From the January 2016 issue of GCM magazine:

Three for all

GCSAA Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award recipients Dave Fearis, Al Turgeon and Paul McGinnis have each, in their own way, proved steadfast in giving their all to make a difference.


The recipients of GCSAA’s 2016 Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Awards (from left to right): Paul McGinnis, CGCS (photo by Michelle Coro); Dave Fearis, CGCS Retired (photo by Roger Billings); and Al Turgeon, Ph.D. (photo by William Ames)

Howard Richman

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The titles they have earned throughout their lives — including president and emeritus, just to name a couple — signal something extraordinary has been going on here.

Dave Fearis, CGCS Retired. Al Turgeon, Ph.D. Paul McGinnis, CGCS. Each has served as a devoted soul to the golf course management industry, bringing change, exhibiting innovation, and demonstrating passion that is still visible to this day.

All three of them have something else in common: They are the recipients of the 2016 GCSAA Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award (DSA), an honor that is named after the association’s founding father.

The annual award is presented to individuals who have made an outstanding, substantive and enduring contribution to the advancement of the golf course superintendent profession. The three will be honored Feb. 9 in San Diego during the Opening Session at the Golf Industry Show, presented in partnership with Syngenta.

“These gentlemen embody what the Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award represents,” says John O’Keefe, CGCS, GCSAA’s president. “They have made significant contributions to the game of golf and have dedicated themselves to the advancement of the superintendent profession through teaching and leadership.”

GCM explores just how much Fearis, Turgeon and McGinnis mean to the industry.


Fearis (seated, in plaid shirt) oversaw maintenance at Blue HIlls CC in Kansas City, Mo., for 19 years.

Dave Fearis, CGCS Retired

Dave Fearis remembers.

He remembers when a prominent member of Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Mo., thought so highly of him that the man shelled out $35,000 for improvements that Fearis needed on the golf course. He remembers Elvy Miller, the golf course superintendent whose career started during the Great Depression yet who remained on the scene long enough to teach Fearis about the business.

He also remembers scheduling a face-to-face meeting with his future father-in-law to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

“I showed up and I said to him, ‘I guess you know why I’m here.’ He said, ‘You want to sell me your Corvette, right?’ He was serious,” Fearis says, laughing at the thought of that moment as if it were yesterday.

Fearis clings to those memories today, because tomorrow — and all the tomorrows to come — offers no guarantee that he will remember the precious moments of his 69 years that are so meaningful to him. That’s what Alzheimer’s disease can eventually do — rob you of your distant past and, in present terms, affect your recent memories.

What Fearis has accomplished during his career classifies as extremely memorable.


Fearis with golf legend and Kansas City native
Tom Watson.
Photos courtesy of Dave Fearis

He served as GCSAA president in 1999. Seven years later, Fearis was president of The First Tee of Greater Kansas City. More than three decades ago, he taught turf management at Illinois Central College. Twice he was honored with the Chester H. Mendenhall Award, presented by the Heart of America GCSA, for outstanding service in the profession.

GCSAA Class A superintendent Woody Moriarty will never forget Fearis for giving him opportunities, first as an intern and later as his assistant. The lessons that Moriarty learned from Fearis remain viable today.

“There never was a moment that he wasn’t teaching somebody,” says Moriarty, who now oversees Blue Hills CC. “He always came prepared for everything.”

Much of the credit for Fearis’ rise in the industry belongs to people such as Bill Daniels, Ph.D., a pioneer in turfgrass who taught Fearis at Purdue University, and Miller, who hired Fearis for his first post-college job in Fearis’ hometown of Peoria, Ill., at Mount Hawley Country Club. In time, Fearis landed his first superintendent job at the Country Club of Peoria. Although he had terrific mentors, Fearis soon realized he wasn’t a know-it-all.

“I learned quickly that you’ve got to make contacts, make friendships. There is always somebody who knows more than you,” the 47-year GCSAA member says.

The decision to accept the job at Blue Hills in 1985 placed Fearis’ work in the spotlight. When golf star Tom Watson launched the Children’s Mercy Hospital Golf Classic in 1980, Blue Hills served as the location for the event through its run, which concluded in 2004. In the annual event, Watson welcomed some of the biggest names in golf to the charitable event, a list of participants that included Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson and Laura Davies. Fearis says he never felt pressure to deliver when golf legends played his course.

“You always wanted the course to be in top condition anyway,” he says.


Fearis initiated and attained Audubon International Cooperative Sactuary status at Blue Hills.

Fearis dabbled in the industry beyond the golf course superintendent position more than once. He worked for O.M. Scott & Sons as a technical representative, presenting seminars on turfgrass maintenance. He also served as a consultant for PBI-Gordon and Bayer Advantage, and was a sales representative for Agrium Advanced Technologies.

From 2004 to 2010, Fearis held the job of director of membership at GCSAA. He focused on leadership development — not only for superintendents, but for assistants too. He was also supportive of the field staff concept and creating a strong bond between GCSAA and its chapters.

Told that Fearis would be receiving a DSA, former GCSAA staff member Hannes Combest said, “You made my day. I can’t tell you what this means to me. Dave has a heart of a superintendent, a passion for the industry. He always put the superintendents’ interests above his own.”

In spring 2014, Fearis was informed of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In no way, however, is it pushing him to the sideline. He recently completed a seasonal position at Grand Summit Golf & Country Club in Grandview, Mo., and hopes to continue working. That sounds like a plan for a man whose smile is a constant. His sense of humor certainly is intact, even if his memory is less than whole. Fearis says if he has anything to do with it, Alzheimer’s won’t rule him.

“I have a good excuse now when I say ‘I forgot.’ I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me because I have Alzheimer’s,” Fearis says. “This will make me anything but a recluse.”


Turgeon during a field day event at Penn State.
Photos courtesy of Al Turgeon, Ph.D.

Al Turgeon, Ph.D.

Those who have had the opportunity to be in the audience when Al Turgeon, Ph.D., makes a presentation say his efforts border on legendary.

“I remember after he gave a speech at one of our conferences, Joe Duich (a turfgrass legend for sure), said, ‘Al, you should have been a preacher,’’’ says Peter Landschoot, Ph.D., professor of turfgrass science and director of graduate studies in agronomy at Penn State University.

Being a preacher was easy compared with, say, fleeing a helicopter that had landed on a mine in Vietnam — which Turgeon did.

Turgeon, 72, can certainly say he has accomplished much in his career. He was a pioneer, helping launch Penn State’s World Campus online program in 1998. Twice he served as head of Penn State’s department of crop and soil science. Turgeon traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, delivering presentations to practitioners on multiple aspects of turf management.

Speaking of overseas, Turgeon served his country there, too. As a 23-year-old helicopter pilot, Turgeon’s tour of duty in Vietnam included missions to Saigon. On one occasion, Turgeon’s helicopter landed on a mine. He prayed that he would not die — not that soon. Fortunately, he escaped through the sky window of the helicopter, leaving a near catastrophe behind.


Turgeon (second from the left) sits in on an
Education Advisory Council meeting.

When he returned home from service in 1967, Turgeon brought a Purple Heart with him for wounds suffered in combat. Not all of the U.S. was in favor of sending troops to fight in Vietnam; The country was embroiled in protests to the war, which Turgeon understood, but he says he has no regrets.

“I’m glad I did what I did,” he says.

By that time, Turgeon had already been introduced to the turfgrass industry. His uncle, Bruno Vadala, was a golf course superintendent. Turgeon’s first job at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., as a teen was to change tee marker positions. In 1965, Turgeon earned a turfgrass degree from Rutgers University. Six years later, he departed Michigan State University with his Ph.D. For the next eight years, Turgeon taught at the University of Illinois. Following stops at Texas A&M University as resident director of research at the Dallas Research and Extension Center, and then as vice president for research and technical services at the TruGreen Corp., Turgeon became head of the agronomy department at Penn State in 1986.

Turgeon vividly recalls a faculty member walking into his office in the early 1990s to demonstrate Mosaic, which was developed at the University of Illinois and was a Web browser widely credited for setting the stage for what would become the World Wide Web. Turgeon, who loved doing those now-famous presentations, saw the possibilities that Mosaic might provide.

“For years I used illustrations to teach courses. With this, you could take images, scan them, add narrative text, make a lesson,” says Turgeon, who has been a member of GCSAA for 17 years. “I immediately saw its potential. I knew the university (Penn State) was considering online teaching. Our interests merged.”

Landschoot remembers that, in the beginning, Turgeon’s vision for online turfgrass management possibilities wasn’t totally accepted.


Turgeon served the U.S. in the Vietnam War. He received a Purple Heart medal.

“There were a lot of naysayers concerning teaching turfgrass courses online, including me,” Landschoot says. “But it really took off and keeps getting better. He deserves 100 percent of the credit for starting the World Campus turf programs, and for creating incentives for all of us to join in and teach.”

Today, the World Campus has students enrolled from all 50 states, 60 countries and seven continents. In January 2015, U.S. News & World Report ranked Penn State No. 1 on the list of best online bachelor degree programs in the country.

Lessons learned courtesy of Turgeon are treasured by Bruce Branham, a former student of Turgeon’s at Illinois and currently a professor in the department of crop science there.

“He is, in my mind, kind of a legend. He was always very visionary — had a great vision of what turf was, could be, and was going to be. He was a Pied Piper in some respects. He could get you inspired,” Branham says. “He was a master at presenting information. He had a great deal of enthusiasm. He always seemed to help us find a way to get through things.”

Turgeon continues to blaze trails for others. In 2014, he taught in five different locations in China, and he currently teaches a course in the U.S. about the Vietnam War. For him, any time he is in front of an audience is a thrill.

“You come alive. You draw on all of your ability to impact other people, how to engage life’s challenges,” Turgeon says.

Paul McGinnis, CGCS


McGinnis during his days at Moon Valley CC in Phoenix.
Photos courtesy of Paul McGinnis, CGCS

For more than three decades, Paul McGinnis, CGCS, has officiated high school basketball games in Arizona.

Current NBA player Richard Jefferson and former NBA player Mike Bibby are two of the standouts who were on the court in high school games that McGinnis oversaw. McGinnis, 64, continues to officiate games when he is not on the scene as director of golf course maintenance at Pebble Creek (Ariz.) Golf Resort.

“I’ll be at a store, at the mall, and someone will come up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you a basketball official?’ I’ve officiated games for a lot of kids,” says McGinnis, whose civic contributions include being a longtime volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America and a counselor for church youth groups for more than three decades. “I’ve watched them grow up. It keeps me young.”

McGinnis obviously has a high profile in his region — on and off the court. His efforts to advance and improve the occupation of golf course superintendent in his area and nationally have made quite an impression.

“Paul is a person who has dedicated his whole life to the profession,” says George Renault III, CGCS Retired. “What a unique individual.”

The golf industry has been a part of McGinnis’ fabric for as long as he can remember. That’s what happens when your family operates a golf course, which his did in Ajo, Ariz., located 40-some miles from the Mexican border. At Ajo Country Club, McGinnis and his brother David mowed during the day and watered at night and, in between, picked up golf balls on the driving range.


McGinnis currently serves the national association
as a grassroots ambassador.

“At that age, I don’t think I realized it was work,” the 38-year GCSAA member says.

When he was old enough for college, McGinnis attended Arizona State University. Although the school did not have a turfgrass program at the time, he paved the way for anybody who wanted to become a golf course superintendent to earn a shot at it through the university.

Arizona State tailored a plan that featured turfgrass and fertilizer/chemical classes for McGinnis and others who may have been interested, which culminated in McGinnis receiving a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics (he also earned a minor in business).

Whether he was the superintendent at a nine-hole layout (his first job) or at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix (which was host to multiple LPGA events while he worked there), McGinnis defended his profession. He sought to bring it respect and make it visible at every turn, whether that was as being part of the Governor’s Panel for Water Conservation, becoming a GCSAA grassroots ambassador (he is a liaison to Congressman Trent Franks), or serving as the national association’s president in 1997.

That experience, plus serving on three occasions as president for the Cactus & Pine GCSA, broadened McGinnis’ perspective about the industry.


The McGinnis family in a photo taken during his service as GCSAA president in 1997.

“I think I really grew as a person, being so involved. I learned a lot from other superintendents, which helped me become a better leader, and even helped me set my priorities,” says McGinnis, who served on the USGA Green Section Committee for 10 years. “I was able to see the larger picture the more I became a part of what we do as superintendents.”

Mark Clark, who was a superintendent for 32 years, recalls how McGinnis helped him during his early years in the business. And, perhaps as importantly, showed he cared in other ways.

“I called him a lot for help when I made mistakes,” Clark says. “He wants to help you out as an individual, not just as a superintendent. He also wants to see how you are doing, how you’re feeling, and asks how your family is doing. That’s Paul.”   

When a friend once called McGinnis a “grass farmer,” it ignited within him a personal vow to do everything in his power to change the perception of golf course superintendents.

“I think sometimes people don’t realize how professional the golf course superintendent really is. I’ve gotten to meet members of Congress, portray a professional image with them, represent our association in a proper way, and show we’re educated professionals — people who know what the issues of the day are,” McGinnis says. “Being able to serve for so long has been rewarding. I am proud to be a golf course superintendent.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.