Collegiate teams compete in 30th GCSAA Turf Bowl

This year’s competition is the first time tests will be taken and graded digitally.


Turf bowl logo

Collegiate teams from 28 universities have gathered in Phoenix at the 2024 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show for the 30th annual Turf Bowl. A total of 63 teams will compete, with 245 participants entered. Some universities have sent more than one team, with up to four members per team. 

In addition to the universities that are perennial competitors, four universities have returned to the competition after absences of up to 15 years. Organizers are welcoming back the University of Arkansas, Colorado State University, Cal Poly Pomona and Delaware Valley University. Competing for the first time will be a three-person team from the University of Arizona.

“Everyone on our team has shown great interest in this upcoming Turf Bowl,” says team captain Jayson Gadd. “It is a great opportunity for us to learn and experience something we are passionate about.”

Gadd noted that all team members are majoring in Agriculture Technology Management, as U of A does not have a turf management major at this time. AGTM offers a multidisciplinary course of study based in agricultural sciences and natural resources. In addition to completing general education requirements, students complete coursework in technical agriculture areas such as agricultural mechanics, agricultural resources and economics, animal science, entomology, plant and soil sciences. Among the various career areas targeted for graduates is a focus on turfgrass maintenance.

Turf Bowl activities will start with a luncheon at noon Wednesday, Jan. 31, for team members, advisers and others. The competition will follow from 1-4 p.m., with students identifying turf, weed, turfgrass disease and insect samples in multiple-choice and sample identification formats. Organizer Diana Kern, GCSAA’s senior manager of CTEM Certification and Certificate Programs, noted that this will be the first year the test will be taken by students and graded in a digital environment.

“We think it’s a really great change,” Kern says. “It lets us create a more dynamic exam,” with the ability to provide better images of insects and turfgrass diseases, for example, that students will be asked to identify. The digital capability will shorten the time it takes to grade the exam. Winners will be announced at the Send Off Celebration Thursday, Feb. 1.

Turf Bowl teams will be looking to topple returning powerhouse Penn State, which dominated the 2023 competition in Orlando, capturing first, third, eighth and 10th place among the top 10 finishers. A Purdue University team finished second, with fourth going to Kansas State University; Michigan State University, fifth; the University of Maryland, sixth; Ohio State University, seventh; and Iowa State University, ninth Purdue took first place in both 2022 and 2021. Cal Poly Pomona won in 2020 and returns to the competition this year after a two-year absence.

The Turf Bowl began in 1995, with the first four Turf Bowls consisting of participants competing as individuals. The team competition format started in 1999. Numbers are up from the 2023 Turf Bowl competition in Orlando, when 235 participants competed from 27 universities. That year also had 63 teams.

The competition is presented in partnership with John Deere. Leah Brilman, Ph.D., director of Turfgrass Product Management and Technical Services-DLF, and Gwen Stahnke, Ph.D., retired instructor of turfgrass management at Walla Walla Community College, Wash., will again be there to help facilitate the competition.

Organizers thanked Reagan Hejl, Ph.D., Desalegn Serba, Ph.D., and Sharette Rockholt of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Maricopa, Ariz., for growing and delivering the turfgrass and weed samples.

Darrell J. Pehr is GCM’s science editor