A Perfect Marriage: Superintendent Blends Turf and Tech
Most of us are familiar with Thomas Edison’s definition of genius as 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Here’s another one you’ve probably heard a million times: Necessity is the mother of invention.
Jason VanBuskirk, who founded one of the golf industry’s rare tech startups (and whose company was recently acquired by another), bridles at the genius label. “I’ve always thought of myself as the resident geek,” he says. But if we meld the two aphorisms above and salt that mixture with a serious case of viral encephalitis, we’ve outlined the factors that led one superintendent — whose work-life balance was sorely lacking — to build two companies that help fellow superintendents combat the same issue.
VanBuskirk, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 13-year association member, founded Turf Cloud in 2016 with fellow superintendent and University of Rhode Island turf grad Stephen Ohlson. The firm’s proprietary online dashboard, Turf Dash, gathers for turf managers the entirety of a property’s relevant data in one place via three core programs or “bins”:
- CourseTrakk, a digital job board that helps superintendents manage and monitor ongoing labor allocations
- EquipTrakk, a digital logbook that allows superintendents and equipment managers, together, to keep tabs on equipment coming into the shop for routine maintenance or emergency repairs
- AgTrakk, which enables superintendents, their assistants and any staff member to log and monitor all agricultural practices and inputs performed each day, each week and each month on any square meter of the property
“This is the sort of data most supers, in an ideal world, attempt to gather, analyze and deploy right now, but superintendents know better than anyone just how much time that requires,” VanBuskirk says. “Turf Dash streamlines the process by digitizing it, storing it in the cloud and allowing the super or any authorized staff to pull it down in one accessible place — a phone, a tablet, a desktop computer.”
What has also become clear: This technology, and the time it saves, enables more sustained, far better analysis of this information.
“I formulated the ideas behind Turf Cloud based on running a 36-hole golf club, something I did for eight years,” VanBuskirk says. “But then my life changed suddenly, and I didn’t have the time I once did. I wasn’t arriving at 4:30 a.m. and wiping down the job board. I wasn’t there to do that sort of thing, lots of things. But I still needed to keep tabs on my staff, my assistants. I still needed budget numbers, input information, all that stuff, and I needed remote access so I could dial in from wherever I was — the hospital, my house or halfway down the turnpike.
“I used to be the sort of super who went in on Sunday night, just to get this sort of thing in place — to get everything in place — for the week to come. Looking back, I can see my work-life balance was not good. I just didn’t realize how bad it really was until Gloria got so sick.”
The all-American dream
VanBuskirk had always been a man with a plan. He was in a hurry too. The Massachusetts native grew up outside Boston, in Framingham. At 15, after he’d started working course crews at nearby Wayland Country Club, he got it in his head to become a golf course superintendent. He graduated from the turf program at the University of Rhode Island in 2006, with the goal of a head superintendent’s gig by the time he was 30. Before he’d even left URI, he was offered an assistant position at the private Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Mass.
He was 21 when he met Gloria Bennett. She was 18. VanBuskirk fell hard, he says, for this “fiery little redhead with no filter.”
“We met young. We were both kids,” he says. “But I knew from the get-go I was going to marry her. We grew up together, and from the beginning, we agreed that I would work work and she would work home. First four years, that’s just what we did. Job, house, dog, kids, white-picket fence — the all-American dream.”
After VanBuskirk had been at Oakley for two years, there was a changing of the guard. The head superintendent left, and the resulting chaos left a bad taste. He wasn’t ready for the head job, he reckoned, but the routine of an assistant’s life didn’t thrill him either, so he bolted and took a job with Scotts Lawn Care. “I wanted to try something else in the industry, and that was a good gig in a lot of ways,” VanBuskirk says. “I learned a lot of things — but one of those things was I don’t want to be pushing a spreader all my life.”
After five months, he applied for an assistant’s position at Stow Acres Country Club, a 36-hole, daily-fee facility located just inside I-495, Boston’s outer beltway that just happens to be dotted with dozens of tech companies, from giants to wee startups. Outside of Silicon Valley, it’s one of the largest concentrations of tech in the country.
“After nine months, my boss at Stow comes to me and says he’s leaving. I was not ready, but I put in for it, and got it,” VanBuskirk recalls. “That was March 2008. I was 24. I had met my goal, six years early.
“I was pretty green, but I threw myself into the job. It was a great facility — a place where I could try all sorts of cultural practices that might not have even been attempted at a private club. I got involved in the New England (golf course superintendents) association and built a network. I learned a ton from those guys. And, like I said, I was the resident geek — the techie they came to with all those types of questions.
“At Stow, I had a staff that, in turn, I was able to raise up and teach and mentor,” he says. “We hosted a Junior PGA and all sorts of Massachusetts Golf Association championships. Great ownership. Two great golf courses. I worked ridiculous hours there, did a lot of cool things and had a lot of fun.”
A 'gut-wrenching' life change
In late 2013, with the Christmas holiday approaching, Gloria VanBuskirk (right, with Jason) started complaining of stomach pains. When they didn’t pass and actually worsened one night, Jason rushed her to the local hospital. Everyone thought she was suffering from ulcers. Jason figured they’d head home straight away with some medication, maybe schedule a follow-up. But doctors kept her that night. Then the next night. And the next.
On day four, she experienced a grand mal seizure, lost consciousness and suffered violent muscle contractions — the type of seizure most people associate with an epileptic episode. Indeed, a grand mal seizure is most often caused by epilepsy, but it can sometimes be triggered by other health problems.
Then Gloria had another seizure, and doctors rushed her to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
“I wouldn’t talk to her again for two and a half months,” her husband recalls.
The doctors at Beth Israel were baffled by her symptoms at first. They monitored her closely for two days before putting Gloria in an induced coma to stop the seizures.