Moore is director of the USGA Green Section’s Education Program and has been with the USGA since 1984 and will be retiring this year. His duties include the development of a wide range of educational materials including written, Internet and multimedia resources for golf course management and environmental issues. Before joining the USGA, Moore was a golf course superintendent for seven years and completed his superintendent career at Ridgewood Country Club in Waco, Texas. During this time he served as President of the Texas Turfgrass Association. He is also a proud veteran of the United States Air Force.
In 1975 I decided to leave the Air Force and attend Texas A&M, majoring in agronomy and turfgrass management. While in school, I managed a small sod farm, built a green at the local municipal golf course, and worked as a laborer and night waterman for Briarcrest Country Club. When my GI educational assistance ran out I had to leave school and take a job as the assistant superintendent at Padre Isles Country Club near Corpus Christi. After a few months the superintendent of Briarcrest took another job and the membership approached me about taking the vacated position. I was allowed to continue my education while working as the superintendent. Getting the job at Briarcrest was truly a turning point in my life. This opportunity allowed me to work as a superintendent, finish my degree, begin a personal relationship with Dr. Marvin Ferguson — who lived in Bryan, Texas and was the architect of Briarcrest — and most importantly, meet my future wife, Kay Lobrecht.
Although I have visited over 1000 different courses in my career with the USGA, none were more personally gratifying than those made to military courses. On one occasion, the USGA assigned me to visit 14 courses across the U.S., Germany, and Guam to assess their green construction needs and maintenance programs. Although none of the courses are prestigious, they all provide tremendous enjoyment to those that play them and it was a privilege to be a part of that mission.
As director of the Green Section’s Education and Outreach program, I have helped expand the sharing of our agronomic information. We now use a wide variety of digital communication methods to deliver scientifically sound and sustainable golf course maintenance practices to a world-wide audience. This includes the development of software to allow users to better manage their resources such as water, labor, fuel, etc. We have significantly expanded the USGA’s web presence through the development of the USGA’s Course Care, Water Resource Center and Best Management Practices websites.
MATT WARD: What’s the most glaring difference from when you started in the field to what is happening now?
JAMES MOORE: Without question — the availability of information. When I started there were a couple of monthly magazines and one or two educational meetings per year where we would share our personal experiences over the past year and hear turfgrass scientists share their research findings. There was also the occasional salesperson dropping by the course to explain their product line – and in the process share what they were seeing during their travels. The annual visit by the USGA agronomist combined the scientific information with their day-to-day observations gathered from the other courses they had visited. Today, the amount of information from these sources is coupled with an extraordinary collection of online materials. In addition, people are in contact with each other almost nonstop, sharing ideas and experiences.
MW: Golf faces an ever demanding climate — environmental groups of one type or another see the sport as being a drain on critcial resources — water especially. What’s your take on the situation and how must the key organizations within golf proceed?
JM: Organizations representing golf should be concerned – and they are. Although the recent droughts brought the issue of golf’s use of water to the headlines and subsequent public awareness and concern, the leadership of golf has long recognized the need to manage resources in a sustainable manner. Water emphasized the need to better manage all natural resources while world-wide financial challenges demanded better business strategies leading to economic sustainability. The good news is that solutions are out there already. There are drought-tolerant grasses than can be utilized. There are maintenance schemes that can result in significant reductions in intensively managed acreage of the course which reduce all resource consumption. Employing these grasses and practices is already resulting in a greater variety of golf experiences across the country – which is good for the game.
MW: The USGA staged the last two Open events at Pinehurst #2 and Chambers Bay respectively. The set-ups for both were to provide natural areas — not completely verdant green. How successful do you view those events in educating golfers on what golf turf can and should be for ongoing play?
JM: Extremely successful demonstrating an infinite variety of golf course setups and appearances. Wall-to-wall green is on one end of the spectrum while courses that offer large acreages of naturalized vegetation are on the other. Most courses fall somewhere in the middle — depending largely on regional environmental and economic challenges. It is also true courses can adapt to changing environments and circumstances. No matter how the course is maintained the game can still be fun and challenging to every level of golfer. I believe this flexibility helps ensure the future of the game.
MW: Related to that — what’s the biggest misconception golfers have regarding turf preparation and maintenance?
JM: Unfortunately, many golfers believe if enough money is spent the maintenance staff will have complete control of nature and course conditioning. Although today’s superintendents are better educated, have better tools, and manage better grasses than ever before, nature still has the ultimate say on how the course looks. I often compare the efforts of golf course superintendents to the tugboat that guides the supertanker into port. While the tugboat can influence the direction of the tanker, if the tanker wants to go south the tugboat will not be able to stop it.
MW: Given your long standing career – what role should the USGA Greens Section play in the years ahead?
JM: The Green Section’s role in the future should be the same as it has been since 1920 – providING scientifically sound agronomic information for the betterment of golf courses. By continuing to support turfgrass research we ensure this information is of the highest quality and relevance. The delivery methods will continue to change with much greater use of information sharing technologies. In addition to the one-to-one model of the Course Consulting Service, the USGA Green Section will continue to make the information, materials and products we produce available world-wide.
MW: What issue proved to be the most vexing during your career?
JM: By far the amount of resources courses spent on the maintenance of a hazard – bunkers. Assuming the putting greens are in good shape, the most common complaint I hear from golfers about their course is how bunkers are inconsistent. Even limited budget courses often spend far too much of their available resources trying to achieve this goal.
MW: On the flip side — what key issue or situation gave you the most satisfaction in being resolved?
JM: The many improvements in irrigation technology have dramatically improved the appearance, health, and playing quality of golf courses. Equally important has been the improved utilization of our most critical resource – water. I worked as a night water man, where I moved hoses and sprinklers based on how long it took me to drive around the course – not on the needs of the turfgrass. Today’s systems utilize scientific measurement of turfgrass needs and computerized control of water delivery – and they are constantly being improved.
MW: You have a mulligan to take given all the things you’ve accomplished in your position — what would you decide to have another shot at doing?
JM: I wish I had kept of record of all the people I have met and the places I have visited. The past 32 years has been a constant learning experience. Unfortunately, I often find myself having to relearn a forgotten lesson. The diary might not have been great reading for anyone else but I would love to be able to revisit friends made along the way and the experiences they shared with me.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it — and who was it from?
JM: A course I managed had a terrible skunk problem. Every night the skunks ripped up turf all over the course. My solution was to ride around at night with a shotgun. After watching this futile effort an elderly member of my staff asked me why I didn’t just control the insects that the skunks were eating. The lesson was to look for the cause of problems rather than focusing on the symptoms. This lesson applies not only to golf course management. At least in my case, it applies to life in general.
MW: Where do you see the golf industry as it relates to turf science and education being in 100 years from now?
JM: We will have grasses almost completely resistant to pests and use very little water. The use of satellites to collect agronomic data will be commonplace. Real-time agronomic, environmental, and resource consumption data will be collected automatically and clearly presented to a superintendent making their management decisions far more accurate. Robotics will almost certainly reduce labor needs. But, there will still be challenges demanding more scientific research and the continuing education of golf course superintendents. And, golfers will still be complaining about the bunkers.