MSU turfgrass expert named to Michigan Golf Hall of Fame

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Joseph Vargas poses on a plot of Flagstick turfgrass. (view larger image)

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University (MSU) plant pathologist Joseph M. Vargas was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame yesterday, not for his prowess on the course but for his research efforts off-the-greens to advance the industry.

Throughout his 48-year career, Vargas has authored over 200 articles on turfgrass disease, made over 1,000 conference presentations and written a leading textbook on turfgrass management. A professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, he has been instrumental in discovering a variety of pests that threaten the common Poa annua turfgrass variety, as well as identifying the causes of black layer in sand-based turf soils.

“I was very surprised to be inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, and very honored,” Vargas said. “Nobody wins an award by themselves, and I’m no exception. I’ve had great colleagues, great people working for me and great family support. I know I’m not the first to say that, but it’s true.”

Recently, Vargas has released a new cultivar called Flagstick, which has shown resistance to dollar spot in long-term field trials conducted at MSU and at several other locations across the country. Dollar spot is the most common disease afflicting golf courses in Michigan and throughout the northeastern United States.

According to the American Phytopathological Society, more money is spent on the chemical control of dollar spot than on any other turfgrass disease. The new cultivar is being embraced by the golf course industry, said Gordon LaFontaine, executive director of the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation.

“Flagstick is a tremendous new turfgrass,” LaFontaine said. “The industry spends so much on spraying for dollar spot on golf courses. Having a dollar-spot-resistant cultivar on golf course greens, tees and especially fairways—encompassing acres of turf—will likely result in financial savings to golf courses as well as reduced environmental impact from fewer fungicide applications.”

Flagstick is a cultivar of creeping bentgrass, a species of turfgrass preferred by golf courses for its versatility. It grows well in a wide variety of soils, is among the most winter-hardy turfgrass species and maintains good cover even when mowed to 0.1 inch or less, as on most putting greens.

“It held up beautifully on our plots here at MSU last season while many of our other varieties got clobbered by dollar spot,” Vargas said. “There were so many requests for Flagstick last summer that they kept 20,000 pounds of seed so they could produce enough to meet the demand this year.”

The Michigan Golf Foundation (MGF) conducts the annual election for the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. Election is a unique honor bestowed upon those individuals who have demonstrated leadership, professionalism, good character and the highest standards of conduct through pursuits associated with this extraordinary game of golf. These individuals have contributed greatly to the tradition, strength and ongoing success of golf in the state of Michigan.

MGF is a cross-section of all the major golf bodies in the state with representatives from the Golf Association of Michigan, the Michigan Section of the Professional Golfers Association, the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association, the Michigan Publinx Golf Association, the Michigan Women’s Golf Association, the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association and media members who cover golf around the state.

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