Washington State University’s newest academic facility features the largest state-of-the-science classroom and laboratory on campus – 315 acres large to be exact. But then it also has 18 holes and a pro shop.
Palouse Ridge Golf Club, nestled among the rolling hills of the Palouse Prairie in eastern Washington, was designed by golf course architect John Harbottle III and already has won accolades from the golf media around the nation. Completed in August 2008, it was named second “Best New Course” by both Golf Digest and Golfweek magazines in 2009. Both publications praised the university course’s use of the existing landscape to create an “old school, glitz free” playing experience.
All true, says course superintendent Todd Lupkes. But, he emphasizes, the primary mission for the new course is academic, teaching and research.
“The thing that’s different about Palouse Ridge isn’t the construction or location, it’s that Palouse Ridge is not managed like any other golf course,” he said. “From the beginning, we’ve included language about our academic mission and we hired people to meet those goals. This is a classroom first, and then in addition to that we run a championship 18-hole golf course.”
There is rarely a day that passes without some input toward research and education provided by the Palouse Ridge staff. Whether being interviewed by students in the Communications department, meeting with faculty members from the School of Hospitality and Business Management, giving tours to Landscape Architecture students or speaking in Sports Management classes, the staff at Palouse Ridge is very much involved with higher education at WSU.
“As a professor in the College of Education, I have had the pleasure of having Tyler Jones (General Manager) speak to our sport management students on the administrative and programmatic functions involved with Palouse Ridge. His insights have proven invaluable and give our students a first-hand perspective on what it entails to manage such an operation. Many students never have the opportunity to engage someone in this profession and Tyler’s willingness to share information allows our students to have another contact from which to explore future career options. In addition … Palouse Ridge offers our students practicum opportunities from which to gain experience working in the course management. Palouse Ridge is a real plus for our programs here at Washington State University.” Dr. Phillip Morgan – Assistant Clinical Professor … College of Education
WSU has long been a leader in training turf grass scientists. Its turf grass program is 40 years old; the majority of course superintendents in Washington and the Pacific Northwest are WSU graduates. It boasts one of the largest enrollments among agriculture majors at the university and is growing. Palouse Ridge now provides that margin of excellence the program needed to grow from good to great.
Daniel J. Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said the new course gives WSU’s turf grass program the opportunity to become one of the best in the country.
“A facility of this caliber is a magnet for all of the ingredients necessary for a nationally-prominent program,” he said. “Good facilities help attract and retain high quality faculty as well as top students and graduate students.”
Rich Koenig, chair of the WSU Department of Crop and Soils Sciences where the turfgrass program is housed, agrees.
“Palouse Ridge is an ideal laboratory for students to learn in a real-world setting. Courses from turfgrass management to irrigation, to small engine repair and maintenance are using course facilities as a learning environment for students,” he said.
Professors from a variety of areas use the course for their classes. Students in Soils 441 are studying the factors involved in fertilizer selection and application. Their counterparts in the Agricultural Technology Management classes focus on the irrigation and hydraulic equipment and how it works. Agronomy students use the course to identify and sample weeds and other plants, and landscape architecture students develop solutions to the design challenges on the property.
Those uses are in addition to more traditional uses by the WSU men and women’s golf teams and students learning to play golf in physical education courses. All told, literally hundreds of WSU students spend some time at Palouse Ridge as part of their course work.
The value of that? Real-world, hands-on experience that brings classroom lectures to life, according to Lupkes and professors who use the course.
“The irrigation class – could actually come out in the field and see how things work, rather than sitting in the classroom -talking about theories and looking at pictures of it,” Lupkes said.
Senior instructor James Durfey, who uses the course for his agricultural technology management classes, called Palouse Ridge “much more than a golf course.”
“This new facility is one of the finest teaching laboratories that have all of the critical elements found in agriculture,” he said. “I treat this as if it were a farming enterprise with a sophisticated irrigation system, real world management of equipment and people to provide a product to the public.
Durfey said this spring that the students in his advanced precision agriculture class will be creating a series of thematic maps of fairways, greens tee sites and roughs on the course and then overlay that data with the irrigation system and cart pathways. The project will help in management of the golf course, but Durfey said, “more importantly, it helps students gain the understanding of how to manage agricultural resources.”
Palouse Ridge also provides a laboratory for graduate students and professors conducting research.
WSU scientists are studying the use of black sand to accelerate creeping bentgrass seed germination and emergence on a late Fall planted putting green. They are evaluating alternatives for snow mold control and the use of manganese to control take-all patch. One professor is studying frogs and other amphibians living in wetlands on the property. There are proposals for other research focusing on water use and quality on the course as well as ways to extend the playing season into late fall and early spring.
The turfgrass program has especially benefitted from the new course, Lupkes said. “All of a sudden, WSU’s turfgrass program is being mentioned in the same breath as Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue and Cornell,” he said. “We wanted to strengthen the turf program and its reputation, and I think it’s already doing better than we had hoped.” “This university has a responsibility to train future generations about water use and turf management and there is no better place to do that then on a site that is World class.”
The course also has become a new rallying point for the WSU “Friends of Turfgrass Management” group, comprised of almost 300 alumni and others. A primary goal of the organization is to raise scholarship dollars to support turfgrass majors. Lupkes adds, “The Friends of Turf has become a tremendous asset to the University in terms of mentoring, fostering relationships between industry and students. There needs to be a connection for the students to use in the job world. This is why our placement rate is nearly 100% in the job market with students graduating with turf degrees.”
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