Michigan State Professor Vargas To Receive Green Section Award

January 2, 2007

Far Hills, N.J. - , a renowned turfgrass scientist and a professor at Michigan State University in the department of Plant Pathology for the past 38 years, has been recognized as the winner of the 2007 Green Section Award by the United States Golf Association. The award is given for contributions to golf through work with turfgrass and is determined annually by a distinguished panel of experts in the field of turfgrass research.

will receive the award Feb. 23 at the USGA Green Section Education Conference in Anaheim, Calif.

"It was a great surprise when I was told I was going to receive this award," said . "No, I actually was shocked. I have gotten a lot of awards, but this one is very special."

Few have contributed more to turfgrass management than within the past four decades. The 64-year-old has been challenging normal turfgrass management practices from the start.


"I always have spoken my mind," said . "But, everything I've ever introduced has been based on solid research."

In the 1970s, he discovered that contrary to popular opinion at the time, annual bluegrasses do not routinely die from high temperatures in the summer, but from two diseases common to the grass. Not only did he identify the problem, but he suggested new management techniques that have given the annual bluegrass new life, leading to its recognition as the principal turfgrass species on many golf courses, including the greens at the Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, the venue for the 2007 U.S. Open. This helped remove the stigma that annual bluegrass (Poa annua) was always a bad grass.

He was the first to recognize in the early 1980s that a tiny bacterium (organism) was the cause of a problem that led to the decline of a specific strand of creeping bentgrass (Toronto C-15). The benefit of his discovery is that subsequent research has led to the realization that bacteria can affect turfgrasses. This also opened the door for the introduction of new varieties of creeping bentgrass.

One of his teaching colleagues, professor of Ohio State University, called one of five most widely known turfgrass scientists in the world.

"He is at the forefront of turfgrass diagnosis," said Danneberger. "I do not know of anyone who is better than him in identifying a golf course superintendent's problem on site."

Indeed, has been at the forefront of the cure as well as the diagnosis.

developed plant protectant chemical timing models to help control four of the principal turfgrass diseases for putting greens, including anthracnose and summer patch.

His cures don't always include using fungicides either, an important point when golf course superintendents are increasingly asked to be good stewards of the environment. Sometimes he has found a biological control that will work. Other times, his solution is as simple as recognizing that "black layer" in the soil is a sign of too much sulfur content and a lack of oxygen in the soil. Aeration (and limiting the use of sulfur) can solve this problem.

, as he is often called, has published more than 300 articles on turfgrass diseases and related subjects. His books have even had more impact. It's hard to think of a superintendent who doesn't have his Management of Turfgrass Diseases (1993) on the shelf. More recently, he authored The Turf Problem Solver: Case Studies and Solutions for Environmental, Cultural andPestProblems (2005) in collaboration with .

And shows no signs of slowing down.

"Why would I ever retire," he says. "This is what I enjoy doing. And there is so much more to do. We have to find better ways of managing grasses."

He currently is involved in research to develop healthy grasses that require fewer pesticides, need less sunlight and are more disease resistant.

A native of Fall River, Mass., found his career path while a teenager working on the maintenance staff at the Fall River Country Club.  He followed his heart to the University of Rhode Island, where he earned his B.S. degree in 1963.

From there, he earned a master's degree from Oklahoma State and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Following graduation, he immediately landed on the teaching staff at Michigan State in 1968 and he's been there ever since.

"My career has been a love affair since I was 14 years old," said .

It sounds strange that a Professor of Plant Pathology would be in demand as a conference speaker around the globe. But it is true.

He has delivered far more than 1,000 presentations at various turfgrass conferences throughout the world - including talks in , , , , and , some of the hot spots in golf's new frontier.

He's even begun a joint turf educational program between Michigan State and four universities in , where he is at the forefront of turfgrass education for the world's largest and most populous country, a country that could be home to the next great player in the game. Ten years ago, 's landscape didn't include golf courses. Now, the country has more than 200 golf courses and another 150 courses under construction.

It would be hard to determine just how many students adopted ' passion for his turfgrass studies and began careers in golf course turfgrass management. But, , the golf course superintendent at Burning Tree Country Club in Connecticut, is certainly one of them.

"He didn't give answers as much as he taught a process to determine solutions," said . "He challenges his students to justify the current thinking. And now after leaving school, he has served as a valued consultant. He has never stopped teaching me and making me think."

has been supported all these years by his wife of 43 years. He and are the parents of three children: , and . They reside in East Lansing, Mich.

The USGA funds, develops and promotes turfgrass research to better the environment and improve playing conditions on golf courses through the efforts of its Green Section, after which this award is named.

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