UMass Turf Program History: 100 Years of Turfgrass Science & Management
Over 7,000 students have been trained by notable pioneers and educators at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Stockbridge School of Agriculture
By: Dr. Scott Ebdon, Emeritus Professor
The nation’s first turfgrass course originated with Professor Lawrence S. Dickinson. His course was entitled “Winter School for Greenkeepers” at Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1927. Many consider Professor Dickinson as the father of turfgrass education, including legendary Golf Course Architect Geoffrey Cornish, who joined him as a young teaching assistant working for his Master’s degree in Agronomy in 1937. Seven men registered for the first 10-week course in 1927. The curriculum included landscape background, botany, soils and fertilizers, water systems, drainage, equipment, managerial problems, grasses and grass seeds, and cost keeping and analysis. The tuition for the term was $10 with a $5 registration fee and board may be obtained at the college dining hall for approximately $7.50 a week!
Turf Winter School was the first program of its kind and has run continuously with the exception of a three-year hiatus during World War II. The University of Massachusetts Winter School for Greenkeepers continues (but not at the same fee) as the University of Massachusetts Winter School for Turf Managers. From its establishment in 1927 until today over 5,000 students have gone through the winter school program. The University of Massachusetts was the first to recognize the need for this type of schooling for professional turf managers. Several other university sponsored programs of this type exist today.
Pictured above is the 'Massachusetts Agricultural College Winter Greenkeepers Class' circa 1930. Included above are greenkeepers from Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
In 1929, Professor Dickinson was one of the featured speakers at the National Greenkeepers Convention, known today as Golf Industry Show as part of the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America (GCSAA). In 1962, Professor Dickinson was the second recipient to be honored with the prestigious United States Golf Association (USGA) Green Section Award, followed by UMass Professors Joseph Troll (turf agronomy) in 1991 and Pat Vittum (turf entomology) in 2015. University of Massachusetts and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture (SSA) alumni including superintendents Sherwood Moore in 1987 and Ted Horton in 2008 were also honored recipients of the USGA Green Section Award. Dr. Troll in 1983 and Ted Horton in 2019 were also honored with the GCSAA Distinguished Service Award along with Professor Lawrence Dickinson in 1958, Geoffrey Cornish in 1981, Sherwood Moore in 1982, Professor Eliot Roberts in 1991, George Thompson in 2000, Donald Hearn in 2008, and Professor Pat Vittum in 2017. Alumni of UMass Turf Winter School and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture also include four GCSAA national presidents including Sherwood Moore (1962), Donald Hearn (1987), Michael Wallace (2002), and James Fitzroy (2010).
Lawrence S. Dickinson
Asst. Prof. of Agronomy
USGA Green Section
Sherwood A. Moore
SSA Class 1936
USGA Green Section
Asst. Prof. of Agronomy
USGA Green Section
After World War II, in 1947, Professor Dickinson established the nation’s first associates degree in Turfgrass Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. The first class had humble beginnings with nine students graduating in what was then called the “Fine Turf” option.
Above is the first “Fine Turf Maintenance” undergraduate students of 1948 of the newly formed University of Massachusetts Amherst. Formerly Massachusetts State College (1932-1947) and Massachusetts Agricultural College (1869-1931). From left to right O’Leary, Boyle, Sullivan, Thomas, Edwards, Murphy, Smith, Sellers, and Rohan. Many of these undergraduate students were veterans of World War II.
On Professor Dickinson’s retirement in 1958, Professor Joseph Troll followed in coordinating and teaching Turf Winter School and Stockbridge School turf program courses. Since the establishment of the associates degree in 1947 over 1700 A.S. degrees have been conferred in Turfgrass Management. Many A.S. students have continued their turf education by pursuing B.S. degrees at UMass in Turfgrass Science & Management as well as graduate degrees. This trend continues to this day. The total number of B.S. degrees since the tenure years of Professor Troll to now exceeds over 500 B.S. degrees in Turfgrass Science & Management.
Professor Troll is credited with expanding the turf program and for establishing the annual Massachusetts Fine Turfgrass Conference and Industrial Show the forerunner of the New England Regional Turf Conference and Show as one of the largest turf conferences in the country. The New England Regional Turf Foundation (which has overseen the regional conference for over 25 years) raises millions of dollars for funding university turf research programs.
Professor Troll (and Dickinson) emphasized practical aspects of turfgrass management and developed placement training requirements for 2-year turfgrass management students that are still in practice today. Teaching and research continues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst including faculty working in all aspects of turfgrass science including agronomy, physiology, pathology, weed science, entomology, and nematology. A modern 17-acre research and education center equipped with working labs and maintenance equipment is named in honor of turf educator and pioneer Joe Troll and is used by faculty for research and training of graduate and undergraduate students. The original turf research facility was 9-acres and was established by Dr. Joe Troll and Dr. Robert Carrow. Other past notable UMass turf faculty and educators during Professor Troll’s tenure include Drs. Prasanta Bhowmik (weed science), Richard Cooper (agronomy), Kirk Hurto (agronomy), Eliot Roberts (agronomy), Gail Schumann (pathology), William Torello (physiology), Pat Vittum (entomology), Don Waddington (agronomy), and Robert Wick (pathology/nematology).
Turf experiments were started by Professor Dickinson as early as 1923 at the Massachusetts Agricultural College. Current research conducted by turf faculty at the 17-acre Troll facility includes species-cultivar studies, management trials targeting pesticides and biological controls, drought survival, fertilizer and nutrient use, weed biology and control, and insect and disease biology and controls.
Pictured above are some notable faculty from 1958 including turf Professors Joe Troll and Elliot Roberts.
Joseph Troll Turfgrass Research and Education Center dedicated in 2004 is bordered by the Connecticut River in South Deerfield, Massachusetts (photo from 2019).
Pictured above are 64 undergraduate members of the Turf Club from the class of 1964 standing on the steps of Stockbridge Hall.
The excellence of turfgrass education continues to this day at UMass. Pictured above are the 2nd place undergraduate team members of the 2012 GCSAA Turf Bowl competition. Many of these undergraduates returned the following year to claim the top spot as 2013 GCSAA Turf Bowl National Champions.
Our future needs for turf managers: As urbanization expands and human populations continue to increase, above are some visionary words of wisdom from the SSA Turf Class of 1975 on the life sustaining benefits of turfgrass to society.