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Michigan Turfgrass Foundation History

In architecture, a firm foundation is necessary to assure a successful construction project. When it comes to turfgrass research, a strong foundation can likewise spell the difference between success and failure. The Michigan Turfgrass Foundation (MTF) provides strong leadership, allowing turf management to maintain its important scientific role in Michigan.

Michigan is an extremely diverse state. Consider, for example, that portions of Michigan are located:

As far west as St. Louis, Missouri.
Further north than Quebec City, Quebec.
As far east as Tallahassee, Florida; and
Further south than Eureka, California.

These extremes, coupled with the fact that Michigan is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, make it easy to imagine how many varieties of microclimate are dealt with by the state's turf managers. Because of these wide variations, turf researchers at Michigan State University must study a range of problems. Thanks in great measure to the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation, the turfgrass staff at MSU is able to tackle Michigan's turf problems while at the same time keeping MSU an international leader for turf research.

As MSU's turf research staff carries out its duties it is also carrying on a tradition of over 100 years. In his book, Turfgrass Science and Culture, Dr. James B. Beard (formerly of MSU) includes a brief history of turfgrass development and research. In this section he states:

"The first investigations of turfgrasses and their culture were initiated in the United States. Turfgrass species and mixture evaluation studies were initiated around 1880 at the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station by the noted botanist W.J. Beal."

In spite of this long history of turfgrass research and education in Michigan, the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation is comparatively young. It wasn't until October 24, 1956, that eleven turf managers met at the MSU Memorial Union Building for a final organizational meeting of the MTF. As stated in the original articles of incorporation, the purpose of the MTF was as follows:

"To establish and maintain a research and educational fund for the purpose of supporting a program of research and education in turfgrasses in the state of Michigan and to promote and advance the interests of its members as growers of turfgrasses, the turfgrass industry, and associated industries interested in the improvement of the turfgrasses consistent with the public interest and to perform all activities and functions as may be necessary or convenient for the conduct and operation of the business affairs of the foundation, or as may be incidental thereto."

At the October meeting Mr. W. Bruce Matthews of Green Ridge CC in Grand Rapids was elected president of the new foundation; with Mr. William W. Milne of Knollwood CC in Bloomfield as secretary. Serving with these men as the original board of directors were: Alex Chisholm, Leslie Peck, Clarence Wolfrom, George Prieskorn, Bill Smith, Burt Chickering, Norm Halmich and Professor James Tyson. Beginning with this group of individuals and continuing under the leadership of many dedicated persons, the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation has grown from 22 incorporators in 1956 to nearly 2000 members today.

Among the past leaders of MTF are several who have distinguished themselves not only through their service to the MTF but through service to national organizations as well. Jim Timmerman, CGCS of Orchard Hills CC, served as President of MTF in 1981 and then went on to serve as president of the Golf Course Superintendent's Association of America (GCSAA) in 1984. More recently, Jerry Faubel, CGCS from Saginaw CC, served the MTF as president from 1982 through 1983 and then became GCSAA president in 1990. In addition, two other former GCSAA presidents, Ted Woehrle, CGCS from The Orchards GC, and the late Norm Kramer of Point 'O Woods CC, have played active roles as MTF board members.

Twenty-three years after its incorporation, MTF celebrated a red letter day. On October 11, 1979, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the new Robert Hancock Turfgrass Research Center. Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Hancock, an avid golfer who enjoyed quality courses, MSU now had a separate facility for conducting turfgrass research and teaching. Located on a ten acre site, this facility offers a wide range of study areas from various greens soil mixtures to variety trials to studies of varying irrigation regimes. During welcoming remarks at the annual Michigan Turfgrass Field Day on August 31, 1989, Dr. Eldor Paul, Crop and Soil Sciences Department Chairman, announced the transfer of an additional ten acres for turf research. Among other projects, this new land will provide room for athletic field research as well as allowing expansion of other current projects. This additional land was dedicated in the summer of 1993 at which time the many suppliers who provide nearly $300,000 in equipment and supplies each year were honored.

Today, the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation continues to serve its original mission as reflected by its official "Mission Statement," which was adopted by board members in 1993.

"The mission of the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation is to work in partnership with Michigan State University, supporting ongoing programs in research, education, and extension in the area of professional turfgrass management that will benefit all individuals who manage turfgrasses or derive pleasure from the results of such management."

The above mission is carried out by a 12 member board of directors and an executive secretary. Seats on the board are allocated so as to assure a balanced representation including all geographic areas of Michigan as well as the different components of the turf industry. Board members are elected, by the membership, at the Foundation's annual meeting each year. The board then elects the officers who will lead MTF for the next year.

In April 1993 the board authorized its executive officers to pursue the hiring of a part-time executive secretary to oversee the operations of the Foundation. After discussing the matter among themselves and with the current executive secretary, Gordon LaFontaine, an agreement was reached wherein Gordon would become a self-employed contractor of the MTF working on the basis of 40 hours per month to start. At the same time a job description was approved for the position (it can be found elsewhere in this book).

To get a better idea of the industry it serves, the board commissioned a 1988 survey. This survey established a value of $856,262,000 for commercial turf maintenance in Michigan. Add to this amount the money spent by homeowners and the amount of tourist revenue generated by golf resorts within the state, and Michigan's turf industry becomes a nearly three billion dollar business. Making up the major portion of this industry are nearly 800 golf courses, 2500 lawn care and landscape companies, over 250 parks, and some 50 sod farms; not to mention highway rights of way, hospitals, cemeteries, schools and airports.

With these results in hand the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation can better meet the needs of Michigan's turf industry. This is done in keeping with its original purpose of providing a fund for the support of education and research programs. The dissemination of information is an important role for both MTF and the MSU turf staff. Each year MTF co-sponsors with Michigan State University two major educational programs: a Turfgrass Conference each January and a Field Day late each summer.

Each year's Turfgrass Conference brings together turf managers from throughout Michigan and the Midwest for the purpose of reviewing current research results as well as receiving practical ideas from fellow turf managers. Included on the program each year are several renowned turf researchers from the United States and Canada. Since its inception in 1930, thousands of turf managers have gathered for the yearly conferences. The conference affords them the opportunity to learn the latest techniques in the ongoing battle against diseases and weeds, and also allows time just to compare ideas with fellow turf managers.

Late each summer the MTF and MSU again combine forces to sponsor a second major educational program; the Michigan Turfgrass Field Day. Field Day participants get a close-up look at current research projects with specific plot tours designed for golf courses and lawn/athletic turf managers. Following the plot tours an equipment show allows turf managers an opportunity to examine and even test the latest in maintenance equipment and products. Concluding Field Day each year is an auction featuring used equipment donated by turf managers, as well as new products donated by participating vendors. Proceeds go into the MTF's research fund.

Between these two events each year MTF keeps its membership updated through the MTF News Notes; a multiple page newsletter published quarterly. Each issue contains a wide range of informative topics for MTF members. Articles, written by several turf managers, discuss conditions in the various geographical areas of Michigan. Seasonal articles written by MSU's turf staff are also included as well as a calendar of events for local turf and landscape associations.

While providing educational opportunities to its membership, the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation also carries out the second phase of its original mission; fundraising. With the assistance of many organizations from around Michigan, funds are raised for research grants, scholarships and other needs of the turfgrass program. Ever since the mid 1960's, associations like the Michigan and Border Cities GCSA, Western Michigan GCSA and Northern Michigan Turf Managers Association have sponsored yearly "Golf Days" for MTF. Donations from these events range from $6000 to over $20,000 each year. In addition, the Mid Michigan Turf Association not only hosts a "Golf Day" each fall but also a winter bowling fundraiser, which not only raises funds for MTF but also gives turf managers a break from the winter doldrums.

MTF also works closely with other individuals and groups in raising funds. A very successful fundraiser, "The Invitational," is held each year bringing together superintendents, professionals and club officials for a day of golf and relaxed communication. Sponsored by Ernie Fuller, proceeds from "The Invitational" are divided between the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation and the Michigan Section of the PGA, who uses its funds for junior golf programs.

For the past several years MTF has cooperated with the Golf Association of Michigan in sponsoring a "Buck a Member" program. Under this program GAM member clubs are encouraged to donate $1.00 per member with the funds going directly to MTF for turf research. In response, MSU professors and MTF board members work with the GAM each spring in presenting greens seminars for all interested superintendents and club officials. During these seminars the professors review current research projects which have been funded, in part, by the "Buck a Member" campaign.

It is these many fundraising activities on behalf of the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation that assure a quality program of turfgrass education and research at MSU. Many of the dollars raised are channeled through two MTF board committees; scholarship and research. Each year before the Michigan Turfgrass Conference the scholarship committee meets to interview student candidates for one of several scholarships funded by MTF. Among the scholarships awarded each year is the Norman W. Kramer Award. Named for a former GCSAA President, this scholarship goes to the two-year turf student with the highest academic average. Another scholarship honoring long time MSU Professor, the late Dr. Kenyon T. Payne, is presented to the outstanding student in the two-year program. For students in the four-year turf management program MTF awards the Robert Hancock Award to the outstanding undergraduate student.

By far the largest outlay of MTF funds each year is in support of research grants to MSU's turf staff. Each year the professors present grant requests in support of ongoing or new research projects. Each grant proposal is initially reviewed by a subcommittee of the MTF board prior to approval by the entire board of directors. MTF funds also help defray the costs of student labor to aid in conducting these studies. Other funds provided as part of the MTF research grants assist with travel expenses for the professors, thus allowing them to set up research plots around the state.

As the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation reviews its role in turfgrass education and research at Michigan State University, it is also looking ahead to the future of turf in Michigan. By answering many questions regarding the size and diversity of Michigan's turf industry, the recent survey will help MTF make plans "To Guarantee Our Future."

Actually, a first step toward this end was taken in 1983 with the development of the MTF Founder's Society. When originated, the goal of the Founder's Society was a membership of 100 who would provide a $100,000 fund that could produce income in support of future turf research projects and equipment. As inflation continues to increase pressure for additional funds, the Founder's Society introduced an ongoing program to assure proper funding for turf research in years to come. With the original 100 members becoming "Charter Members," the Society now offers a variety of membership options to allow greater participation in this worthwhile endeavor.

In addition to the expanded MTF Founder's Society, another major fundraising activity was begun in conjunction with an all university program "MSU 2000." MTF Executive Secretary, Gordon LaFontaine, has undertaken the challenge of raising $1.5 million for a turfgrass endowment. Efforts are currently underway to identify and recruit 150 avid golfers who, due to their love of the game, would commit $10,000 to the endowment. Future income from such an endowment will be used to continue the quality turf management programs that have made Michigan State University one of the nation's leaders.

Funding for future projects is not the only goal of the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation board. New programs to serve the turf industry are also a part of the board's agenda. One such program is the two-year lawn care curriculum begun in the late 1980's. This program trains students for the ever expanding lawn care industry in addition to athletic field management. A second program developed through the efforts of the MTF is a golf course mechanics program. Such a program of study provides a training ground for both current and prospective golf course mechanics. With the support of the entire turf industry, this program includes all mechanical aspects of golf course maintenance including hydraulics, sharpening, engines, etc.

In looking at the past and present history of the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation, it becomes obvious that much has been done in support of turfgrass education, research, and extension in Michigan; however, rather than stand back and let grass grow under its feet, MTF continues to foster programs designed to get to the root of turf problems for the benefit of turf managers everywhere.

(Adapted from article in
Golf Course Management magazine
Vol. 58, No. 2 February 1990
by Jim Bogart)

Michigan Turfgrass Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. P.O. Box 27156, Lansing, MI 48909

The Michigan Turfgrass Foundation exists to promote safe, healthy turf surfaces for all Michigan residents.

Call or E mail Us

Office: +1 517 392 5003

E Mail miturfgrass@gmail.com


PO BOX 27156


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