Two Titans of Agronomy Pass Away

Dr. Jim Watson, Charlie Wilson blazed early trails in the study of course care

By Scott Lipsky, USGA
October 4, 2013

FAR HILLS, N.J. – The USGA mourns the passing of Dr. Jim Watson and Charlie Wilson, agronomists who received the Association’s prestigious Green Section Award. The two leave behind rich legacies of innovation and achievement within the fields of turfgrass and agronomy.

Watson, who died on Oct. 1 at the age of 92, was the 1976 recipient of the Green Section Award and would become even more involved with the USGA later in his career, serving on the Association’s Turfgrass and Environmental Research Committee from 1982 to 2011. He spent 46 years working for the Toro Company, where he served as Director of Agronomy and as a vice president.

Much of his job involved traveling the world to keep the company up-to-date on the latest trends in the turfgrass industry. He was heavily involved in equipment development and evaluation, customer relations and agronomic consultation.

Throughout his career, Dr. Watson, who was the first person to receive a Ph.D in turfgrass management, was very well-known for his research and expertise on the need for water conservation throughout the turfgrass industry, and he was long considered to be one of the leading voices on the topic. His years as an agronomist also saw him conduct research on fertilization practices, snow mold prevention and techniques for winter protection of turfgrass. He was also a frequent contributor to industry publications throughout the years, publishing  more than 400 articles about his areas of expertise, including several for the USGA Green Section Record, the USGA’s publication on turfgrass management.

"One of the benefits of working for the USGA is the extraordinary people who you have the opportunity to meet and interact with throughout your career,” said Dr. Kimberly Erusha, managing director of the USGA’s Green Section. “Dr. Watson will always be one of those who is at the top of the list that I was honored to know."

Throughout his career, Watson was frequently honored for his work in the turfgrass industry. He received the 1983 Distinguished Service Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), and in 1995, the GCSAA recognized him again with the Old Tom Morris Award, the association’s highest honor. He was also a recipient the Harry Gill Memorial Award, the highest honor given by the Sports Turf Manager Association, in 1991.

Recognition of Watson’s achievements extended beyond his work as an agronomist. He served in the United States Air Force during World War II and was honored with the Air Medal with Clusters, Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Wilson, who passed away on Sept. 23 at the age of 93, was the founding agronomist of the USGA Green Section’s Turf Advisory Service. A pioneer in golf course agronomy, Wilson was recognized by his peers in the industry as an innovator and educator.

The 1982 USGA Green Section Award recipient, Wilson began working for the department while he was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, not far from where the Green Section was originally based. In 1952, he relocated to Davis, Calif., where he opened the first USGA Green Section regional office, effectively becoming the Association’s first full-time agronomist in the field.

During his first several months in the West, Wilson visited more than 50 clubs from California to Washington, creating the template for the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service (TAS), which now employs 16 agronomists in eight regions throughout the country and conducts approximately 1,500 facility visits each year. He would serve as the Western Director of the TAS until 1955, when he began a 25-year career at the Milwaukee (Wis.) Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), where he would serve as the organization’s head agronomist, sales manager and director during his tenure.

“When the USGA started the Turf Advisory Service, Charlie Wilson established an important foundation to deliver a high standard of assistance to golf facilities,” said Erusha. “Today, we strive to continue his vision in everything we do.”

Though he transitioned out of a career in golf, Wilson, who like Watson was a World War II veteran, continued to have an impact on the development of course-care practices. He was part of a group that created the O.J. Noer Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing financial support for turfgrass research. He served as the Foundation’s research director, which was named after Wilson’s mentor at MMSD, himself a Green Section Award recipient. The very first project that they funded focused on the response of turfgrass to mineral nutrient deficiencies, considered groundbreaking work at the time.

Wilson’s legacy as a turfgrass researcher and educator  continue to be visible throughout the industry. Each year, agronomists from around the country gather for the Wisconsin Golf Turf Symposium, where trends and studies are discussed by some of the foremost minds in the business. Wilson, who was presented with the 2012 Distinguished Service Award by the Wisconsin Golf Course Superintendents Association, helped to found the conference in 1966. In addition, his many contributions to the USGA Green Section Record are accessible via Michigan State University’s Turfgrass Information Center.

After his retirement, Wilson invented Aquashade, a non-toxic treatment that controls the growth of weeds in water hazards and farm ponds. It is still used extensively today.

Wilson never lost sight of his ultimate mission – and that of his fellow agronomists. Upon receiving the USGA Green Section Award in 1982, his message to those in attendance was simple.

“We are proud to help the grass grow – for golf.”


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