STA/Toro Graduate Program, USA Trip

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Written by Joe Bolton
STA (Vic) nomination and outright winner 2017.

Albury airport, 10am. As I sit, waiting for the first flight that takes me on an adventure of a life time I take a minute to reminisce on the last 12 months from the time I had been chosen to represent Victoria, as their Graduate of the year to now, about to spend a week in Minneapolis, USA with Toro
representatives, other turf managers and my mentor Nevesh Ramdhani who is the track manager from Royal Randwick racecourse in Sydney.

The time from when I had won the graduate of the year to when it was time to depart has flown due to constant contact and support from Sandra king from, Toro who planned everything out for me and thanks to her everything went off without a hitch.

As this was my first time traveling overseas I didn’t know what to expect and completely underestimated how far away the America is! After 20 hours flying and around 30 hours of travel in total it was fair to say I was spent, but once arriving in Minneapolis I was excited to see what the next week would bring. My host Ben Cavanagh, mentor Nevesh and relaxed and acquainted ourselves over a meal Sunday night and headed to bed early for a well overdue rest.

Minneapolis in July is a beautiful climate, with the average day time temperature of 28 degrees and staying warm throughout the night. As you can imagine my excitement to finally feel some warmth after leaving Wodonga in the dead of winter where my work mates were toiling away with day time
temperatures that didn’t reach double digits. As we explored the city on our first day we came to the “Mall of America” the biggest shopping mall in America, so big that there is a theme park with multiple rides and rollercoasters in the centre.
Minnesota is known as the “land of 10,000 lakes” and on the Monday afternoon Toro had organised a boat cruise for all the turf managers. On the cruise it was great to mingle with other participants who, other than us 3 Aussies, were based from all different states across America. The beautiful lake that we were cruising on had enormous multi million dollar houses with perfectly manicured lawns that lined the shore, it was hard to believe that in a few months that the lake would be frozen over with a meter of ice and, the houses covered in snow and the residents shivering through 30 degrees.
 Something I had to learn very quickly was the professionalism of the Toro reps and event organisers. Bus leaves at 8.12 sharp, lunch at 1.47 and home time at 5.04, the yanks had the day planned to the minute. Monday was spent touring Toro’s world headquarters where they tested all new machinery
and developed new ideas. Looking at all the new top secret gear was a highlight and has made me pretty excited for the future with some of the technology they are developing that will make the job of a turf manager far more efficient. Toro’s pride in the ir product really shone through and from
seeing the rigorous testing products are put through, it’s no surprise their gear is held in such high regard.

After touring Toro we headed off in the bus to the Minnesota Vikings new training facility, boy is it impressive! 4 full size Kentucky blue grass
grounds, a synthetic ground surrounded by teared seating for trail matches and an enormous building that housed a full-size synthetic pitch they use to train on when the weather turns sour.

This building adjoins all the offices and locker rooms to service the staff and players. That night was spend continuing to get to know the American turf managers, we spoke about the “strange game” AFL, about different cultures in different American states, turf, boomerangs and of course Trump!
It’s so interesting to speak to different people from different states and hear their accents from Florida, Texas, California, New York and everywhere in between.
The next day we spent the day touring Toro’s facility where they manufacture all their equipment in the next state over, Wisconsin. The facility is unique in that there is very little automation and robots, Toro still employs people to carry out most of the assembly of their machines.
I expected to walk into a conga line of machines with robotic arms flying everywhere but, to my surprise that was far from the case.
It’s great to know Toro still cared about local jobs and employed half the town the facility was in.

Wednesday was the last day of the event and it was spent test driving and going over a range of new and prototype machines that Toro was developing, the weather finally gave out and there was on and off showers, but all the participants had a great day and were able to have input on how Toro
can make machines tailored to suit us as turf management. Wednesday night we had a fare well dinner and drinks, the Toro company and all the other participants made us feel so welcome over the whole trip and this night was no exception. We decided to go get some rest after saying our goodbyes and I can honestly say I was sad to leave as I made some great mates.

Waking up on Thursday morning I had mixed emotions, my time with Toro was over but I was lucky enough so be able to stay in the USA for the next 3 weeks which I was certainly excited for! From Minneapolis I flew to New Orleans, where I toured all the way along the coast up to New York
doing things like swamp tours, parasailing, sightseeing and the all-important baseball game! This was a great experience that I won’t forget.

After returning home I have kept in contact with Nevesh. I was invited up to Randwick to work with the track team for a week and experience one of the biggest days in Australian racing, Epsom day. I was lucky enough to stay with Nevesh and was very well looked after by not only the staff at the
Randwick race club but also Nevesh and his family, which I’m very grateful for.
I would like to take this opportunity to again thank the STA and Toro for this epic experience. I have been fortunate to have received such great opportunities, with the support and contacts I’ve made through this whole program, I’m in a great position to continue to strive to be the best turf manager I can be.

If I can offer one bit of advice to apprentices who are passionate about our field its this. Industry leaders are so willing to develop young people and love seeing apprentices flourish, as it for the good of the industry, so ask questions, continue your education and strive for excellence and if an opportunity comes around to be a part of a program such as the STA’s Graduate Program, jump at it!

Joe Bolton

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