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UMass Winter School for Turf Managers: A Tradition of Excellence

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Student in Winter School

You might think a lot has changed since 1927, and you would be right in many respects. One thing that has not changed is the top-quality training that turf professionals have received at UMass Amherst’s prestigious ‘Winter School for Greenkeepers.’ Established at Massachusetts Agricultural College in the same year that Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic, Winter School maintains the same rigorous standards as it did then, through classroom, laboratory and discussion activities in a seven-week intensive format. After a full day of classes, two to four hours of homework each night wraps up students’ days. This well-respected academic experience keeps classes full, interest high and certified students leaving with up-to-date science-based knowledge, making them highly competitive in their professions.

Winter School was the first of its kind of professional development program established, and, aside from a three year hiatus during World War II, has run continuously for 87 years. Many Winter School graduates have gone on to hold positions of responsibility at prominent turf venues through the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe.  Graduate Nuzhat Gul said, "I was the first Indian to be a certified turf-grass professional after attending the University of Massachusetts Winter School. I am now the first woman in India to become a turf manager at the 18-hole Royal Springs Golf Course (RSGC) in Srinagar.”

One aspect that has evolved over the last decade is the mix of jobs held by graduates. For many years, it was primarily focused on golf turf, but current students are also employed by a wider mix of professions including the landscaping industry, sales forces, sod producers and municipal management, to name a few. This is consistent with the broadening scope of the turf industry in general.  Steve Anagnos, owner, Lawn Care Pros on Martha’s Vineyard and honors graduate of Winter School says, “No question: Winter School has helped my lawn care business tremendously. As our industry becomes increasingly driven by science and regulations, information taught at UMass Winter School is becoming essential to our business. The demanding, fast-paced curricula, has definitely helped me create a reputation for the one to turn to for scientifically-based techniques. I frequently bring my employees to UMass Turf Field Day in South Deerfield and various turf conferences that UMass holds in partnership with lawn care professionals throughout New England.”

Each year, students, from their early 20’s to those near retirement, arrive in Amherst from across the world.  This year’s class includes students from the United Kingdom, Australia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia as well as all the New England states.  In prior classes, students have trekked from Canada, the U.S. South and Mid-West. 

Toro, a company leader in turf and landscape maintenance, is a strong supporter of UMass Winter School. It awards a “Greenkeeper of the Year” prize in both the United Kingdom and Australia. As part of their reward, these two students visit turf-related concerns in the United States and are provided admittance to Winter School.

UMass faculty and staff are justifiably proud of the fact that many high-level turf industry employers ask for certification from Winter School as a condition of employment. Mary Owen, UMass Extension Turf Specialist has been instrumental in the success of Winter School for quite some time.  She shared, “Winter School for Turf Managers has a strong tradition of providing advanced yet practical instruction for people working in the field. We at UMass will continue to be in the vanguard of industry education, and take great delight in working with the enthusiastic, forward-thinking and determined turf industry professionals who are our Winter School students.”  Interim Director of the Center for Agriculture, Dr. Pat Vittum, serves as Academic Coordinator for Winter School.

Related Images: 
Mary Owen instructs students
Students studying turf plugs
Jason Lanier teaches at Winter School
Close up of turf sections
Winter School-Class of 2014
1927 "The Greenkeepers' Class' at Amherst-Mass Agricultural College
Examining rhizomes