Assistants take center stage at Green Start Academy

In its 12th year, educational and networking event presented by John Deere Golf and Bayer pays dividends for both attendees and presenters.


IMG_4417 Michael Stevens (right), the Southeast regional director of agronomy with Billy Casper Golf, speaks to attendees at the 2017 Green Start Academy, which took place in Raleigh, N.C., in October. Photo by Scott Hollister

Mike Bibler faced a dilemma. And not your run-of-the-mill, "paper-or-plastic" kind of dilemma. No, this one was a little more vexing, carried a little more weight than that.

Bibler, the assistant superintendent at Sylvania (Ohio) Country Club — the birthplace of GCSAA back in 1926 — had applied for and been accepted to attend the Green Start Academy, the well-regarded educational and networking event for assistants presented by Bayer Environmental Science and John Deere Golf. Earning a spot at Green Start has been a career goal for Bibler, so his acceptance to be a part of the class of 2017 was a big deal.

There was just one problem — Bibler's wife Jennifer was scheduled to deliver the couple's second child (they have a 3-year-old son, Blake) just one week after the event was set to begin in late October. It was, as the five-year GCSAA member readily admits, cutting it pretty close.

"We both knew the dates when I applied, but I wasn't even sure I was going to get in. I thought it was kind of a long shot, to be honest," Bibler says. "But once I got accepted, she was pretty insistent that I go. She kept telling me 'You never know if you're going to get this kind of opportunity again, so we'll figure something out.' Really gracious of her to think that way and to let me be away from the family for three days at a time like that."

In the end, all was well that ended well. Jennifer did not go into labor during Green Start (and as of the writing of this story, she still had not; she's scheduled to be induced on Monday morning), which saved Mike a frantic trip to the airport or, failing that, an arduous 10-hour road trip back home, which was his Plan B if he wasn't able to catch a flight home in time. And that meant he was able to take in all that Green Start had to offer, an experience that he said, "blew his mind."

"A lot of times assistants don't get the opportunity to travel to GIS or take part in all of their state conferences and meetings," Bibler says. "To get the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in the business, to meet people from all over the country, was an unbelievable experience. Definitely exceeded my expectations."

IMG_4431 Pat Finlen, CGCS, the general manager at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, was one of the featured speakers during the 2017 Green Start Academy. Photo by Scott Hollister

That sentiment was shared not only by Bibler's fellow attendees at this year's Green Start, but also by the impressive list of presenters who took part in the proceedings, sharing tips on everything from résumé writing and budgeting to the value of GCSAA membership. It's a list dominated by heavy hitters from around the industry — Pat Finlen, CGCS, from The Olympic Club, Pinehurst's Bob Farren, CGCS, and Lukus Harvey from Atlanta Athletic Club, for starters — who to a person say they get as much out of the experience as do the assistants.

"Even though I come here and contribute, this is really a learning process for me because I get to listen to all these other great people speak and present their thoughts and opinions on our industry," says Finlen, the former GCSAA president who is general manager at the famed San Francisco club. "Also, just talking with these assistants is something that energizes me. It's as much a learning experience for me as it is for them."

From the perspective of Green Start's presenting sponsors, their long-standing support of the event continues to deliver results, as well.

"For us, this is all about investing in the profession of the golf course superintendent through education," says Ren Wilkes, John Deere's tactical marketing manager for golf. "Over the years, more than 600 assistant superintendents have gone through this program, and we see that as an investment in the future of the game and the future of the profession. It's one of the most rewarding things that we're involved in."

David Wells, who is Bayer's golf business manager, says, "Like most commercial entities, we think a lot about return on investment. And when we think about the Green Start Academy, we see an immense return on investment in the form of the value this is providing for the industry by giving these assistants a learning and networking opportunity they might not otherwise get.

"This program isn't about John Deere or Bayer. It's about those assistants and the panelists that we're able to bring together with an eye on the future of the industry."

For more information on Green Start Academy, go to

Scott Hollister is GCM's editor-in-chief.