Meet Mike Sanders | OSU HCS Alumnus Class of 2017
Whether or not your ultimately interested in studying turf, Mike had some wise words applicable to anyone: "keep an open mind. It is easy to become dead set on one path, especially when you’re young. Go out and experience as much as you can, be a part of anything you can, meet and talk to whoever you can, and the rest tends to just fall into place."
Fortunately, Mike had the time to elaborate on what running a lawn care company is really like + some further advice for students considering studying turf:
How’d you initially become interested in turf?
I became interested in turf when I began working at Blue Ash Golf Course in Cincinnati under Dan Walter during high school. I had always mowed lawns since I was a kid and Dan was my high school golf coach at the time. He offered me a job as a groundskeeper under him and mentored me through the rough basics involved in golf course maintenance before advising me to attend Ohio State and expand my passion for the turf industry.
How did your time at HCS help prepare you for your career?
My time at HCS not only gave me the basic fundamentals educationally to manage high quality turf but allowed me to connect and network with so many individuals of all levels throughout the industry - many relationships I still have and value today. The turf program also guided me to and through my internships at Oakmont CC (Oakmont, PA), Weston CC (Weston, MA), and time at the Columbus Crew SC. Essentially, HCS and the turf program opened so many doors and allowed me to experience so many facets within the turf industry and they have all molded me into the person I am today. By giving me the knowledge and understanding in plant pathology, landscape construction, Turfgrass management, and agronomy/ horticulture in general I have been able to excel in this field. Coupled with the relationships and networking opportunities HCS afforded me, I have been able to advance my career throughout the industry.
What’s the rough career path that brought you to being the Owner of Butler County Turf Solutions?
After working as an intern at Columbus Crew SC during school, Oakmont CC, and Weston CC I was hired as an assistant superintended at Louisville Country Club in Louisville KY upon graduation in 2017. After two years in that role, I became interested in a change of pace and continuing to explore the turf industry.
In 2018, I was hired as a Foreman/Plant health technician at Miller Landscape and Gardens in Norwalk, Ohio (now owned by another HCS grad, Abby Miller). In this role I was able to learn how to apply my turf management skills within a business setting - providing fertilization, weed/insect control, seeding, and installation services to residential and commercial clients. During my time at Miller’s, I learned a vastly different side of the industry from what I was used to in that when you manage one or several courses and fields, you have total familiarity with those areas and the issues they frequently face as well as total control over the inputs and cultural practices performed on them.
With residential and commercial lawn care, not only are you prioritizing sound agronomic and business practices, but there is a very wide range of issues, microclimates, surprises, and expectations to manage. Every lawn is a blank slate and I found that challenge and potential relationship with the client exciting. So, in late 2021 I decided to move back to my hometown of Hamilton, Ohio to operate my own business providing the same services I did at Miller’s as Butler County Turf Solutions.
What’s a normal day look like for you?
A normal day for me is like it is for a lot of others in this industry: a long one. I mean that in a good way though! I typically arrive at my shop around 6:30 in the morning to begin loading my necessary equipment, fertilizer, and materials, and mixing whatever application I may be applying that particular day. I usually arrive at the first client’s property around 8:00 to begin lawn treatments for the day (out of common courtesy neighbors with my equipment noise I rarely start actual work before 8:00, sure beats my 4:30 starts at Oakmont!).
I typically move through the days route or neighborhood completing applications, talking with clients about their lawns current conditions, and fielding any calls about new business or scheduling future activities. I will typically complete most routes by 5:00-5:30 and then I prefer to meet with new potential clients to give estimates or go over their lawn from 5:30-6:30.
The not fun part of my schedule but possibly one of the most important is completing the office work and accounting. I typically try to log and send invoices, pay bills, and do the necessary supporting work about 3 times per week after I get home between 6:00 and 7:00 if I don’t have many new customer requests. Sometimes the office work can get pushed to the weekends if its peak busy season in spring and fall. They can be very long days, but ultimately very rewarding and I enjoy managing every aspect myself.
What have been a few highlights of your time so far in the turf industry?
My main highlight by far was working at Oakmont CC in Oakmont, PA as an intern in 2016 when we hosted the US Open. The attention to detail, course conditions, and overall spectacle and scale of the event was unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. The blood, sweat, and tears put into hosting an event of that magnitude is something only those involved will ever understand. I have rarely ever seen the type of camaraderie and teamwork I was able to experience during my time working with the crew at Oakmont. We had one mission with one possible outcome and that was to provide one of the most challenging and thrilling tournament experiences in golf while showcasing unmatched course conditions. The only outcome was perfection and we achieved that as close as humanly possible. I look back fondly and proudly on my time at Oakmont Country Club.
I also greatly enjoyed working for the Columbus Crew SC during my time at Ohio State. Helping to manage a beautiful field with exceptional playability to the teams preferences, it was a lot of fun to provide a product that so many got to see in person and on television. The atmosphere and the roaring of the fans when a Crew goal was scored is also something I think was a major highlight in my career experiences.
Any advice for students considering pursuing a career in the turf industry?
This industry is not easy. Most if not all of us work more than 90% of the general population and it can be very physically demanding. But the satisfaction and life/practical skills learned beats about every other job in my mind. It is what you make it!
I have no regrets. My relationships, knowledge, experiences, and luck have all built on each other over time, opening doors and always showing me there is more to learn. None of it would have been possible without HCS and the turf program.
Today, we have a wide variety of academic paths for you to choose from to help you pursue a career in the turf industry…