When James T. Snow began working for the United States Golf Association in 1976, green represented the color of golf courses. As Snow retires at the end of 2011 after 35 years at the USGA – the last 21 as the national director of the Green Section – the significance of the word in golf has expanded to include the increasingly important issues of environmental awareness and sustainability.
|Jim Snow's Green Section Timeline (1976-Present)
|During the 35-year tenure of Jim Snow, the USGA Green Section has celebrated numerous significant achievements and initiatives.
USGA Technical Director Frank Thomas redesigns the device invented by Edward Stimpson in the 1930s used to measure the speed of greens. The USGA manufactures the device, called the Stimpmeter, which allows superintendents to evaluate the effect of maintenance practices on green speed.
The USGA initiates the Turfgrass Research Program to develop grasses that use less water, are more tolerant of pests and cost less to maintain. Through the years, the USGA has provided more than $31 million in research grants, and in addition to golf courses, grasses developed through this program have been used for home lawns, athletic fields and public spaces.
The USGA and Michigan State University develop the Turfgrass Information File, which is now the world’s largest turfgrass database, with more than 185,000 records.
The USGA partners with Audubon International to establish the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, which is designed to help courses establish ecologically sound land-management practices and conserve natural resources.
In cooperation with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the USGA launches the Wildlife Links Research Program, which funds research on wildlife-management issues for the golf industry.
The USGA establishes the Construction Education Program, which provides a clearinghouse of information about course construction and renovation for architects, builders, superintendents and course officials.
The USGA establishes the Green Section Summer Internship Program, which offers college students an opportunity to travel with USGA agronomists on Turf Advisory Service visits to courses seeking guidance and expertise about turfgrass research and maintenance.
The USGA publishes USGA Recommendations for a Method of Putting Green Construction following a comprehensive three-year review by a panel of experts.
The USGA releases the TruFirm, a device that measures the firmness of greens, bunker sands and other areas of the golf course and helps superintendents monitor irrigation management and aeration.
In July, The Green Section Record switches from a print magazine to a digital publication offering the latest information on golf course management, turfgrass culture, environmental issues, research and economic sustainability.
Snow has played a major role in this shift, helping to place the USGA in a leadership position in making golf a greener game.
“He’s the man,” said Ron Dodson, the founder of Audubon International, the organization that partnered with the USGA in 1991 to increase environmental awareness in golf. “We would not be where we are had it not been for Jim Snow and what the USGA has done.”
Snow began his USGA career as an agronomist for the Green Section’s Northeast Region, and visited hundreds of courses in the area for consultations through the Turf Advisory Service program. Thirty years ago, course owners and superintendents gave little thought to how much water, pesticides and other products they were applying. The effects of those inputs on the surroundings were largely responsible for the golf industry’s negative environmental image.
“For the most part in those days, nobody knew or cared about golf’s impact on the environment,” said the 60-year-old Snow. “It wasn’t because they were trying to harm the environment. They didn’t understand that’s what they were doing.
“Now, the golf courses are better conditioned, and you don’t have to use as much pesticide and water. Golf has done a lot of good stuff.”
So has Snow, whose career has been marked by the pillars of education, research and initiatives that have helped superintendents offer first-rate playing conditions for golfers while also embracing sustainable practices.
“Jim has made numerous contributions to promoting environmental issues,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director. “One of the biggest was a partnership with Audubon International to promote awareness of golf’s positive impact, not only among course superintendents, but golfers and non-golfers as well.”
The partnership created the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, with more than 2,400 facilities participating to date to establish an environmentally responsible approach to course maintenance.
“Over the past two decades,” said Kevin Fletcher, a former executive director of Audubon International, “program members have conserved millions of gallons of water, created thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, supported numerous threatened and endangered species on their courses, helped to educate tens of thousands of golfers, and in the end, have helped protect the nature of the game. Jim was the catalyst for that and so much more.”
The genesis of this unlikely yet successful partnership was a visit during the late 1980s to a proposed golf course in Lake Placid, N.Y. The developer was facing environmental hurdles and brought in several experts, including Snow and Dodson, then an activist who was in the process of founding Audubon International. The course never got built, but a conversation between Dodson and Snow led to a lasting, productive relationship.
In addition to fostering partnerships, Snow has been a proponent of information, education and research. He served as the longtime editor of the Green Section Record, and also pledged USGA funds to create and maintain Michigan State University’s Turfgrass Information File, the world’s largest turfgrass database with more than 185,000 records.
Some of the knowledge stored in that database is the result of turfgrass research conducted through funding from the USGA, which has provided more than $31 million in grants to more than 400 projects since 1983.
“The foundation of the research has been on improving grasses,” said Snow. “If you can control that, you don’t have to use as much pesticide or water.”
While Snow rightly deserves much credit for guiding the USGA and the Green Section into its current leadership position, the outgoing national director recognizes the contributions of Grant Spaeth, an ardent supporter of environmental issues and the president of the USGA in 1990 and 1991.
“At the time, there weren’t many people on the Executive Committee who were interested in the environment,” said Snow. “I give [Grant] credit because he was one of the first people to say, ‘This is what we need to be doing.’”
Now, sustainability is one of the USGA’s most important missions, and there are still plenty of ongoing and future issues facing the golf industry – the most critical of which is the availability of water.
“Virtually everybody is going to have problems because there is a limited supply,” said Snow. “We have to continue to work on that. There are still lots of opportunities, but it can take a long time.”
Succeeding Snow and leading the Green Section through the next phase of the USGA’s ongoing commitment to the environment is Dr. Kimberly Erusha, who joined the organization in 1990 and was formerly the Green Section’s director of education.
“Jim has done a great job of changing the mindset of superintendents and other influential people in the golf industry,” said Erusha. “There is an exciting opportunity ahead to expand on that success and reach everyday golfers and the general public with our crucial message.”
While the Green Section has grown and undergone changes over the past 35 years, it has enjoyed two constants: its mission as the foremost authority on turfgrass management, and the dedication of the staff in fulfilling that goal. And nobody has better personified that effort than Snow.
“I’m very pleased I was able to contribute as much as I could to the USGA and the Green Section,” said Snow. “And I have been fortunate to be able to work with people who are really passionate about the environment and golf. At the end of 35 years, I’m very pleased with my career.”
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.