Mike Goatley shows the 2023 Field Day audience the 2019 National Turfgrass Assessment Program Bermudagrass variety trial. (Photo courtesy of Mike Goatley)

the Turf Program at Virginia Tech It celebrated its 50th anniversary on Grass Day on August 29.

The event was attended by alumni, industry partners and agronomists from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

“We showcased the latest and greatest in various experiments and some other cool things my colleagues have done in remote sensing, cryogenic weed control and laser control,” says Mike Gotley, Ph.D., turf extension specialist. “I was able to sit back and be amazed by what the students who are leading those research projects are dreaming about.”

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

“We had a lot of Hawkeye alumni who 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 event with a golf tournament and reception at our alumni center.”

Gotley and Schmidt wrote recently Comprehensive history From the university’s turf research program. Gotley says the program was expecting 125 people to attend but saw 165 people make the trip to Blacksburg for the reception and field day.

Impressive history

According to Gotley, synthetic turf research at Virginia Tech began in the mid-1950s, with the Virginia Tech Synthetic Turf Research Center officially opening in the 1960s.

“Two people come to mind who were the reason I started this program,” he says. “John Shoulders, forage agronomist, in charge of grass extension research and Roy Blazer, Ph.D. Blaser was a world-famous agronomist who left his mark on the turf industry.

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

Shoulders eventually became the first turf extension specialist at the University of Virginia. Shortly after the duo launched the program at Virginia Tech, it was Virginia Turf Lawn Council been formed.

The evidence is in the conspiracies

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

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

After 50 years of research, Gotley says the program has a lot to be proud of.

“Bermudagrass is expanding as an option here in the transition zone,” he says. “Our evaluations have shown how these grasses can fit into this region and potentially have less input and provide better playing conditions for golf courses for a longer period of time than many of our cool-season varieties.”

Gotley adds that the pendulum is starting to swing back in the direction of cool-season grass from the breeder’s perspective.

“Big picture, I think we’ve shown people that even if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, which is pretty much what 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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