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  March 4, 2002

Turf Science, Turf Culture Are Big Business

Turf grass science and turf culture are important businesses, and areas of growing career potential, says Karl Guillard, associate professor of plant science and head of the turf grass science program at UConn.

For example, according to the National Golf Foundation, there are now some 17,000 golf courses in the U.S. covering an area as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Another 500 new golf courses are built each year.

Today, the specification of turf grasses for these golf courses, the planting of grasses, and the installation of cultivated turf is not a casual matter. It is one of scientific exactitude, depending on the climatic and environmental conditions, the geography involved, and the specific uses to which the grasses will be put.

And golf courses are but a small part of the total turf grass business, says Guillard.

Turf management is also important in erosion control, in athletic fields, municipal parks and grounds, and in the ubiquitous lawns of suburban America.

Since the days of the early English settlers, Americans have had a special fondness for lawns around their homes, Guillard notes. Farmers generally couldn't afford to waste useful growing space for lawns, so having a lawn became a type of "conspicuous consumption" in America. A well-kept lawn became a sign of wealth and success.

As America grew and spread westward, land was plentiful and settlements spread outward from village centers, allowing plenty of room for each homeowner to have a lawn.

Today, turf scientists, plant biologists, and chemists who develop ever-better fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, participate in the unending quest for the perfect lawn, a quest upon which billions of dollars are spent each year.

Interestingly, in this age of synthetics, natural turf is now being replanted in many athletic fields and stadiums where artificial turf was formerly used. This is due, Guillard says, to higher injury rates on synthetic turf, which is less forgiving and more abrasive than natural turf.

Giant Stadium in the New Jersey meadowlands is an example. Cultivated natural turf, has replaced artificial turf, and is grown on-site in four-foot-by-four-foot trays, right in the stadium's parking lot.

Maintaining a supply of replacement turf on site requires quite a complex system, says Guillard, and involves not only keeping the sod moist and fed with the proper nutrients, but warm as well. In cool weather, a blanket of warm air is maintained beneath the trays to promote the growth of the grass.

Turf scientists use their knowledge of different types of grasses in planning turf areas, depending on the terrain, the intended use, and the environmental and climatic conditions.

Turf grass scientists are also involved in experimenting with different grasses from many locales, and in hybridizing and testing new grasses that can withstand tougher conditions of weather and wear.

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