Blog, videos aid superintendent

March 15, 2011 

The scholarly journals of the golf turfgrass industry feature articles such as "Effects of cultural practices on earthworm casting on golf course fairways'"and "Disease control and fungicide rotations."

Pure geek science is no stranger to the golf-maintenance profession, but still, the microscope on the window sill seemed an atypical accessory for a course superintendent’s office.

In fact, it’s a working instrument for Justin Ruiz, in his first month as superintendent at Olympia’s Indian Summer Golf and Country Club.

The microscope is borrowed – from Timberline High School – because the course didn’t have one when Ruiz started the job.

It’s all in the service of science, which enhances problem solving, which can only help him communicate with the members at the private Indian Summer course.

If the microscope strikes a visitor as old school and low-tech, let it be said that Ruiz, 33, is fully engaged with the modern age and its fast-twitch electronic tools.

He has not one but two awards from golf course industry peers to prove it.

Last summer, Ruiz, then at The Rim Golf Club in Payson, Ariz., detailed his use of social media on the job in the article “Facing Facebook, talking Twitter” in Golf Course Management magazine (www.gcsaa.org/GCM/2010/june/), the monthly journal of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

The article, which focused on the communication benefits of social media with members and customers at The Rim, earned Ruiz the 2010 Leo Feser Award, given by the GCSAA for the best superintendent-written article in Golf Course Management.

Ruiz was presented his award last month at the GCSAA Education Conference, held in conjunction with the Golf Industry Show in Orlando, Fla.

While in Florida, he also picked up the grand prize for Turf Wars, the GCSAA’s video contest. His video, “All in a Day’s Work,” is about innovations in conserving water at The Rim.

For Ruiz, who studied horticulture and turfgrass management in college, not journalism or multimedia, writing and video are not his natural habitats.

But the writing has gotten better and easier the more he’s done it, he said, and the video, well, his wife helped.

“She pretty much masterminded the whole thing,” he said of his wife, Kasey Holloran-Ruiz. The couple’s two children, daughter Ireland, 4, and son Tiernan, 1, starred in the video.

As a kid growing up in Eugene, Ore., Ruiz came to admire the way golf courses looked when he watched on TV. As a teenager, he went to work at Laurelwood Golf Course, a mature nine-hole course near his home, taking shifts with the maintenance crew in the early morning before school and “picking the range” after school.

He played on the golf team at South Eugene High and studied at Lane Community College in Eugene, and briefly at the University of Oregon, where he narrowly missed making the golf team.

He moved on to Oregon State University and its well-respected horticulture and turfgrass program. There, he studied under Tom Cook, an esteemed professor and scholar, longtime friend to the Northwest golf superintendent community and, by the way, author or co-author of the articles referenced in the lead paragraph of this story.

At OSU, he got the science grounding that helps to augment the “feel” of things in the golf course environment.

“I just love the problem-solving part of the job,” he said. “Science is a big part of it. I guess I’m pretty good with the reasoning of why things work.

“I can go out there and say, ‘That doesn’t look right,’ and I can figure out the science behind it.”

After college, Ruiz worked about a year at The Reserve in Portland, then worked in Phoenix for another four years before moving to the mountains of central Arizona at The Rim.

About halfway through his four years in Payson, Ruiz began writing a blog for the membership.

“The blogging kind of shows people, instead of assuming this is what we do, it’s right there spelled out,” Ruiz said. “This is how we do things – I don’t have anything to hide.”

Recently, Ruiz was able to use the borrowed microscope to examine a turf plug for a recurrence of cool-weather pythium on the greens. You would know that if you checked out his new blog at Indian Summer (www.indiansummergolf.blogspot.com), where you can also click to watch his award-winning video.

For Ruiz, the blog makes clear that he sees his job as, yes, about science and grass and the crane fly larvae on some of the problem greens on the course. But, maybe even more, it’s about communication.

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