXCEL Leadership Program online receptions.

Thursday: Final day

One of golf’s most talked-about projects — the development of the PGA of America’s new headquarters in Frisco, Texas, and the construction of 36 holes of championship golf there — will be front and center during Behind the scenes at PGA Frisco, the second General Session of the 2021 virtual GIS and the standout of the final day of live events.

Attendees will get an inside-the-ropes look at the design, construction and planned maintenance of the two championship courses, which are slated to open in 2022 and will play host to major events in both men’s and women’s professional golf, including the 2027 PGA Championship.

Hosted by GCSAA CEO Evans, the panel at this General Session will also feature PGA Frisco’s GCSAA Class A Superintendent Roger Meier, golf course architects Gil Hanse (who designed the East Course) and Beau Welling (who designed the West Course), PGA of America Chief Membership Officer John Easterbrook, Matt Lohmann of Wadsworth Golf Construction and Doug Wright with Heritage Links. “PGA Frisco is a unique project with lots of moving parts spread out over 680 acres,” Evans says. “And while it will be a place that will host high-profile events, the lessons learned during its development can be applied at any golf facility.”

Thursday’s schedule also includes GCSAA’s Annual Meeting and Election, another quartet of Education Power Hours and the Closing Celebration that will put a bow on a unique version of the annual Golf Industry Show.

— Scott Hollister, GCM editor-in-chief