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A year in review: U of Guelph turfgrass students reflect on past experiences

University of Guelph Diploma in Turfgrass Management students share their experiences

May 17, 2023  By Dr. Sara Stricker and Cam Shaw

BrettYoung sponsored 18 University of Guelph Diploma in Turfgrass Management students to attend January’s Ontario Golf Superintendents Association conference in Blue Mountain. Photo credit: University of Guelph

The Diploma in Turfgrass Management (DTM) program at the University of Guelph provides a practical hands-on approach to learning about managing turfgrass, whether it be for golf, professional sports, lawn care or sod. The program balances theory-based learning with applicable on-the-job training and is sure to set anyone up for a successful career in turfgrass management. 

Including the rigorous course work, the students in our program have had many amazing extracurricular opportunities this year, such as attending conferences, participating in the Golf Course Hockey Challenge, and inviting speakers from the industry to attend Turf Club meetings.

Arguably the favourite course for our students is The Turf Industry. This course introduces the many disciplines within the industry and emphasizes their learning through field trips to various turfgrass operations and companies that supply the turfgrass industry. 

This year, the course included field trips to golf courses, sports fields, a sod farm and more. On one of the field trips, the first-year students travelled to an aggregate quarry to learn about how root zone materials are mined, processed, and sold. Our students were enthusiastic about learning all the elements of the turf industry from the ground up.


“At the quarry it was really cool to see the process of aggregates being broken down to various sizes for different industry needs,” DTM student Michael Banton said. “The next time we receive a truck load of divot mix or bunker sand to the club, I will understand how much time and work was involved in that process.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the hands-on and in-person learning opportunities were cancelled or modified following public health regulations. One program that returned in 2023 – to much excitement – was the Superintendent in Residence (SIR). This unique program invites an experienced industry professional to spend a few days on campus with the Diploma in Turfgrass Management and Turf Managers Short Course students. 


The SIR program last occurred in February 2020, after which it became difficult to invite guests to campus. We had decided against hosting a virtual version since this program really focuses on interactions, informal discussions and social outings.

This year, we invited Chris Tritabaugh from Hazeltine National Golf Club to travel from Minnesota to Guelph to spend time with our turf students and to give a public lecture. The SIR presentation was hosted on March 1, 2023 at Cutten Fields, and Chris gave an impassioned speech about collecting data to better understand what we are doing and why. 

Specifically, he wanted to reduce negative experiences by user groups since practices like aeration, topdressing, and verti-cutting can impact player experience. Chris explained how he interprets the data from the stimpmeter and bobble test to: a) ensure his greens are in the best possible condition across the entire playing season, and b) communicate to the members what to expect when the turf needs more aggressive management. 

The SIR presentation was attended by many University of Guelph turf students, faculty, instructors, and local industry professionals. The energy in the room was invigorating with lots of feedback, discussion, and questions from the audience. Everyone was happy to be back in person. It was a great opportunity for our students to gain exposure to real-world professionals, expand their professional network, as well as for us to improve our curriculum based on feed-back provided by Chris. 

We send our thanks to the sponsors of the SIR program who made that event a success.

University of Guelph turf students visited an aggregate quarry to learn how root zone materials are mined.
Photo: University of Guelph

Again, thanks to the support of turf industry partners, our students had the amazing opportunity to attend two conferences this year. In January, the Ontario Golf Superintendents Association and BrettYoung supported 18 students to attend the OGSA conference in Blue Mountain. This conference included informative talks on soil health, bunker construction and maintenance, pest management and more. In addition, Dean Baker,  DTM instructor and superintendent at Burlington Golf and Country Club,  was awarded the 2023 William Sansom Distinguished Service Award at this event.

“OGSA was my first conference in the turf industry,” DTM student Amy Bultena said. “The variety of topics and speakers was eye opening and filled with so much wonderful information. The networking opportunities and people you meet or re-connect with was the best part. It was like having one big family in a room! Blue Mountain was such a good spot for having everyone right there, and we gratefully appreciate the support of BrettYoung and the OGSA which allowed us to attend.”

Also, for the first time since the pandemic, our students had the opportunity to attend the GCSAA conference and trade show in Orlando, Fla. Thanks to the support of Syngenta Canada, we sent three teams of DTM students to the conference where they participated in the GCSAA Collegiate Turf Bowl competition. Students from across the United States and Canada competed in teams of four and were tested on their knowledge of agronomy, business management, turf identification, environmental management and leadership. This year, our teams placed 14th, 20th and 21st out of 63 teams.

“I am very grateful for this opportunity of attending the GCSAA conference and trade show,” DTM student Matty Rodrigues said. “It was truly an amazing experience seeing how big this event is and all that goes into it. Based on the GCSAA’s blog, this event was attended by 69 per cent more people than the 2022 event in San Diego. I came back from Orlando with much more knowledge and experience from talking with people from the industry about so many different things. I can’t wait to attend again in the future.” 

The DTM students are required to complete a minimum 15-week industry work placement between April and September. This placement was recently reformatted from an internship to a co-op. This change means that the hands-on experience will be recognized by certain provincial governments to qualify for potential tax rebates. 

In the summer of 2023, our students will work at many prestigious locations, including BMO Field, Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course and Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. Last summer, six of our students volunteered on the grounds crew for the RBC Canadian Open tournament at St. George’s Golf and Country Club and were even given the honour of changing pins during the event. What a great opportunity!

“Over the course of my internship, I was lucky to be surrounded by turfgrass managers who were not only extremely welcoming, but eager to share their wealth of knowledge and experience,” DTM 2022 graduate Doug Nisbet said. “Prior to the start of to my placement, I submitted a list of learning objectives to the courses, outlining some of the areas and tasks I’d hoped to tackle. It was clear from day one that completing this list was as important to my supervisors as it was to me, if not more.”

Historically, our students have found exciting work placements at golf courses and other turfgrass-based enterprises across Canada as well as in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Germany and the Caribbean. Graduates of our program are in high demand within the turfgrass industry across Canada and internationally. 

“Everyone involved in the DTM program from faculty staff, students and industry professionals has been so incredibly accepting,” Banton added. “We’re like family.” 

If you are interested in hiring a DTM co-op student or graduate, please contact Cam Shaw (cshaw12@uoguelph.ca), and you can connect with the GTI on social media @GuelphTurf.

Dr. Sara Stricker is the communications and outreach co-ordinator at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute. Cam Shaw is manager of the Associate Diploma in Turfgrass Management program at the University of Guelph.

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