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Virginia Tech’s turfgrass research program celebrates 50 years

September 7, 2023  - By
(Photo courtesy of Mike Goatley)

Entomology graduate student Jordan Thompson tells the audience about an emerging pest the Asian Jumping Worm. (Photo courtesy of Mike Goatley)

The turfgrass program at Virginia Tech celebrated its 50th year at its Turf Day on August 29.

Alumni, industry partners and agronomists from around the mid-Atlantic region attended the event.

“We displayed the latest and greatest variety trials and some other cool things my colleagues have going on with remote sensing, cryogenic weed control and laser control,” Mike Goatley, Ph.D., Extension turfgrass specialist, says. “I was able to sit back and be amazed at both what they dream up and the students that lead those research projects.”

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, Virginia Tech honored three of its earliest faculty, Dick Schmidt, Ph.D., Jack Hall, Ph.D., and David Chalmers, Ph.D.

“We had a lot of Hokie alums that hadn’t seen their advisors or mentors in several years,” says Goatley, who attended the university from 1985-88. “So we made it a two-day affair with a golf tournament and a banquet reception at our alumni center.”

Goatley and Schmidt recently penned a comprehensive history of the university’s turfgrass research program. Goatley says the program anticipated 125 attendees but saw 165 make the trip to Blacksburg for the reception and field day.

An impressive history

Mike Goatley shows the 2023 Field Day crowd the 2019 National Turfgrass Evaluation Program bermudagrass variety trial. (Photo courtesy of Mike Goatley)

Mike Goatley shows the 2023 Field Day crowd the 2019 National Turfgrass Evaluation Program bermudagrass variety trial. (Photo courtesy of Mike Goatley)

According to Goatley, turfgrass research at Virginia Tech began in the mid-1950s, with the Virginia Tech Turfgrass Research Center officially opening in the 60s.

“Two people come to mind that got this program started,” he says. “John Shoulders, a forage agronomist, tasked with turfgrass Extension research and Roy Blaser, Ph.D. Blaser was an internationally renowned agronomist who made his mark in the turf industry.”

Shoulder and Blaser were both key players in the construction of a nine-hole course at Virginia Tech designed for student research of bentgrass on tees and greens.

Shoulders eventually became the university’s first Virginia turfgrass Extension specialist. Shortly after the duo launched the program at Virginia Tech, the Virginia Turfgrass Council was formed.

The proof is in the plots

With 50 years of research, Goatley says the program has plenty to be proud of.

“The expansion of bermudagrass as a choice here in the transition zone,” he says. “Our evaluations have shown how these grasses can fit in this area and might even be lower input and provide better playing conditions for golf courses for a longer period of time than many of our cool-season varieties.”

Goatley adds that the pendulum has begun to swing back in the direction of cool-season turfgrass from a breeder perspective.

“Big picture, I think we’ve shown people that even if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, which very much describes the transition zone, there are possibilities and options for turfgrass and management programs in terms of pest control and irrigation requirements, ” he says.

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About the Author:

Rob DiFranco is Athletic Turf's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Athletic Turf, DiFranco was a sports reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio

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