Turf Bowl 2016

Collegiate students compete in turf-judging challenges during the Golf Industry Show.

The following is a personal account of the 2016 Turf Bowl written by Penn State University turfgrass science student Thomas Goyne of Mountain Top, Pennsylvania.

The 2016 Golf Industry Show (GIS) took place in San Diego in February. From a student’s perspective, the conference is an incredible opportunity to learn and network with industry people. There is also an opportunity to show our knowledge and to compete against the other turf schools from across the nation in the Collegiate Turf Bowl sponsored by John Deere.


Testing their skills

Members of Team 20 from Penn State work to identify live specimens during the contest.

What is the Turf Bowl?

The Collegiate Turf Bowl Competition is a knowledge-based test that is approximately three hours long consisting of multiple choice, short answer, identification and essay questions. The test covers the full spectrum of the golf course industry from agronomy to business management.

The road to the Turf Bowl starts a few months prior. In November study guides are distributed and teams are selected at their respective universities. At Penn State this is when we begin preparing. We gather to study materials, choose areas to focus on individually, and test ourselves with questions.

This is also an important time when we reach out to local golf course superintendents and other industry professionals to learn more about the current issues affecting the industry that may appear on the Turf Bowl test. These include issues like water conservation, integrated pest management and golf course sustainability. Our work continues through the remainder of the fall semester with our advisor, Dr. Ben McGraw, keeping a close eye on our progress ensuring we meet our goals.

When the spring semester begins in January it’s go-time. The conference is a few weeks away and it’s time to finish sharpening our minds. We meet a few times before the conference to discuss final study questions, travel itineraries and the conference schedule.

Let’s go

On Tuesday, February 8, it’s time for takeoff. Negative 3 degrees registers on the thermometer in State College as we ship out for sunny San Diego. Our travel day is our time to get to the conference, get settled in, collect our badges and attend the welcome session.

Wednesday arrives and the trade show opens, presenting a great opportunity to network and to meet people, and to see what’s going on in the industry. Penn State has an informational booth in the college section at GIS. We spend time meeting potential students and saying hello to alumni from around the country that stop by.

The second half of Wednesday is filled with Turf Bowl preparation. At the evening kickoff event we register our teams for the competition and receive our team number for tomorrow’s event.

After registration, we gather to hear from speakers, and to socialize with students from other competing schools. We hear presentations from different people in the industry including Rhett Evans, CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). He speaks about the history and student participation in the Turf Bowl. John O’Keefe President of GCSAA talks to the group about leadership in the golf course industry and explains how students like us can make a positive difference when moving on to become successful golf course superintendents.

Pregame excitement

When the Turf Bowl kickoff event ends crunch time begins. The first test is less than 12 hours away. Study materials are scattered across hotel rooms and the final preparation for the test is on. The exam itself is a lot of information, too much for any one person to study. The best method is to divide and conquer. Great teammates that have great chemistry make the test easier to take. I’m grateful for the good friends I have on my team including Kirk Bender, Jeff Reggio and Rob Sicinski. Kirk keeps Latin names in our heads by inserting the names into some popular songs. It sounds crazy but it works!

Thursday morning is filled with nerves and excitement. However, the test does not determine if anyone is better than someone else or their future success in the industry. The Turf Bowl is a fun competition that tests the mind and brings students from across the country together.

On the morning of the test I share a few laughs with Alex Steinman about his past experiences as a test taker. Alex, a Penn State graduate, now helps prepare the University of Maryland’s turf team with Dr. Mathias. It’s important to lighten the mood before the test. Three hours can seem long and it’s good to be relaxed no matter how you think you’ll do.


One tough turf test

As the test progresses students methodically work through categories that include but are not limited to: math, business, biology, pathology, entomology, soil chemistry, and soil physical properties.

Let the game begin

When the test begins there is a mad rush to open the sealed packet. Like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you’re going to get. As the test progresses, we methodically work through each category; mathematics, business, biology, pathology, entomology, soil chemistry, soil physical properties, identification of live specimens, identification of equipment, and the real world golf course scenario essay question.

Navigating through these sections creates intense focus, making it easy to forget what time it is. And, in no time it seems, it’s over. Months of preparation, practice quizzes, and discussion have all been used to complete the test. I reflect back, noticing how quickly the time flew past. Now it’s time to leave your work with the various academia and golf course superintendents for evaluation. For the rest of the day we get to enjoy the trade show and then rest before the closing celebration.

When the test begins there is a mad rush to open the sealed packet.”

—Thomas Goyne

The results

The closing celebration is the finale of a fantastic conference. The ceremony begins with introductions of officers and sponsors. We are all sitting but eager to hear the final Turf Bowl results. The countdown from tenth place to first place is an intense wait for competitors. You never know where you will finish. This year, I was lucky enough to be part of Team 20, from Penn State, that won first place!

Turf Bowl is a great experience and it was a thrill to follow in the footsteps of my classmates and friends that took first place last year. The competition is a great opportunity that the GCSAA and John Deere provide to promote student activity in the conference. It’s great to see the large number of schools that attend the conference.

The test is a small part of the Golf Industry Show. Each year I leave with more knowledge and friends from the industry. After returning home to Penn State, it’s clear that the Turf Bowl helps us promote and display the efforts of everyone in our program, building upon a successful foundation for the future.



Turf Bowl 2016


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