Michael Kenna to receive GCSAA’s Distinguished Service Award

The former director of USGA Green Section Research has been instrumental in leading and advocating for turf research that has elevated the golf industry.


Michael Kenna GCSAA
Michael Kenna, a 25-year GCSAA member, oversaw more than 600 USGA research projects during his tenure as director of USGA Green Section Research. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University

Michael Kenna, Ph.D., retired director of USGA Green Section Research, has been selected to receive the 2021 Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award from GCSAA. Kenna will be recognized at the 2021 Golf Industry Show on Feb. 2 during the Opening Session, presented in partnership with Syngenta.

The Distinguished Service Award (DSA) is given to an individual who has made an outstanding, substantive and enduring contribution to the advancement of the golf course superintendent profession. The award was renamed in 2009 in honor of Col. John Morley, GCSAA’s founder and first president. He was the first to earn the Distinguished Service Award, in 1932, and he received it again in 1940.

“Mike’s years of dedication and extensive contributions to the industry help continue the vision of Col. John Morley,” says Rhett Evans, GCSAA CEO. “His leadership and insight in research efforts are second to none and of great value to superintendents and to the game of golf.”

A 25-year GCSAA member, Kenna oversaw environmental and turfgrass research activities at the USGA from 1990 to 2019. This included soliciting and evaluating research proposals, grant-making, and working with private and governmental organizations to develop cooperative funding opportunities for turfgrass scientists. Kenna managed more than 600 research projects funded with $40 million from the USGA.

“Receiving the Distinguished Service Award from the GCSAA is truly an honor,” says Kenna. “I have always looked upon golf course superintendents as the primary recipients of USGA research results.”

Kenna began working in the turfgrass industry at age 15, when he got his first job at Singing Hills Golf Course in El Cajon, Calif.

“Dave Flemming, the superintendent at Singing Hills Golf Course, encouraged me to attend California State Polytechnic University-Pomona to become a golf course superintendent,” Kenna says. “There, Dr. Kent Kurtz suggested that I attend graduate school after working for him at the research plots and conducting a senior project on zoysiagrass iron chlorosis.”

Kenna earned a Bachelor of Science in ornamental horticulture from Cal Poly Pomona in 1979. He went on to complete both a Master of Science and a doctorate in crop science at Oklahoma State University, and he became a postdoctoral research associate at Texas A&M University in 1984. Kenna returned to OSU as an assistant professor from 1985 to 1990 in the Department of Horticulture. During that time, he worked with superintendents in Oklahoma on research to solve problems specific to golf course management.

As director of USGA Green Section Research, Kenna continued his outreach to universities. He traveled to nearly all the turfgrass programs at U.S. universities and made presentations at most state turfgrass conferences. Kenna was an advocate for the GCSAA chapter grants program and strongly supported the concept of on-site testing at golf courses for evaluating new putting green cultivars.

Notably, in coordination with other Green Section staff, Kenna helped develop a research program to improve laboratory testing, along with projects to improve USGA putting green recommendations. He was also involved in breeding projects that have led to more than 30 new cool-season and warm-season cultivars for golf course use.

For decades, Kenna worked closely with GCSAA, most prominently as a longstanding member of the GCSAA Research Committee. He provided extensive knowledge on past and present research projects, which enabled GCSAA to best allocate available funds for necessary research that would be useful, practically applied and unbiased.

Kenna has received many industry accolades, including the 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona, and the 2016 Turfgrass Producers International Distinguished Service Award. Earlier this year, the Ferguson College of Agriculture at Oklahoma State University honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award. He has also met with the U.S. secretary of agriculture to discuss the importance of federal research funding for turfgrass.

“I have been retired from the USGA Green Section for one year now. It is terrific to get an occasional note from a researcher or superintendent who appreciates what the USGA has done for golf and turfgrass research,” Kenna says.

Kenna is currently a private consultant at Natural Grass Science and a member of the Oklahoma GCSA.

The GCSAA Board of Directors selects the DSA winners from nominations submitted by affiliated chapters and association members.

View the complete list of past Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award recipients.