Cook wins golf's distinguished award

March 3, 2006


Tom Cook photo by Bob Rost
CORVALLIS, Ore. - The man who has taught a generation of golf course superintendents in the Pacific Northwest has been awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).

Tom Cook, an associate professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, was honored at the 2006 GCSAA Education Conference and Golf Industry Show in Atlanta.

During his 29 years at Oregon State, Cook has developed and continually updated the turf grass management program in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. And now he's helping make golf courses more environmentally "green" than ever.

"Tom Cook has single-handedly established by example and education and research modern golf course management standards in the Pacific Northwest," said David Wienecke of Braemar Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., in his nomination of Cook.

In his research and teaching, Cook has developed grass mixes that stay looking good even when "starved and bone-dry," to cut the use of chemicals and conserve water. He's encouraged the use of native plants in natural landscapes and to create healthy habitat for wildlife at the edge of fairways.

You can see his influence in the work of his former students, a "Who's Who" of golf superintendents throughout the Pacific Northwest, overseeing links and landscapes from Bandon Dunes to Pebble Beach and winning awards for environmental stewardship.

Last month, two OSU alumni and former students of Cook's were recognized for their contributions to environmental stewardship with GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards. Troy Russell won the national award for his work at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the southern Oregon coast. Russell has won other awards for his environmental and community work at Bandon Dunes, the second largest employer in Coos County. In addition, Russ Vandehey won the regional merit award for his work at the Oregon Golf Club in West Linn, Ore.

These awards mark a significant change in an industry once suspected of creating toxic gardens dependent on a cocktail of chemicals and heavy irrigation to keep them unnaturally green.

"Many golf superintendents saw that their industry was on the hot seat, and they saw it was to their advantage to demonstrate good stewardship," Cook said.

In 2003, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America joined with partners including the National Fish and Wildlife Federation and Audubon International to incorporate environmental stewardship into the design, construction and maintenance of golf courses. Since then, the Northwest Golf Course Environmental Alliance has been formed to certify courses that enhance local communities ecologically as well as economically, develop and protect habitat for native plants and wildlife, and provide green space and a clean environment for surrounding communities.

"How we manage the environment will continue to be a big issue for golf course management; these superintendents will need to walk the talk," Cook said.

Cook's students are clearly ready for the challenge.

"Teaching is an odd business; there aren't a lot of tangible rewards. I judge my performance by how well my students do," Cook said. "This award means a lot because it comes from people I have a lot of respect for."

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Tom Cook