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The best summer job turned career

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When Sam Bauer was 15 he got a summer job at a golf course in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He was hooked.

"The superintendent had to push me to leave at the end of every day," said Sam.

Sam Bauer

Sam Bauer

At the time Sam didn't know it could be a career—he just knew he enjoyed it. Fortunately, he heard about the turf program at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. After stints in Hong Kong (where he was the Olympic equestrian course superintendent) and Jacksonville (where he was assistant superintendent at the PGA Tour headquarters, TPC Sawgrass golf course), he ended back here at the U of M Extension as an educator in urban turf where his core audiences are consumers, Master Gardeners, and golf course superintendents.

"I knew it was the job I always wanted," said Sam.

Educating the public on species that achieve the consumers' aesthetic goals with less fertilizer, less water, and less mowing is one of Sam's goals. The public generally doesn't accept the look of native grasses as a lawn—too weedy and sparse. But they have options.

Sam Bauer

Sam working on instructional video

"People's expectations drive the species of grass that we recommend," said Sam. "Fine fescues, which is a group of five species, is turf that I turn to most often for lower maintenance environments. It is under-utilized in Minnesota. It winters well, and only requires about a quarter of the mowing that Kentucky bluegrass does."

Sam teaches about turfgrass management via a number of outlets including social media, where he is active and has attracted a following. He finds it allows for communicating the latest information quickly.

"I can just take a photo of what I'm seeing out there and let people know," said Sam. "People will send direct messages to ask their specific questions too."

After Field Day attendance shifted downward for a few years, Sam turned to e-learning with Virtual Field Day. It was made up of videos released day by day from various presenters, and it proved to be a success. Field Day will be virtual again this year; this format helps garner awareness and interest for the in-person Field Day, which will be brought back in the future.

Sam also enjoys conducting research. A key theme in research is coming up with sustainable and low-maintenance options, while still having an attractive lawn. One such study includes low-input turfgrasses in specific areas of the St. Paul campus. He's also studying plant growth regulators and wetting agents for golf course use, which will keep him busy through winter.

What does the future hold for this field? "In the next five to ten years, there will be more public and government pressure to do what this program is teaching now."

Sam will be ready to educate his audience on their options.

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