Purdue turfgrass program running at full steam

The Boilermakers' field day featured cutting-edge research and promising future facility plans.


Filed to: Education, Indiana

Research plots
Research plots dotted the landscape at Purdue University’s Turf & Landscape Field Day during the annual event July 26. Photos by Darrell J. Pehr

Whether you are within driving distance or must take a plane or even travel by train to Lafayette, Ind., you must add the annual Turf & Landscape Field Day at Purdue University to your calendar. It’s that good.

Although traveling by train seemed like the natural thing to do when visiting a university with a locomotive as its mascot, I took a plane, and it seemed like before you could say, “Agrostis stolonifera,” I had landed and was making my way out of Chicago traffic, heading southeast across increasingly agricultural surroundings to the land of the Boilermakers.

The July 26 field day, presented by the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation, launched early the next day on the grass-covered, 21-acre William H. Daniel Turfgrass Research and Diagnostic Center, where a trade show was already underway.

In the distance were numbered white flags, each designating the site of a tour talk. Near the trade show was a tent big enough for the nearly 500 turf enthusiasts who gathered for welcoming and housekeeping announcements.

In traditional field day fashion, faculty members doubled as hosts, with Aaron Patton, Ph.D., serving as emcee. Two big announcements were made, each illustrating the level of support and momentum in the turf and landscape program at Purdue. Terry Riordan, Ph.D., emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a three-time graduate of Purdue, already had made a generous donation in 2021 of an endowed scholarship for Purdue turf science students. At the field day, his donation of an endowed chair in turfgrass science was announced, the first for the Purdue program.

Terry Riordan
Terry Riordan, Ph.D., was among the dignitaries on hand. Riordan, a three-time Purdue graduate, funded an endowed chair in turfgrass science, a first for the program.

Plans for construction of a new operation and maintenance building at the center also were outlined. The project would include renovation of the west half of the existing building, adding a second classroom and additional researcher workspaces. Cost of the project is set at $1.9 million, with some funds already pledged. Next up was the extensive program of research projects, which were presented to us through the morning as we walked from talk to talk, listening to short summaries of the research being conducted at the center.

As science editor for GCM magazine, one of my goals is to find the latest research related to turfgrass and present what I find to our readers, so the field day was like finding a pot of Purdue Old Gold at the end of a rainbow! I could hardly keep up and had to recharge my turfgrass-photo-stuffed iPhone during the lunch break.

Talks covered nematodes, billbugs, annual bluegrass, sedge species and more. The topics were right on target for the legions of golf superintendents, landscape professionals and turf managers who stayed until the end.

The next day, I was fortunate to meet with faculty members Cale Bigelow, Ph.D., and Lee Miller, Ph.D., for a follow-up discussion. We focused on how the Purdue program continues to prosper and maintain a place among the premier turf programs in the country.

“There’s a legacy here, from Dr. Bill Daniel you’ve got one of the founding fathers of turfgrass research in the Midwest,” says Miller, pointing out that Riordan studied under Daniel, the center’s namesake, and helped continue that legacy with his gift of the endowed chair. Having the legacy as well as support from industry helps administrators see the value of the program. Bigelow noted the importance of having a series of deans who appreciate the value the turfgrass program adds, as well as a history of productive and visible faculty. Four of the five faculty have Extension appointments, which helps ensure visibility and a connection to the broader community.

That connection to the community was evident in the healthy attendance during the field day, with many repeat participants. I appreciated the chance to join in and the time faculty members spent with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to learn much about the university itself or the connection between the Purdue Boilermakers and railroads, but I do know that the turfgrass program at Purdue seems undoubtedly to be on the right track.

Darrell J. Pehr is GCM’s science editor.