Turf's up

MSU's agricultural roots shine with one of the nation's top turfgrass science programs

At a sporting event, many fans are just excited to watch their favorite teams battle it out on the field. However, it’s unlikely that fans think about the field their beloved athletes are playing on, let alone the work and research involved in creating the best possible playing surface for athletes.

The MSU Turfgrass Science program is one of the most respected research programs in the nation — working with the turfgrass programs in the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics — and is committed to providing the highest quality turf for Spartan athletics.

Professor of botany and plant pathology, Joe Vargas, praised the efforts of the university’s turfgrass research program.

Justin Wan / The State News

“MSU for a lot of years has been one of the leading universities as (far as) turfgrass management is concerned,” Vargas said. “We have a very active research program.”

Athletic Fields

The athletic fields at MSU use the highest quality turf and are maintained by some of the best professional staff in the nation.

Amy Fouty, a graduate of turfgrass management at MSU, manages the various outdoor and indoor athletic facilities for the university.

Fouty spoke about the differences of playing on natural grass compared to artificial turf and the effects it has on athletes’ bodies.

“It’s all about player safety; you want to have surfaces that are safe and playable,” Fouty said. “We have a lot of high-quality natural grass fields here. It’s just more forgiving on the body — it’s the way sports were meant to be played.”

Due to Michigan’s unpredictable weather, athletic fields in the state are put at a particular disadvantage.

Professor Jim Crum of the MSU Turfgrass Science program said the best way to care for fields damaged by weather is through maintenance and management afterward.

There’s a number of things to help maintain turf after severe weather, but typically it involves some sort of cultivation of the turf so air and water can move through the soil, Crum said.

“It wouldn’t be necessarily trying to prevent it, but what to do afterward.” Crum said.

Athletic fields see a lot of wear and tear throughout a game — and the type of grass used on the field makes a big difference.

According to Vargas, Kentucky bluegrass is the natural turf used on MSU fields because it’s more resistant to diseases compared to other turf.

Softball head coach Jacquie Joseph said having quality, attractive grass can even benefit her program’s recruiting efforts.

“People think that grass is grass, and it should be simple, but it really isn’t,” Joseph said. “It’s a science. It can be delicate, especially when you have the elements that come into play.”


The Hancock Turfgrass Research Center, located on MSU’s campus, has more than 50 acres of land and turf that allows the faculty to conduct a variety of research.

Nancy Dykema, a research associate of Vargas’, spoke of the variety of research happening at the Hancock Center.

“There’s a lot of research that is done here both for athletic fields and golf course turfs,” Dykema said. “We work with disease management, weed management, fertilizer testing … kind of a pretty wide variety of studies that are conducted.”

In his time at MSU, Vargas has created three turfgrass disease prediction models.

These models predict when to apply fungicides on a control diseases, rather than attempting to anticipate the disease by applying the chemicals on a weekly or biweekly basis.

In turn, the prediction models save costs on fungicides and a provide a lesser impact on the environment.

As the first land grant university, MSU continues to maintain its agricultural history and its relevance through the turfgrass program.

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