Educational Programs

Penn State offers several options for an education in turfgrass management: The four-year bachelor's degree program prepares students for a wide variety of careers in the turfgrass industry, and masters and Ph.D. programs offer opportunities for advanced studies. Penn State, in fact, holds the distinction of graduating the first Ph.D. in turfgrass management: Dr. James Watson received his Ph.D. in 1950. The two-year program, with about twenty-five graduates each year, is for those interested in becoming golf course superintendents. Penn State World Campus is another option for students who want to earn credits through distance learning. Penn State's educational programs in turfgrass management have graduated thousands of turf managers who can be found in the industry throughout the world.

Two-Year Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program

Chances are, any golf course superintendent you ask has heard about Penn State's two-year golf turf program--and could very well be an alum of that program. Since 1957, Penn State has offered a certificate in golf course turfgrass management for individuals interested in careers as golf course superintendents. Graduates can be found at top golf courses around the country and around the world.

"Our two-year program is one of the things that put us on the map," according to the late George Hamilton, who served as technical advisor for the two-year program from 1992 until 2004. "It's a career enhancement program that provides accelerated training for people who may have been in the golf course industry for a couple of years and want to move up, or for someone in a different industry who's ready for a change. Most of our students have taken college courses, and a lot of them have college degrees. They need the technical expertise to enable them to do a job, and that's what the two-year program is all about."

Two-year program

Students in the two-year program observer H. Burton Musser demonstrate equipment that measures soil compaction. 1958.

Admission into the certificate program is competitive. Each year, only twenty-five students are selected from fifty to seventy applications, based on scholastic achievements, work experience, personal goals, and other factors. Applicants must have at least two full seasons of work experience in turfgrass maintenance and must be recommended by a golf course superintendent.

Students in the two-year program attend classes for two eight-week terms each year on the University Park Campus. They then complete six months of on-the-job training in the turfgrass industry, usually at a golf course. More than 100 training opportunities are available at golf courses all over the world, and Penn State faculty help match students with optimal training experiences.

While on campus, students take courses in identification, establishment, and maintenance of the grasses used in various climates throughout the United States and Canada; identification, production, and maintenance of trees and shrubs; principles of irrigation; identification and control of insects and diseases that attack turf and ornamentals; and basic plant sciences. Additional courses in personnel management, writing, speech communications, and accounting help students prepare for positions of responsibility.

One of the more popular courses in the two-year program focuses on life skills; this course was known as "etiquette" in the program's earlier days. In the class, students learn business etiquette: how to introduce people, how to generate conversation, how to choose a glass of wine from a wine list, how to write a thank-you letter.

"I loved the etiquette course," says John Pollok, a 1987 graduate of the two-year program and director of agronomy at Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita, California. "I was working at a high-end club where you had dinner with members. And I'm a farm boy from Minnesota--we didn't have seven-course meals. So I thought it was great, and to this day I go back to what I learned. Some guys didn't take it seriously and lost GPA points because of it."

Says Mary Johnston, the staff assistant responsible for administering the program from 1969 to 1995, "I remember the students would complain to me now and then about some of the courses they had to take. We had one student--a top student--who decided he didn't need to take the etiquette course. He showed up for the final, and he failed. He didn't graduate until he took a correspondence course on etiquette. Then there was always a lot of complaining about the speech classes, but they learned how to make presentations, which they needed to know. When I would go to the turf conferences, I'd always hear from former students about how beneficial those courses were. They came to realize the value of their education."

Alumnus John Pollok credits the two-year course for boosting his career. "I was accepted right out of high school, when I was cooking burgers at a golf facility," he says. "I started working with a Penn State grad on the golf courses and fell in love with it. And I knew that if you wanted to be a golf course superintendent, Penn State was where you wanted to go. It was pretty intense--I think I had fifty-six exams during my first forty days of class. My professors--Duich, Waddington, Watschke, and Sanders--were four of the top professors in the world in their field. You don't realize the quality of teaching while you're in school--until you get out in the field and start networking and talking to other superintendents. Then you find out how good the professors really were. That Penn State reputation definitely helped me in my career."

"What made the program special for me," he continues, "was that we all went to the same classes together. It was a tight-knit group of classmates, and we're a tight-knit group of alumni. My roommate became my best friend, and to this day we talk almost every day on the phone. I've got friends on some of the best golf courses in the U.S. It's a great network to be a part of."

From the program's earliest days, faculty members and administrators have worked continually to improve the curriculum. "The program was fine-tuned over the years," says Johnston. "They kept tweaking it till it was exactly what the students needed."

Fred C. Snyder, who served as director of the two-year program from its beginning until 1978, recalls traveling the country to talk with alumni in the golf course industry, getting feedback about what aspects of the program were most helpful and what aspects could be improved. "I would meet with ten or twelve graduates every summer," he says. "The Pennsylvania members of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America were always especially helpful in giving us advice on what should be taught. I would consult with Joe Duich, who was then the program's technical advisor, about the suggestions I received, and we'd adapt the program accordingly. And the program is successful: 86 percent of graduates stay in the turfgrass business. That's very, very high."

Both Snyder and Johnston have fond memories of the program's earlier days. "I got to know the students very well," says Johnston, "and I loved being with them. I partied with them and helped them through some harder times, too. I would help them find housing, doctors, whatever they needed. It was so rewarding. And educational--I've never set foot on a golf course in my life, but I know a lot about the golf course industry!"

"I remember sometimes helping students get tickets to the football games or finding them an apartment downtown if campus was full," adds Snyder. "I never told anyone how much I enjoyed the job--I was afraid they'd take it away from me!"

Four-Year Program in Turfgrass Management

It used to be that undergraduate agronomy students interested in careers in the turfgrass industry were offered only two courses that provided broad overviews of turfgrass management. But since 1992, thanks to the efforts of Donald Waddington, professor emeritus of soil science, and Tom Watschke, professor of turfgrass science, students have the option of earning a bachelor's degree in turfgrass science designed to prepare graduates for a broad range of professions in the industry.

"Sometime in the early 1980s," says Watschke, "Don and I thought we should develop a major in turf. Don really spearheaded the effort--he developed the nuts and bolts of the curriculum--and when he retired it fell to me. I used to teach Agronomy 36, a course that touched on everything from how to put a grass plant in the ground to what do you do after it grows--and you just don't get much done. You can't cover everything in sufficient detail. So to build a turf curriculum, we separated the pieces and made them courses in their own right. Now there's a course in just weed control. There's a course in just soil properties. There's a course in just pesticides."

The turfgrass science major, established in 1992 and the first program of its kind in the country, includes basic and applied sciences, business management courses, and an internship to prepare students for careers in turfgrass management and related areas. By carefully choosing supporting courses and electives, students can tailor the program to match their interests and professional goals. Employment opportunities include golf course maintenance, sod production, sales and service, athletic field maintenance, and field and laboratory research. Students can also prepare for graduate study leading to careers in teaching, research, and extension.

"It's a unique curriculum that doesn't look like the agronomy curriculum," Watschke said. "When we were developing courses, we went to industry and asked what the curriculum should look like--what kind of employee we should be turning out. Overwhelmingly, folks in the industry said, Include business. So we have courses in finance, accounting, business law, employee relations."

Students enrolled in the undergraduate turfgrass science program, as well as graduate students and those enrolled in the two-year technical program, have the opportunity to join the Penn State Turfgrass Club. This club is a way for students to socialize and informally exchange ideas and discuss trends in the constantly growing turfgrass industry. Club activities include seminars by leading professionals in the turfgrass industry, field trips, and golf tournaments.

Penn State World Campus

"Oak Hill Country Club's East Course is known for its small, "target-type" greens and impeccable tournament quality. All of the greens merit this lofty praise, except for number 3. Surrounded by 60-foot tall oak trees and white pines, the green is moderately shaded most of the day. This is a "push-up" green with many years of accumulated sand in the top portion of the profile from topdressing. The membership is unhappy with the current situation and wants the green brought up to the level of the others comprising the East Course."

This is one of several real-world case descriptions students find when they log onto Turf 436W: Case Studies in Turfgrass Management, a World Campus course taught by A.J. Turgeon, professor of turfgrass management. Students read through the introduction and background and then move on to more detailed information covering cultural operations, views of the green, traffic pattern, soil profile, and soil and water test results. After becoming familiar with the situation, students work in teams to find a solution.

Penn State's World Campus offers a variety of degree and non-degree programs that allow students to work at their own pace through on-line courses. Two turfgrass management programs, one basic and one advanced, are designed to build knowledge and skills in areas such as pest management, turfgrass cultural systems region. The fifteen-credit basic program is designed for professional turfgrass managers who want to expand their existing turf management expertise and for individuals interested in golf course maintenance, professional lawn care, grounds maintenance, sod production, sales and service, athletic field maintenance, and research support.

Those who have earned the basic online certificate and want to enhance their knowledge may want to consider the twenty-nine-credit advanced program, which builds upon the basic certificate program and complies with the Professional Development Initiative of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). Designed for golf course superintendents and employees, lawn care operators, and grounds managers, the advanced program consists of the twenty core credits offered in the basic program, supplemented by nine additional credits selected from a variety of areas to enhance students' skills in related fields like business management, speech communications, and organic chemistry.

Launched in 1998, Penn State's World Campus turf programs have been successful, with more than 1,700 graduates. "Much of the program's success is due to faculty expertise," says Turgeon. "Our faculty members in agronomy, entomology, and plant pathology are not only experts in their respective disciplines, they are computer-savvy instructors. They understand the unique demands of delivering academic content through the World Wide Web and other information technologies, and they are intimately involved in the teaching process."

The case studies approach is another factor that contributes to the program's success. "Students often don't know the information they're supposed to know because they didn't learn it in earlier courses very well," says Turgeon. "They crammed for a multiple-choice exam and then forgot it. Case studies present real problems, real decisions that need to be made, and students are given all the information they need to do that. Instead of hearing a lecture, they are put into a real-world situation. Students are divided into teams and they post their comments online--we have bulletin board group discussions.

"You soon find that not every case is just a technical problem," continues Turgeon, who travels the world visiting golf courses and collecting case studies. "There may be economic constraints: this may be a good solution but you can't afford it. What's a more cost-effective way? There may be social constraints: you want to chop down those trees but there may be some real ownership of those trees and you're affecting the visual appeal of the golf course. There may be ethical issues: I just made a mistake and chopped down those trees. Where's my integrity there? So we begin at a technical level and move to other levels. It's not just turfgrass--it's people, resources, relationships."

Correspondence Courses

Correspondence courses in the College of Agriculture had their beginning in 1892, when Henry J. Waters, professor of agriculture, introduced the first Home Reading Course in Agriculture. Then, in 1957, long before the technology of World Campus changed the face of distance education, a correspondence course was introduced for those interested in improving their home lawns. This course was taught by H.B. Musser and A.E. Cooper, Penn State extension turfgrass specialist from 1946 till 1958. The course was offered free of charge to Pennsylvania residents. The following description of the Agronomy 130 course appeared in the 1957 Pennsylvania State University Bulletin on Correspondence Courses in Agriculture and Home Economics:

Course 130 -- Establishment and Maintenance of Home Lawns
This correspondence course by Professors H.B. Musser and A.E. Cooper covers soil preparation, the use of lime and fertilizers, the best grasses for lawns in various sections of Pennsylvania, and detailed instruction in how to mow, water, and care for established turf. Modern methods for the control of lawn weeds, diseases, and insects are outlined and directions given for repair and renovation of poor, worn-out lawns. (Course will be available April 1, 1957.)

"Correspondence Courses have carried facts from the University to people in their homes and . . . have helped thousands of people who otherwise would not have had the benefit of organized college courses," the bulletin states.

Current Faculty

Penn State's turfgrass management program has a worldwide reputation for excellence, and one of the reasons is its faculty and staff. Past and current faculty members are recognized as among the best researchers and educators in the world. "We have a tradition of standing faculty nurturing new faculty members," says Thomas Watschke, professor of turfgrass science. "That is unique, and it's by intention. We strive for continuity--we want to make sure that the right people are carrying on the work."

Jeffrey Borger, Faculty Instructor in Turfgrass and Weed Managerment in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Borger's areas of research include: weed control, plant control regulator use, and fertilizer and pesticide runoff in rain and irrigation water. He is responsible for the weed control and plant growth regulator field research program at Penn State, as well as teaching weed management to both two-and four-year students and team teaching in two other turfgrass classes.

David R. Huff, associate professor of turfgrass breeding and genetics, performs basic and applied genetics on a wide range of grass species, including many native to North America. Using DNA markers, flow-cytometry, and cytology as tools, Huff and his staff sort through the complex genomes of these grasses during the breeding process. In the area of crop improvement, Huff focuses on enhancing tolerance or resistance to stresses, such as traffic, disease, and temperature extremes. Huff is also researching turfgrass reproductive biology. He received his Ph.D. in genetics from U.C. Davis in 1988, M.S. in genetics from U.C. Davis in 1983, and B.S. in crop and soil sciences from Michigan State University in 1980.

John E. Kaminski, assistant professor of turfgrass science, conducts applied research in the areas cultural and chemical management of fine turf. His studies investigate ways to reduce the use of pesticides through sound cultural practices and improved application techniques. Kaminski received his Ph.D. in Natural Resource Sciences from the University of Maryland in 2004, M.S., in Agronomy from UMD, and two B.S. degrees from Penn State in the areas of Turfgrass Science and Landscape Contracting. He also serves as the Director for the Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program.

Peter J. Landschoot, professor of turfgrass science, serves as the resident extension turfgrass management specialist in Pennsylvania. He organizes regional conferences; develops extension publications, slide sets, videos, and computer programs; contributes to newsletters and trade magazines; and participates in media events. Through presentations at meetings, seminars, workshops, and field demonstrations, he provides current management information to clientele. Landschoot, whose Ph.D. research focused on turfgrass diseases, concentrates his research on integrated pest management with emphasis in disease management, use of composts as soil amendments in turf, turfgrass variety evaluation, and soil fertility. He received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in agronomy from Penn State and his Ph.D. in plant pathology from the University of Rhode Island in 1988.

Andrew S. McNitt, assistant professor of turfgrass science, focuses his research on athletic field safety and playability and golf green construction. His current research projects include various studies on turfgrass root zones; evaluating playing surface characteristics of infilled synthetic turf systems; and evaluating sand top-dressing procedures for several bentgrass varieties. McNitt teaches turfgrass courses in Penn State's four-year and two-year programs, as well as through World Campus. His academic degrees, all from Penn State, include a Ph.D. in soil science in 2000, M.S. in agronomy in 1993, and B.S. in horticulture in 1983.

Max Schlossberg, assistant professor of turfgrass nutrition/soil fertility, researches fertilizer use efficiency in turfgrass systems. His current projects include evaluating cultural practices for accelerated treatment of acid soil complex, characterizing organic and inorganic soil amendment of turfgrass root zones, and developing soil sampling, analysis, and interpretation protocol on the basis of site- and management-specific parameters. Schlossberg teaches turfgrass nutrition courses in both the two-year and four-year programs. He received his Ph.D. in agronomy from the University of Georgia in 2002, M.S. in agronomy from the University of Georgia in 1999, and B.S. in agronomy from Texas A&M University in 1994.

A.J. Turgeon, professor of turfgrass management, teaches case studies courses in turfgrass management for both Penn State World Campus and resident education. He conducts research in turfgrass morphogenesis, edaphology, and management systems. He is the author of Turfgrass Management, the most widely used text on turfgrass management in American universities. Turgeon received his Ph.D. in crop science from Michigan State University in 1971, M.S. in crop science from Michigan State University in 1970, and B.S. in plant science from Rutgers University in 1965. He served on the faculty at the University of Illinois (1971 - 1979), as head of the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center at Dallas (1980 - 1983), as Vice President for Research and Technical Services with the Tru Green Corporation (1983 - 1986), and as head of the Department of Agronomy from 1986 until 1994.

Thomas L. Watschke, emeritus professor of turfgrass science, advises undergraduate turfgrass science majors and coordinates the undergraduate turfgrass science program in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. He teaches both resident and World Campus courses in many aspects of turfgrass management. Watschke's research concerns the evaluation of plant growth regulators and the entire spectrum of herbicides for use in turfgrass management systems. Research into the management of Poa annua as a desired golf course species is an ongoing and long-term project. In the area of water quality, Watschke is involved in an interdepartmental project (crop and soil sciences, plant pathology, entomology, agricultural engineering, and horticulture participating) to study the effects of fertilizers and pesticides on the quality of water emanating from turfgrass surfaces. Other research areas include turfgrass physiology, turfgrass establishment methodology, and the evaluation of bio-stimulants. Watschke, who joined the Penn State faculty in 1970, received his Ph.D. in agronomy from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1971, M.S. in agronomy from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1969, and B.S. in horticulture from Iowa State University in 1967.

Paul Heller, professor of entomology, joined Penn State as a faculty member in 1976. He serves as an instructor for courses taught in the two-year and four-year programs, as well as World Campus. Heller co-authored the publication Turfgrass Insect and Mite Manual.His research focuses on conventional and biorational management of annual bluegrass weevil, black cutworm, bluegrass billbug, hairy chinch bug, nuisance ant, and scarab white grubs. Heller's extension appointment includes turfgrass and Christmas tree integrative pest management. He received his Ph.D. in entomology from Ohio State in 1976, M.S. in entomology from Ohio State in 1972, and B.A. in biology from Malone College in 1970.

Albert R. Jarrett, professor of agricultural engineering, teaches turfgrass irrigation on landscaped areas and golf courses, as well as surface and subsurface golf course drainage issues.His research includes sedimentation basins and green technology (low impact development), including green roofs and bioretention areas.

Mike Fidanza, assistant professor of horticulture, is located at the Penn State Berks Campus in Reading, Pennsylvania. He teaches courses in turfgrass management, horticulture, botany, and soil science. Fidanza actively participates in turfgrass extension and outreach activities in Pennsylvania. His current research projects include turfgrass ecology and integrated pest management, as well as pedagogical research on undergraduate learning and instruction. Fidanza received his Ph.D. in plant and soil science from the University of Maryland in 1995, M.S. in agronomy from Penn State in 1989, and B.S. in agricultural science from Penn State in 1987.

Wakar Uddin, assistant professor of plant pathology, researches turfgrass diseases and control strategies. His studies involve developing disease-predictive models that help turfgrass managers in their timing of fungicide applications for maximum effectiveness. He also investigates the biology of pathogens that relate to virulence, and host-parasite interactions that identify the susceptibility of various turfgrass species to attack by pathogens. He received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Nevada in integrated pest management, and his Ph.D. in plant pathology from the University of Georgia in 1997.

Current Staff

Lisa Crytser is staff assistant to Pete Landschoot. She handles on-site registration for Penn State's annual Golf Turf Conference and Northeastern Pennsylvania Turf Conference and Trade Show, as well as research field days every other summer. She also handles daily administrative work.

Susan Eisenhauer, staff assistant, coordinates recruitment and academic advising for the four-year turfgrass science program. She also performs administrative work for turfgrass faculty members David Huff, Andy McNitt, Max Schlossberg, A.J. Turgeon, and Thomas Watschke. This work includes scheduling meetings and typing class material, research reports, and letters, as well as assisting with registration at the Penn State Golf Turf Conference and Field Days. She maintains the turfgrass alumni database and helps with Penn State Turfgrass Club activities. She is currently working toward a certificate in business management at Penn State.

Art Gover is a research support associate for Penn State's Roadside Vegetation Management Research Project (Department of Horticulture). The project's research trials investigate methods to manage troublesome plant species while preserving or re-establishing desirable vegetation. Gover received an M.S. in agronomy from Penn State in 2003 and a B.S. in plant science from Penn State in 1985.

Timothy Lulis, research technician for John Kaminski, performs day-to-day management of Kaminski's research program, including data collection and analysis, plot establishment and maintenance, and supervision of students. He received his B.S. in Turfgrass Science from Penn State in 2001.

Jon Johnson is a research support associate for Penn State's Roadside Vegetation Management Project (Department of Horticulture). He is responsible for overseeing the project's daily activities, including developing and establishing research trials, implementing large-scale demonstrations, and making certain that the details and terms of the contract are met. Johnson received a B.S. degree in agronomy with an emphasis in turfgrass management from Penn State in 1987. He is working toward an M.S. in horticulture at Penn State.

Danny E. Kline, staff support technician for the turfgrass entomology program, assists Paul Heller in completing research reports and research protocols for turfgrass insect efficacy trials. He also develops PowerPoint presentations for use in the classroom and for outreach/extension programs and assists at various educational workshops and conferences. In 1998 he received the Certified Turfgrass Manager designation from the University of Georgia.

Roy Knupp is a research technician for David Huff. His responsibilities include establishing and maintaining turf breeder nurseries and trial plots, as well as greenhouse plant material for genetic research, class purposes, and breeding and propagation needs. Previously Knupp worked for Joseph Duich in the same capacity. He holds a B.S. in elementary education from Penn State (1976).

David Livingston, a 1992 alumnus of Penn State's Two-Year Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program, maintains the turfgrass research plots at the Joseph Valentine Turfgrass Research Center and the Landscape Management Research Center. He also teaches turfgrass management classes to Penn State students.

Dianne Petrunak, research technician for Andy McNitt, performs day-to-day management of McNitt's research program, including data collection and analysis, plot establishment and maintenance, and supervision of students. She received her M.S. in plant pathology from Penn State in 1991 and her B.S. in plant science from Penn State in 1988.

Robert Raley, research technologist, assists with field research, including data collection from golf courses throughout Pennsylvania, with the goal of solving problems facing the golf course superintendent. He is a 2001 graduate of Penn State's Two-Year Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program and holds a B.S. in geography with a concentration in cartography (1999) from Frostburg State University, Frostburg, Maryland. He is currently working toward an M.S. in agronomy from Penn State.

Heather Treaster is coordinator of Penn State's Two-Year Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program. She provides information to new and prospective students, assists students with financial aid and housing, schedules classes, handles budgetary issues, and coordinates graduation ceremonies. She also assists with registration at the Penn State Golf Turf Conference and Field Days. She received an A.S. in business administration from Penn State in 1995.