From Canada to SoCal for Turf Bowl 2019

A study regimen, fundraising and a fresh approach to GIS paid off for turf students from the University of Guelph. A teammate shares their journey to compete in the 2019 Turf Bowl.


Guelph Turf Club
Turfgrass management students from the University of Guelph in Ontario celebrate their top 10 finish in the Turf Bowl at the 2019 Golf Industry Show in San Diego. Sixty-three teams competed in the Turf Bowl, which is presented in partnership with John Deere Golf. Photos courtesy of Scott Powers

6 a.m., Feb. 1, 2019.

Myself and 19 other young men sat in Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario, wearing mismatched floral-print shirts and waiting impatiently to board our flight.

“Are you guys on a hockey team?” fellow travelers asked.

When we responded that we were turfgrass management students from the University of Guelph, we got some unusual looks. We went on to explain that we were getting ready to embark on a 2,500-mile journey to San Diego, Calif., to attend the annual Golf Industry Show. The objective of our trip? To compete in the illustrious GCSAA Collegiate Turf Bowl — and to have some fun.

The Turf Bowl is an opportunity for current college students who are studying turfgrass management to compete in an academic evaluation in teams of up to four. The evaluation consists of various components and is focused on challenging all aspects of participants’ turf maintenance knowledge, from identification of grasses, weeds, seeds and diseases to turf-related mathematics and business. Sixty-three teams competed in the 2019 Turf Bowl, with 233 students representing 30 schools. The University of Guelph was one of two Canadian schools in attendance.

The University of Guelph turf students earned this incredible opportunity through their involvement with the university’s turf club. To receive funding for the trip, each of the 20 students was required to attend 75 percent of the twice-weekly, hour-long Turf Bowl study sessions, which began in September. The UoGuelph Turf Club is an entirely student-run organization, so no professors or other faculty were involved in the study sessions — the format was students teaching and helping fellow students.

Complementing the study sessions were weekly presentations from guest speakers, among them Ross Miller of the Country Club of Detroit, David Delsandro of Oakmont Country Club, Ian McQueen of St. George’s Golf & Country Club in Ontario, golf course architect Keith Cutten, GCSAA Northeast field staff representative Kevin Doyle, TurfNet founder Peter McCormick, and turf pathologist John Dempsey, Ph.D.

Because UoGuelph Turf Club is strictly student-operated, it was up to members to find a way to fund a weeklong trip for 20 to San Diego. To acquire the thousands of dollars necessary, we organized an alumni golf tournament, which attracted 70 participants. We also reached out to the university, local associations and many industry vendors. Thanks to these efforts, we were fortunate to send the largest participant group in University of Guelph history to the Golf Industry Show.

The university’s top-performing Turf Bowl team was Team 4, which placed 10th (the second highest finish in UoG history) and consisted of Daniel Ye, Isaac Swanton, Andrew Radonicich and myself. I think UoG’s success this year came from taking a different approach to the competition. We emphasised studying for the Turf Bowl exam, but our collective goal was to get the absolute most out of the Golf Industry Show as possible. So, instead of focusing solely on test results, we made sure to attend as many GIS seminars and networking events as possible. Having a strong network is vital in this industry, so throughout our week in San Diego, we challenged ourselves and each other to step outside our comfort zones and talk to new people.

“The best part for a student like myself at GIS is being able to meet and make connections with industry professionals and colleagues,” says UoG turf student Andrew Radonicich. “To me, these types of meetings and interactions are more valuable than nearly anything I can learn in the classroom.”

University of Guelph turf
The University of Guelph Turf Club at the Turf Bowl Kickoff Reception the evening before the competition.

Another beneficial aspect of the GIS experience was getting exposure to a wide range of products and advancements. As many of us are aspiring contributors to the turf industry, this was an awesome opportunity to supplement our academics with firsthand insight into the industry and how it’s evolving.

“My first impression was the overall size and scale of the show,” says UoG student William Ralston, who attended GIS for the first time. “It seemed everything you could think of relating to golf course and turf management was there for us to explore.”

UoG students also appreciated the emphasis on the environment throughout all facets of GIS. A number of the seminars presented and products featured were focused on reducing environmental impact and promoting sustainability. I attended a seminar that outlined the steps to obtain a permit to use water. Although learning about the processes involved in acquiring the permit was helpful, my biggest takeaway from the seminar was the need to reduce excessive water applications on golf courses.

For UoG student and second-time GIS attendee Isaac Swanton, San Diego’s golf-based atmosphere made the event especially enjoyable. “Having Torrey Pines right down the road surrounded the show with a really awesome energy,” Swanton says. “I loved the venue, the city and everything that sunny California had to offer.”

Post-GIS, the UoGuelph Turf Club is still hosting guest speakers, and we recently held our annual election of new executives. The University of Guelph plans to continue competing in the Turf Bowl annually, with 11 members of the turf club returning next year and hopefully some freshmen joining the group to compete down in Orlando in 2020.

Scott Powers is a second-year turfgrass management student at the University of Guelph and a two-year member of GCSAA. He is from Dunnville, Ontario.