History – Turfgrass Science at Purdue University


Extension Annual Report (1949)

As early as 1937, M. L. Clevett, of the Purdue Athletic Department held seminars for approximately 40 people who were interested in turf.  During the next few years George Scarseth of Purdue University’s Department of Agronomy continued the turf conferences, and when G. O. Mott came to the Department of Agronomy at Purdue University he assumed the responsibility.  Research on grass systems at Purdue University was limited to forages in the early 1900s, but that changed around 1940. In the very early days of World War II, Mott was asked by the Army Air Force to do research on stabilized grass runways and this was among the first turf research at Purdue University.

Extension Bulletin, no. 178 (May 1931)

Interest in golf had been growing steadily and many people with golf interests realized that after the war and the return of veterans this interest would increase rapidly.  As the war closed, golf course superintendents (greenskeepers) from five states, while attending the Purdue Turf Conference, proposed a regional research and education program to be run and organized by an organization called the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation (MRTF).

The first meeting of the Board of Directors of the MRTF was held at the Memorial Union, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana on Tuesday, September 18, 1945.  The first directors present were A. L Brandon, G. O. Mott, Carl Bretzlaff, Fred V. Grau, C. R. Runyan, George T. Donoghue and the following officers were elected:  President, A. L. Brandon; Executive Secretary, G. O. Mott; and Treasurer, Joe Graffis. The Foundation was organized to gather and disseminate information which would help promote the advancement of the turf industry. In 1952, William H. (Doc) Daniel became the Executive Director of the MRTF were he served for many years. The position of Executive Director of the MRTF has always been the responsibility of a faculty member in the Department of Agronomy with Dr. Aaron Patton serving as the current executive director and Dr. Cale Bigelow serving as the associate director. 

Newspaper Clipping from Journal and Courier, Lafayette, Indiana – Thursday, February 24, 1944

Interest in the MRTF grew rapidly and large numbers attended “greenskeepers schools” held in 1946 and yearly thereafter.  In 1950, W.H. Daniel was hired by Purdue University and he began work specifically in turf, and G.O. Mott increased his research on pasture and forage grasses.  Early research efforts of the MRTF and Purdue were focused on grass breeding.  As the industry grew and evolved, the demand for knowledge and technical information broadened and so did the research areas.  From 1971-86, Dr. R.P. Freeborg participated in all phases of the turf program, and especially in research on new pesticides.  In 1985, Dr. Daniel retired from Purdue and Clark Throssell was hired to direct the turf program.  Dr. Zac Reicher joined the faculty in 1997 as Turfgrass Extension Specialist after serving since 1992 on staff as Turfgrass Extension Specialist. Dr. Throssell left the program in 2000 and Dr. Cale Bigelow joined the department of Agronomy in 2002 to replace Dr. Throssell. Dr. Yiwei Jiang joined the Department in 2005 as Turfgrass Physiologist. Dr. Aaron Patton joined the faculty in 2010 to replace Dr. Reicher.

Student involvement was initiated early in the history of the Purdue Turf Program and students were encouraged and mentored through part-time employment in the research efforts as well as outright scholarships from the MRTF.  This strong student relationship in the Purdue University turf program has continued throughout the years.  In the early years of the program, an emphasis was placed on golf courses and golf course superintendents with current emphasis to all portions of the turf industry (golf, lawn care, sports turf, parks, cemetery, airfields, roadsides, sales, etc.).  Purdue Turf Science graduates were and continue to be highly regarded for positions in the turf industry. 

Purdue University turfgrass research projects have always focused on species and cultivar studies, management trials involving pesticide and biopesticide applications, nutrient cycling and management, drought survival, as well as weed biology and control, insect biology and control and disease biology and control.  The latter two areas are an interdepartmental effort with Botany and Plant Pathology (1 faculty, Dr. Rick Latin) and Entomology (2 faculty, Drs. Doug Richmond and Tim Gibb). Many other current research studies have been initiated in the laboratory and the field including research into turfgrass genetics, environmental sustainability, organic production and more.


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