CPP students did ‘putterly’ amazing placing in annual Turf Bowl

By Lann Nguyen, Feb. 20, 2024

Cal Poly Pomona students participated in the Turf Bowl 2024 in Arizona this month, with the first of two teams placing ninth and the second team tying for eleventh, respectively.

The Turf Bowl is a competition held annually at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America conference and trade show Jan. 29 to Feb. 1. They test college students’ knowledge on turfgrass, insects, diseases, weeds and seeds. Students gain industry exposure, network opportunities and experience in the field.

The students made up two teams: team 62 and team 63. Team 62 consisted of Kyle Brooks, Joshua Mendez, Max Stillman and Helena Novak-Murano. They placed ninth out of 63 teams and were awarded $300. Team 63 consisted of Stacy Montoya Chavez, Magdaleno Basilo and Joel Torres tied for eleventh place.

CPP alum and apiary program coordinator Sean McLaughlin and CPP alum and plant science adjunct professor Brian Fuertes were the two advisers and coaches for the teams who were responsible for preparing the teams for competition.

“Sean and Brian were really great advisers,” said Montoya Chavez, a plant science student. “Brian taught us a lot of the material, and Sean would come in and help us with the nitty gritty of identification by giving us some hints. I really enjoyed them. They were really fun to be around. They were very supportive of us, too. They encouraged us to answer everything even if we weren’t sure.”

This was the first time CPP competed in the Turf Bowl since 2020 when students placed first and seventh, respectively. Every student this year was a first-time participant competing against schools that have previous experience in the competition.

“We were starting to build that momentum with the Turf bowl team, so we were fortunate that we were able to get two teams together this year,” said McLaughlin. “With the test being so comprehensive and in-depth, you really can’t do it by yourself. You really need to rely on teamwork in order to get the entire test completed in time.”

The competition consists of several testing formats including an essay section, multiple- choice questions, proper identification of plants and various other materials, short answer and fill-in-the-blank questions.

Topics covered golf course business, human resources type questions, environmental and pesticide laws as well as regulations and general basic turfgrass science and management topics. All of these questions and the test itself are designed to help the students prepare to enter the industry and understand all the topics and challenges a golf course superintendent would face in the field, according to McLaughlin.

Judges are superintendents who use a triple-blind grading process in adherence with a scoring rubric. Subject matter experts and faculty advisers are in charge of grading the fill-in-the-blanks and identification questions. A separate grader is assigned to evaluate certain sections of the exam and scores are then combined for the team’s final score.

“This was a brand-new experience for us,” said Stillman, a plant science student. “We studied as hard as we could and went into it, while for certain schools, this competition is their main focus.”

(From left to right) Stacy Montoya Chavez, Joel Torres, Magdaleno Basilio – Team that finished 11th place examining samples for the identification portion of the competition. | Photo courtesy of Eileen Cullen

Students began preparing last fall by taking part in a class dedicated to studying for the competition called PLT 2990 – Special Topics for Lower Division Students. The class included mathematical computations, plant identification and study guide practice. Several classes took place at the Center for Turf, Irrigation and Landscape Technology on campus. Instruction included how to grow certain plants to its optimum size for higher yields or even for aesthetic purposes in classes.

Apart from scheduled meetings inside the classroom, students who dedicate the extra time beyond the class go the extra mile to prepare themselves to take the exam, according to McLaughlin, apiary program coordinator.

The identification section uses live samples of different types of turfgrass, including the most commonly used throughout the world like Kentucky bluegrass and Perennial ryegrass. In addition to those turf grass samples, there’s also turfgrass pests, such as insects, so sometimes live samples will be provided of insects in jars. This year they used photos of some of the insect pests.

“I was really proud of my team when it came to the identification,” said Montoya Chavez. “We were only given 10 minutes to identify 16 different samples. It was pretty easy for us to get through it.”

Changes in the golfing industry are reliant on new students introducing innovative ideas to move the industry forward.
“There’s something magical about watching plants grow, especially from the beginning to the end stage and tying that in with golf — it’s an ever-changing career, especially with our current climate,” said Stillman.
Opportunities like this competition serve to grow student’s knowledge, and they bring back what they’ve learned to CPP, building the program for future students.

“The money that we win every year goes straight back into the program,” said McLaughlin. “We host a lot of classes, not just turf grass management classes but also irrigation classes. It allows the students the opportunity to work at the facility, get hands-on experience, not only with the turfgrass but also working with irrigation systems, pest management, different chemicals, installing landscapes and different facets of the plant science industries.”

Former participants currently work in the irrigation sector for cities, and some go into the golfing industry. Competing and participating in the Turf Bowl helped broaden the range of skills and knowledge not only just in turfgrass management but in all industries within agriculture and plant science, according to McLaughlin.

Fuertes, one of the advisers and coach for the Turf Bowl team was a former competitor when he was a student at CPP in 2017.

“Competing in the Turf Bowl impacted me forever,” said Fuertes. “It helped me out tremendously in my career, especially since at that time I was working in the golf industry, so it led to some really great connections and opportunities.”

The Turf Bowl is open to any student at CPP regardless of major. To learn more about the classes or the competition, students can email the McLaughlin at spmclaughlin@cpp.edu.

“When it comes to the turf industry, I feel the greatest opportunity that students have is to network and to learn new information and make way for potential job opportunities,” said McLaughlin.

Feature image courtesy of Eileen Cullen

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