Blade Runners

Turfgrass Management Majors Build Fields of Dreams

Fenway Park
CAES student Chad Austin helped to prepare Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox for games this summer.

Justin Heath prods the TifEagle greens with a pocketknife before swiping the blade between his fingers to feel for moisture. It’s what he calls the “Barlow (pocketknife) method,” and it’s one of the many hands-on techniques he mastered during his summer internship at the Ford Plantation Golf Club in Richmond Hill, Georgia.

“Most golf courses use a moisture meter, but this golf course is unique. We actually learn how to feel for the desirable amount of moisture. It’s a good way to understand how grass grows,” said Heath, a junior turfgrass management major in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

While the University of Georgia implemented its experiential learning initiative this fall, CAES students have long been engaging in experiences that position them for career success.

“Internships have become an integral component of the turfgrass management major,” said Associate Professor Gerald Henry, Athletic Association Endowed Professor. “They provide students with hands-on training, real-world experience and insight into job opportunities within their profession.”

In sports turf management internships, students can expect to mow, irrigate and aerate turf, apply chemicals, lay sod and fertilize, but they may also manage a budget or a crew.

“We talk about things a lot in school, but doing the day-to-day work and planning to maintain a golf course is something that a classroom just cannot provide,” said senior turfgrass management major Silas Ledford, who interned alongside Heath this summer.

There are many advantages to experiential learning for a turfgrass management student, said Professor William Vencill. “They have to apply the coursework they complete on campus to solve everyday issues … as well as seeing the business side of the industry.”

From the golf course to a major league baseball field, senior turfgrass management major Chad Austin landed an internship with the Boston Red Sox this summer. As a former baseball player and aspiring sports turf manager, Austin hopes this well-known reference will help him launch his career. At Fenway Park, Austin mowed the grass, watered the infield, patched the mound, repaired the bullpen and cleaned up sunflower seeds.

While Austin once had an opportunity with the UGA Athletic Association to paint the field at Sanford Stadium before a football game, he said he had “no clue about the level of detail it takes to maintain a major league field.”

Another aspiring sports field manager, junior turfgrass management major Kaulin Andric learned how to manage field “playability” through his internship with the Altoona Curve, a minor league baseball team in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

“Wet dirt versus dry dirt makes a huge difference in baseball,” said Andric. “Players like it moist.”

Andric connected with his Altoona Curve boss at the Sports Turf Managers Association conference in San Diego last winter. He already completed an internship with the Louisville Bats the previous summer, and had heard positive reviews about working for the Altoona Curve’s assistant superintendent.

Building industry connections is one of the most valuable aspects of experiential learning. Junior Caleb Harker and senior Jordan DuPont, both turfgrass management majors, credit their boss at the UGA Golf Course, Superintendent Scott Griffith, with helping them land summer internships at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Georgia.

There, the interns learned how to maintain golf courses at a five-star resort. The students learned how to transition from cool-season ryegrass to warm-season bermudagrass by overseeding rather than killing the dormant grass with chemicals. Harker said most golf courses cannot afford to overseed and that it’s a “huge challenge.”

“It’s tough being on an island,” said Harker. “Mother nature controls what you do, when and how you do it.”

While nature may ultimately rule the game, these CAES interns also learned how to play it.

“I believe that CAES is a college that requires more hands-on experience than any other college at the university. The experience I gained cannot be replicated in a classroom,” said Ledford. “The relationships I create will be something I cherish and rely on – as mentors and references – as I enter the golf course maintenance industry.”