Virginia Turfgrass Journal – A Turf Zone Show Host Interview
The Turf Zone: Welcome to Virginia Turfgrass Council’s Turf Zone podcast. In this episode, we’re talking to VTC member Brian Glass. He’s the Athletic Field Manager with the City of Lynchburg Parks and Rec. Thanks for joining us today Brian.
Brian Glass: Thank you, Julie. Thanks for having me.
TTZ: Alright, so for this member spotlight, we just want to start right at the beginning. Tell us how you decided to pursue a career in turfgrass management.
BG: Well, it all started when I was pretty young and I played a lot of golf and I was always curious about the grass on the golf course and how they took care of it and so I pursued a golf course job when I was 14 years old. I worked my way up and then when I went to college, I went to a turf school, Eastern Kentucky University and got a Bachelor’s Degree in turf and I started off on the golf courses and worked there about four years and got kind of burnt out with it and switched to a college, Sweetbriar College and started working on the athletic fields there and I’ve been working on athletic fields for the last 17 or 18 years and I really like it.
TTZ: So what are some of the differences – what has held your attention in sports turf management as opposed to golf turf management?
BG: They’re similar in many ways, but they are different in — a lot of the ways you take care of the grass. Golf course, it’s more aesthetics and sports turf it’s more just tore up and fighting compaction and just trying to keep grass there. There’s not as much spraying in sports turf as there is in golf course, but they’re both difficult in different ways. Like I said, you’re mainly fighting compaction on sports fields all the time, especially in goal areas, where sports like soccer or lacrosse. Golf course, you’re mainly fighting disease because you’re pushing the grass to high demands for golfers who want the grass cut short and they want it green all the time.
TTZ: That’s not unreasonable at all. How many and what type of sports fields are under your management?
BG: I take care of right at 10 acres – 10 or 11 acres – of sports turf. Pretty much all of it is Bermuda. We’re overseeding this year, two acres, a lacrosse field. We’re trying that out this year with the sports turf blend. It’s a ryegrass/bluegrass blend. We’re going to see how that works. For lacrosse they like to have the green grass in March and April and that just doesn’t work very well with Bermuda, so we’re going to try it and see how it works this year. My team does 11 acres and also maintain some infields and softball fields, we do various stuff with parks and rec. You never do the same thing each day, there’s always something different. There’s a lot of things we do.
TTZ: What are some unique challenges of your job?
BG: We have a pretty small crew. Parks and Rec is a small department on its own. It’s probably only 25-30 full time people and most of those are in the office. We’re the few that are working outside. Counting me it’s three full time people and three part timers. So we get big projects every once in a while just randomly and it takes a lot because we’re not a big crew. A lot of the jobs we do, I’ve done it with 10 or 12 people with other employers and you have to really work well together to get the job done. That’s probably one of the hardest parts of this job, is doing the big tasks with a small group.
TTZ: Absolutely. So aside from making the best of fewer resources in terms of employees, what is a lesson you’ve learned the hard way in your career?
BG: I’d say probably, in this industry, I think no matter how persistent you are – and that helps – but I’ve seen ever the best operators and the most talented people – it’s never a 40-hour week in season. Some people have a hard time grasping that. You can work as fast and as hard as you want, but you can’t beat Mother Nature. Some weeks you’ve gotta work 50/60 hours a week to get the job done and you’ve gotta bury your hours. It’s not a 7 to 3:30 job, it’s just not. A water system breaks down and you’ve gotta water manually, you gotta throw yourself in at night. And stuff like that, it’s hard for people who do normal jobs, like office jobs to undertand that. You’re dealing with mother nature, it changes daily and yearly, and you have to adapt.
TTZ: With that type of schedule and unexpected challenges, how do you maintain that work.life balance? Do you have hobbies, do you still play golf? What do you do away from your turf management job?
BG: I do love turf. When I go home, I find myself working in the yard a lot. But that’s a stress reliever for me, you know. I like to keep – when I look out the window of my house, I like to see a nice landscaped yard. That’ll never change. I do get tired of it sometime, but I just love doing it. Me and my wife go to a lot of sporting events, a lot of local festivals. I play golf some. Not as much as I probably want to, and I stay plenty busy.
TTZ: Do you have a mentor in the turf industry who’s guided and directed your career?
BG: I would have to say it would be Dr. Mike Goatley from Virginia Tech. I met Dr. Goatley my first year at Sweetbriar College, at a conference in Roanoke. And just kind of fell in love with him right off the bat. I was trying to learn about athletic fields and the difference between sports fields and golf courses and he just fell right into that, answered all my questions, really energetic. And I’ve looked up to him ever since and still do. Whenever I have questions, when I get in a tough job or something I don’t understand and I’m having trouble with and I shoot him an email and he always answers me back. I’d say for the east coast, he’s probably the man to turn to, I would say.
TTZ: What would your advice be for people entering the turfgrass industry now?
BG: I’ve actually been mentoring a young person at –I’ve been working at a golf course part time this summer, along with my busy schedule with the city – and he’s young and he’s wanting to get into into it. Like I talked about before, I was like this when I came out of school, 3:00, 4:00 you went home and you did your thing, but it’s not like that. The job demands are there and if you don’t answer them, then who’s going to do it? That’s a big challenge to the job today, and it’s getting tougher with all the new stuff coming out and social media, everybody wants to do all that and I think it’s even tougher. It was tough on me when I started out, and I think it’s going to be tougher today. Working 70, 80 hours a week for not a lot of pay is tough. I think the golf course industry has been hit very hard by that challenge. I don’t think sports turf has been hit as bad, but I know golf course has.
TTZ: Definitely. So you have recently completed the Ceritfied Turfgrass Professional course. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what that looked like for you to go through the course and get the certification?
BG: Yeah, sure. It’s been about, I guess I’ll tell my age here, it’s been about 21 years since I graduated college and went through the turf program and I didn’t have much trouble then, doing it. I thought it was pretty basic and everything, and I was like, the last couple of years I’ve been wanting an extra challenge. It’s been a while since I’ve been challenged bookwise. Maybe I need to get on the right path again and take this test. I went to the Short Course in 2016 and that was kind of a refresher and that was a great course in Richmond, Virginia. And then two years later, I went and took the CTP class. I think it was three and a half days, four days, and I was amazed by the material they covered and the book that was given. I mean it was more material than we had gone over… well, maybe not. Four years in college compared to four days, but they do cover a lot of material and it was not easy and a lot more weed ID than I was used to. I studied pretty good for the test and I think I did fairly well, but it was not an easy test. I think it will challenge just about anybody, even people who have been in the turf industry for 40 years. I say that the test will challenge you to do your best and it’s not an easy test, but I did like it, I thought it was a great test.
TTZ: So aside from gaining the knowledge and spending the time to advance that element, what’s another benefit of having that certification?
BG: I think it increases your job opportunities and your professionalism. Dr. Goatley said in the class right before we started, he said they designed this course and this test that if someone made it through, that he would feel comfortable recommending them for any turf job they applied for. And if he knew someone that did it and made it through that it would be no question that they knew turf and they knew how to do a job in the turf industry without any doubt, so that’s what made me want to do it even more. It’s always making your résumé better, it never hurts.
TTZ: Absolutely, and coming from Dr. Goatley that’s high recommendation for sure. Brian, thank you so much for joining us today and for taking the time to share a little bit about your background and about the CTP Program.
BG: Thank you. I was really honored to be a member and be part of the CTP.
TTZ: For more information about the CTP Program, you can visit the VTC at vaturf.org. Don’t miss an episode of this podcast – subscribe on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also visit us at TheTurfZone.com.READ THE ISSUE