The University of Tennessee’s Turfgrass Science and Management program is a concentration of study in the Department of Plant Sciences that combines the study of grasses, soils, water and pests. Turfgrass managers are involved with the production and maintenance of grasses for recreational, aesthetic and environmental uses.

This program is offered to those interested in careers in golf course, athletic field and commercial turf management. With its tagline, “Careers you can grow with,” the turfgrass science and management program strives help students to thrive as new members of the industry.

“Training future turf managers requires both classroom education and real-world experience,” says John Sorochan, Ph.D, UT distinguished professor, turfgrass science. “Internships and other employment in the turf industry during their time at UT teaches the students how to do what it takes to manage turfgrass in the real world.

“In the classroom, the goal is to teach the students to become critical thinkers and to have a solid foundation of turf, agronomic, communication and business courses to prepare them for their eventual careers in the turfgrass industry. When a student graduates from the UT turf program, we don’t only want them to know ‘how’ to manage turfgrass, but also to be able to answer ‘why’ they are making the decisions to manage the turf.”

The program, Sorochan notes, offers a hands-on focus that makes the University of Tennessee program unique in its approach. “I believe what has made the UT turfgrass program stand out over others is how it has grown in recent years to approximately 54 students,” he says. “We also offer 11 different turfgrass specific classes that turfgrass majors take. Additionally, the students are able to take six credit hours of internship credit, and one of the internship opportunities during their junior year (early March to mid- August) is 5 1/2 months.”

The industry continues to grow at a record pace, and with open employment in various sports facilities and parks, there is a steady demand for technically trained management personnel. Having such a curriculum puts students in a position to become desirable applicants for hiring managers, Sorochan says.

“They want students who have had practical experience through the internship process and ones that have a strong work ethic and positive attitude,” he says. “In addition, they want them to have a solid foundation of turfgrass knowledge, which they get in the classroom.”

The UT Turfgrass Center for Athletic Field Safety (CAFS) opened in 2011 at the East Tennessee Research and Education Center. CAFS’ mission is to support research on the safety and viability of both natural and artificial surfaces. It is among the largest sports turf research facilities in the country. Current research includes: evaluating new turfgrass cultivars and their management; human performance testing to evaluate athlete to surface interactions; studying head impacts on artificial turf; and how surface temperatures change depending on the surface and its effect on athletes and the surface.

The UT turfgrass program currently has 55 undergraduate students, as well as five graduate students in its master’s and Ph.D. programs. Student enrollment is up more than 200 percent since 2013.

UT Turfgrass is currently involved in a joint effort with UT biomechanics and kinesiology to improve athlete performance and safety using force plates and high-speed motion cameras.

UT turfgrass has a notable internship program. Undergraduate students embark on challenging internships in the spring of their junior year, to high-end facilities like Fenway Park in Boston; Camden Yards in Baltimore; the All England Club in Wimbledon, London; English Premier League football stadiums like Tottenham and Arsenal; and top 100 golf courses. Students return from these internships with real-world experiences in high-pressure environments and networking contacts that will last their entire careers.

The UT turfgrass program and facilities sit within the transition zone, which allows students to be exposed to cooland warm-season turfgrasses during their studies. This prime location also allows the faculty to conduct research studies on all species of turfgrass.