GCM's Guide to the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show

This year's event in Orlando will be ‘Unlike any our members have experienced before.’


GCSAA Conference and Trade Show photo illustration
The 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, Fla. promises a unique interactive experience that attendees won't find anywhere else. Photo illustration by Roger Billings

Frank McQuiggan, CTEM, was so excited to attend the next GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, he started making plans before the end of the last one.

“Halfway through last year,” McQuiggan says, “I made my hotel reservations for this year.”

And while McQuiggan admits the destination of the 2023 Conference and Trade Show — which runs Feb. 6-9 in perpetually sunny and warm Orlando — played a part in his eagerness, it’s not all.

“Orlando is like home for me,” says McQuiggan, equipment manager at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill, Pa., and a 13-year GCSAA member. “Me and my wife love to go to Disney. In fact, we’re going on a cruise beforehand. But you know, the show … it’s just a great networking opportunity for me, networking with my peers. Last year, in San Diego, that was a big wakeup for me. I talked to a lot of superintendents, more so than other equipment managers. It just felt like we’ve come to the point where we can see and talk to each other like we’re on the same level.”

This year’s conference and trade show will be McQuiggan’s third. He attended the 2011 show, also in Orlando, and attended last year’s event in San Diego as part of the Melrose Equipment Management Experience.

McQuiggan says he’s most looking forward to two seminars in the EM track: “Principles of Welding and Fundamentals to Fabrication” on Monday, Feb. 6, and “Cutline is King” the following day. He also plans to check out the GCSAA Welcome Reception later Monday at Aquatica Beach, an event presented in partnership with Syngenta, and be among the first through the doors for the Trade Show when it opens at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8.

“A big part of my job is to check out all the new equipment,” says McQuiggan, who in 2022 became just the 15th person to become a Certified Turf Equipment Manager. “I can go back and tell my superintendent, this new piece of equipment looks good. Let’s take a look at it.”

If it sounds like a busy few days (in McQuiggan’s case, it’ll be proceeded by a proper vacation including that cruise and time in the Disney parks), that’s by design.

Ed Several, GCSAA’s chief marketing officer, says the event was intentionally designed to provide bang for the buck.

“This show will be unlike any our members have experienced before,” Several says. “It will be the most interactive experience they can’t find anywhere else. That’s on our website. It’s on our tagline. It’s in the DNA of this event. Everything that’s done and everything that’s been created has been based on member feedback to enable them to learn and do their job more efficiently.

“It’s a robust schedule, but it’s an opportunity for anyone in the golf course management and maintenance industries to learn and make contacts and find new vendor sources to improve their efficiency and productivity. It’s going to be intense, but in a positive and productive way.”

GCSAA Conference and Trade Show photo illustration
Feel the Rhythm entertainment kicked off the fun at the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show opening session. Lauren Thompson returns as the host of this year's Sunrise Celebration on Feb. 8. Photos by Montana Pritchard

Like McQuiggan but a continent away, Eric Verellen is looking forward to all Orlando has to offer.

“Coming to Florida is always a good reason,” says Verellen, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Snoqualmie Falls Golf Course in Fall City, Wash.

That Verellen, an 11-year GCSAA member, was taking time out from dealing with an early December dusting of snow on his course no doubt influenced his eagerness to pack his bags. An intermittent Conference and Trade Show attendee — his last in-person attendance was 2020 in Orlando — Verellen says, “I’d love to go every year. The more I go, the more fun it is to go there and talk to people and see new stuff and reconnect.”

Verellen says he was looking forward to the 2021 event scheduled for Las Vegas, but that was rerouted into a virtual event. Verellen took part, but it wasn’t the same.

“The virtual thing is just different,” he says. “In fact, we’re still doing virtual classes up here for pesticide points and things like that. I probably haven’t seen another golf course superintendent in person in years.”

And while he’ll have plenty of opportunity to remedy that in spades next month, he’s particularly pumped at the prospect of spending some quality time with another member of his staff. This Conference and Trade Show will be the first for Verellen and his 21-year-old son, Gage, who works as an assistant for his dad.

“He’s never been,” Eric Verellen says. “This will be a good opportunity to show him what’s it’s all like, especially the networking, to help him see if he can move on in this business. For a 21-year-old boy to show some excitement, like he did, that’s a big deal.”

Networking is a big deal at the annual get-together, Several stressed.

“As the GCSAA members’ largest annual gathering, it’s an opportunity to make new contacts that will last a lifetime,” he says, “as well as find new vendor partners to not only extend your budget, but also help with efficiency and effectiveness.”

For his part, Several, a veteran of countless golf industry conferences and trade shows, says he’s especially proud of the 20,000-square-foot interactive grass stage that will greet attendees just inside the doors to the trade show floor. That stage, planned as a collaboration between GCSAA and presenting partners the Golf Course Builders Association of America, the American Society of Golf Course Architects and the USGA, will feature a series of forward tees and a green with three types of turfgrass. It will host interactive demonstrations and the event’s “most important” presentations.

“Why give a presentation from a stage,” Several says, “when we can bring an actual golf green and tee box to the show, to represent what our members do every day, which is deliver golf’s greatest stage? The fact we were able to collaborate with these three groups means this will be built by experts. It’s an effort that has a number of groups involved, all coming together in a build that will take place over just four days.”

Throw in the education component, featuring 70 seminars and 18 Power Hours, plus seven hands-on learning tours, and it promises to be a jam-packed four days. But, Several says, it’s very intentionally scheduled. Rather than forcing attendees to choose just one learning tour to attend, for example, they’re scheduled so attendees could make as many as four tours — as space allows.

The education is concentrated on the first two days. Chapter events were accounted for on Wednesday night so there’d be no conflicts. Presentations and demonstrations on the trade show floor are scheduled to be accessible, so attendees won’t feel the need to choose between events.

“This is all based on member feedback,” Several says. “All the education is Monday and Tuesday, for instance, so you can explore and find what you need to do your job on Wednesday and Thursday on the show floor.”

Several says the shindig is designed to end with a bang. On Thursday only, attendees can, for the first time, collect GCSAA Bucks by making trade show booth visits. At the concluding Sendoff Celebration (formerly the Closing Celebration), folks can spend their Bucks at an auction for items that will include a Bass Pro Tracker boat, a Bass Pro Pond Prowler boat, golf gear, lifestyle items and more.

“The theme that day is, ‘Celebrating you,’” Several says, “and that’s what this is, a celebration of those who present golf’s greatest stage every day.”

— Andrew Hartsock, GCM managing editor

Health in Action 5k
Presented in partnership with Syngenta, the 6th annual Health in Action 5k fun run kicked off in San Diego at the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, with proceeds benefitting the GCSAA Foundation. The 2023 edition of the 5k will take place Feb. 7.

Four days in Orlando

When the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show opens Feb. 6-9 in Orlando, attendees will have a hard time choosing what to do and see first. The fully revamped event promises a unique interactive experience with enhanced professional education seminars and events, interactive facility tours, a trade show featuring cutting-edge tools, resources and more, along with specialized tracks designed to boost you and your team.

To help guide you through the week, here’s a day-by-day guide to what’s on tap this year in Central Florida, highlighting the day’s theme and the can’t-miss events and activities available. For more in-depth information about the 2023 event, go to https://bit.ly/3UAeJRu.

Monday, Feb. 6: Champions of the Course

Each day of CTS 2023 will carry a unique, unifying theme, and Monday’s theme — Champions of the Course — will have a literal focus as the final day of the GCSAA Golf Championships takes place. Winners will be determined in the National Championship and across flighted play in the Golf Classic, all taking place at two of Orlando’s most notable 36-hole facilities — ChampionsGate Golf Resort and Orange Country National Golf Center and Lodge. For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3P2NVbB.

The day will also feature a full slate of wide-ranging paid seminars and Power Hour educational opportunities, the latter of which are available to all attendees. Those sessions will cover topics such as networking skills, sprayer technologies, labor solutions and a roundtable discussion among some of the industry’s leading equipment managers.

The day will wrap up with a celebration of the start of CTS 2023 at the GCSAA Welcome Reception at SeaWorld’s Aquatica Beach, presented in partnership with Syngenta. This free event for all all-access and full-pack registrants will feature food, drinks, games, fire pits and more. It’s the perfect opportunity to network, relax and connect with your colleagues.

Tuesday, Feb. 7: Immersive Education

Get your Tuesday off to an invigorating start with the Health in Action 5K, presented in partnership with Syngenta. Proceeds from the 5K registration will benefit the GCSAA Foundation. Prizes will be awarded to first-, second- and third-place finishers in male and female divisions, as well as to winning chapter and corporate teams.

After the 5K, education is the order of the day with interactive tours, seminars and Power Hours, featuring 14 learning tracks developed to represent every role at a golf facility. These tracks allow attendees to design their education to fit their specific professional needs, with tracks including agronomy, business management, equipment management, environmental management and more.

Featured Power Hours on Tuesday include Turfbusters, Vol. 3, with the Turfbusters crew bringing epic myths from the Big Island of Hawaii, and the Municipal Golf Roundtable panel discussion, which addresses the unique features and challenges of operating municipal golf facilities.

Ladies Leading Turf reception
Attendees at the Ladies Leading Turf Reception during the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show at the San Diego Convention Center. The 2023 Ladies Leading Turf session will take place Feb. 8.

Wednesday, Feb. 8: Discovering Innovation

Wednesday tees off with a celebration of a year’s worth of success for the association and its members at the GCSAA Sunrise Celebration, presented in partnership with Syngenta. Host Lauren Thompson will share members’ achievements and recognize award winners’ contributions to the industry. The 2022 GCSAA Board of Directors will be introduced, and the winners of several of GCSAA’s highest honors will be recognized, including the President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship, the Outstanding Contribution Award and the Col. John Morley Award. Join GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans and GCSAA President Kevin P. Breen, CGCS, for the State of the Association Address, as well.

Wednesday also features the first day of activity on the trade show floor, where attendees are invited to explore new innovations and on-the-job solutions in an exhibit space that is expected to feature more than 500 exhibitors. Connect with industry partners and check out interactive education and product launches at the interactive grass stage, which will feature a full schedule of must-see events and presentations, including GCSAA’s Government Affairs Session, which addresses the latest on public policies impacting the golf industry in 2023.

Wednesday afternoon brings the Ladies Leading Turf: Volunteers and the Turf Team Power Hour. In this inspiring session, superintendents who helped enable women course maintenance volunteers at the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Women’s Open tournaments will take center stage. They’ll share the spotlight with women working on the front lines of the turf industry, who will share their experiences on the course. A reception will follow the panel discussion on the Interactive Grass Stage.

Thursday, Feb. 9: Celebrating You

On Thursday, the trade show floor turns interactive to provide a full day of high-octane activities to wrap up the week in Orlando. Attendees will have the opportunity to try out exhibitors’ products and services, learn grinder best practices and get hands-on instruction in the latest industry apps. They’ll also have the ability to test their skills with competitions including cup cutting, blade changing and a mower obstacle course. The final day on the trade show floor also features hourly giveaways with exciting prizes.

Superintendents who have taken the next steps in their careers will also be honored on Thursday during the CGCS Achievement Luncheon, which will celebrate the CGCS class of 2022. The event will also recognize the 25th anniversary of the class of 1997 and the 40th anniversary of the class of 1982.

Putting a bow on the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show will be the GCSAA Send-off Celebration, presented in partnership with John Deere. The newly elected board of directors will be introduced, and the winners of the 29th annual GCSAA Collegiate Turf Bowl will be celebrated. Two more award-winners — the Emerging Leader Award and GCSAA’s highest non-member honor, the Old Tom Morris Award, which is being presented to Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris — will also be featured, and the event will include the continuation of trade show giveaways, a live auction and entertainment.

— Abby Olcese, GCMOnline.com editor

2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show Opening Session
The opening session for the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show at the San Diego Convention Center.

A hands-on happening

Interactive facility learning tours highlight the educational opportunities available at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show.

The education component of the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show Feb. 6-9 in Orlando will provide an extensive, hands-on, interactive opportunity for superintendents and other participants thanks to collaboration from area golf courses.

Whether a participant is interested in bunkers, robotic mowers, best management practices or hosting a First Green event, attendees will be able to participate in a full slate of interactive facility learning tours that will create opportunities for hands-on learning, learning from experts and learning from each other.

Of course, attendees also will have access to traditional seminars during the conference Monday and Tuesday, covering everything from architecture to zoysiagrass. The conference will offer the ever-popular Power Hours, with 18 scheduled Monday through Thursday. Power Hours will provide in-depth guidance on networking, shop solutions, techniques on leading Gen Z staff members to success and much more.

While traditional classroom and panel-discussion-style learning will keep participants up to date on the latest ideas and provide insights into topics of interest, the interactive facility learning tours will open new doors to learning and discussion.

Seven tours are planned — all at facilities in the Orlando area — Monday and Tuesday. Some tour topics will be offered twice, giving participants a choice of attending morning or afternoon sessions. On Monday, four tours are set 8 a.m.-noon, and two will follow 1-5 p.m. On Tuesday, three tours will be offered from 8 a.m. to noon followed by three tours from 1 to 5 p.m.

One of the tours kicking off the schedule Monday morning, “All About Bunkers,” is presented by Capillary Bunkers. Dubsdread Golf Course, a municipal course where Alan Lichter is superintendent, will host the tour. Lichter has been at Dubsdread for 171⁄2 years and was at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, also in Orlando, for the previous eight years.

“I’m excited for it,” Lichter says of the upcoming tour. “It’s a chance to show off a little municipal golf course in Orlando.”

Foley hands-on facilities tour
At the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in San Diego, Foley United gives attendees the chance to see how other facilities handle shop organization, a day in the life on the course, and even drones and how facilities use them. The 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show will feature several hands-on interactive sessions for attendees. Photo by Roger Billings

Five stations related to bunkers are planned for the tour. Lichter, a 24-year GCSAA member, will speak on golfer expectations. Some key issues he’ll address include whether golfers want bunkers softer or firmer, how many times a week they want the bunkers raked, and whether hand- or machine-raking is preferred.

“I’m always willing to help out if someone needs it,” he says. “It will be a chance to show what little Dubsdread Golf Course can do,” especially when compared to the larger, resort golf courses in the area. “Maybe someone can learn something from what we do here, learn through conversations, or maybe I can learn something from them.”

The tour will give attendees a chance to explore new approaches, enabling them to build, rebuild and maintain bunkers more efficiently and effectively. Covering both traditional methods and new ideas, the tour promises participants will be able to take home new methods they can immediately use, including new innovations in bunker maintenance, such as washing bunker sand instead of replacing it.

At the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Grande Lakes, also in Orlando, an interactive tour and discussion on “Best Practices for Success” will be presented by Helena. GCSAA host superintendent Joshua Kelley will lead the tour and discussion. Attendees will be invited to tell their stories and learn more about BMP implementation for any facility. The tour is designed to help participants understand how to maximize BMPs. Ideas presented during the tour will apply to all sizes of budgets and all agronomic regions. Presenters will include GCSAA superintendents, scientists and environmental experts.

Bay Hill Club will host an interactive facility learning tour on “Tournament Prep,” with GCSAA host superintendent Chris Flynn, CGCS, leading the discussion. Superintendents will have a chance to explore the latest in tournament prep, with plenty of innovative ideas for budgets of any size. From setup for a charity outing to professional tournament play, this session will deliver insights superintendents can apply immediately.

At the Grande Vista Golf Club interactive facility learning tour, “Turf Management” will be presented by The Toro Co. GCSAA host superintendent Matt Morrison will lead the tour, which will offer insights into facilities from all regions of the country. Participants will have a chance to explore the use of zoysiagrass for greens, learn of innovations in turfgrass management, and be part of a Toro GeoLink Solutions Autonomous Fairway Mower demonstration as part of the tour.

The interactive facility learning tour at Hawk’s Landing will focus on “Course Technologies.” It will be presented by Husqvarna. GCSAA host superintendent Nick Wilson will lead discussions as superintendents explore a hydroponic tee, learn about new approaches to pump stations with remote monitoring, get an update on effective monitoring of turfgrass systems, and discover the benefits of robotic mowers in a presentation by Husqvarna.

A tour at Orange Tree Golf Club will give participants real-world insight into the First Green program. “Launching a First Green Field Trip is Easier Than You Think!” will be discussed, with Rob Torri serving as GCSAA host superintendent. Participants will observe and learn as experienced First Green host superintendents facilitate five Interactive learning stations with the students from the Florida Virtual School.

First Green instructors will show firsthand how to work with students. GCSAA’s First Green program is a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) environmental outreach program that uses golf courses as learning laboratories. K-12 students participate in hands-on, outdoor learning stations that include lessons on wildlife habitat, soil science, environmental sustainability, mathematics, water quality, water conservation, career exploration and more.

Participants will have access to plans that correlate to each learning station on a golf course. Tips will be shared on how to contact a school, how to bring the students out to a golf course and whom to call to assist on the day of the field trip.

A Foley Learning Tour is planned at Interlachen Country Club with GCSAA host superintendent Bryce Gibson. Attendees will explore Interlachen’s “Between the Lakes,” featuring a shop tour and Foley grinding demonstration, insight into the practice facility’s construction and future, and an Air2G2 demonstration.

As participants explore the many educational opportunities to choose from, 14 tracks of specialized education can help navigate the many seminars and Power Hours available. Tracks are arranged by topic, ranging from agronomy, business management, environmental management and labor to those geared toward assistant superintendents and students.

Visit gcsaaconference.com/education to learn more.

— Darrell J. Pehr, GCM science editor