Lawrence, Kansas, United States: Michael Kenna, Director of USGA Green Section Research, has been selected to receive the 2021 Colonel John Morley Distinguished Service Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).
He will be recognised at the 2021 Golf Industry Show on February 2 during the Opening Session, presented in partnership with Syngenta, an Executive Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
The award is given to individuals who have made an outstanding, substantive and enduring contribution to the advancement of the golf course superintendent profession. The award was renamed in 2009 in honour of Colonel 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 Colonel John Morley,” said Rhett Evans, the GCSAA’s 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 and now-retired Director of USGA Green Section Research from 1990-2019, Kenna oversaw environmental and turfgrass research activities at the USGA. This included soliciting and evaluating research proposals, grant making and advancing the turf industry as a whole by working with other private and governmental organisations to develop co-operative funding opportunities for turfgrass scientists. Kenna managed more than 600 research projects funded with US$40 million from the USGA.
“Receiving the Distinguished Service Award from the GCSAA is truly an honour. I have always looked upon golf course superintendents as the primary recipients of USGA research results,” said Kenna, who has been working in the turfgrass industry since his first job at Singing Hills Golf Course in El Cajon, California, at the age of 15.
“Dave Flemming, the Superintendent at Singing Hills Golf Course, encouraged me to attend California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, to become a golf course superintendent. There, Dr Kent Kurtz suggested that I attend graduate school after working for him at the research plots and conducting a senior project on zoysia grass iron chlorosis,” said Kenna.
Kenna’s journey in academia began as a student at Cal Poly-Pomona where he received a Bachelor’s of Science in ornamental horticulture in 1979. Kenna earned a Master’s of Science and a doctorate in crop science from Oklahoma State University (OSU) and became a post-doctoral research associate at Texas A&M University in 1984. He returned to OSU as an assistant professor from 1985-1990 in the Department of Horticulture. During that time, he worked with superintendents in Oklahoma to conduct research solving problems specific to the management of golf courses.
As director of USGA Green Section Research, Kenna continued his outreach to universities. He travelled to nearly all the turfgrass programmes at universities in the US and made presentations to most all of the State turfgrass conferences. Kenna was an advocate for the GCSAA chapter grants and strongly supported the concept of on-site testing at golf courses evaluating new putting green cultivars. He is well-known for his extensive publications of articles in turfgrass journals and related publications.
Notably, in co-ordination with other Green Section staff, Kenna helped develop a research programme to improve laboratory testing, as well as projects to improve the USGA putting green recommendations. He also was 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 the GCSAA, most remarkably as a long-standing member on the GCSAA Research Committee. He provided extensive knowledge on past and present research projects which enabled GCSAA to best utilise the funds available for research that was truly needed, so it would be useful, practically-applied and unbiased. Kenna provided research to demonstrate that golf courses were a beneficial part of the urban landscape.
Kenna has received many industry accolades, including the 2003 Distinguished Alumnus award from the College of Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona, and the 2016 Turfgrass Producers International Distinguished Service Award. This year, the Ferguson School of Agriculture at OSU honoured him with the Distinguished Alumni Award. He has also met with the US 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,” said Kenna, currently a private consultant at Natural Grass Science and a member of the Oklahoma GCSA. He plans to help support them during his retirement years.