The Watson Fellowship Program recognizes future educators and researchers for their contributions to scientific advancement of the turfgrass industry
Lawrence, Kan. (Jan. 17, 2023) – Cathryn Chapman, Brandi Merrick and Stephanie Rossi are the 2022 Dr. James Watson Fellows from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), and each will receive a $5,000 scholarship. The Watson Fellowship is supported by The Toro Company and is administered by the GCSAA Foundation, the philanthropic organization of GCSAA.
The Watson Fellowship, started in 1998, is named in honor of the late James R. Watson, Ph.D., a pioneer and visionary in turfgrass research and vice president at The Toro Company. The fellowship recognizes students in postgraduate degree programs who have been identified as scientists that will go on to be leaders in turfgrass management.
Chapman recently received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University, where she studied plant biology with a specialization in turfgrass stress physiology. Her dissertation research examined post-drought recovery mechanisms of cool-season turfgrass species at the physiological, biochemical and molecular levels and to identify the research gaps which address remaining questions regarding the regulation of turfgrass recuperative ability when exposed to drought stress.
Merrick is working toward a master’s degree in plant pathology at North Carolina State University. Her research consists of three projects: looking at all root rot (TARR) response to nitrogen rate and source in ultradwarf bermudagrass; surveying golf course putting greens to establish data and observe similarities among edaphic and cultural factors that may influence TARR incidence in ultradwarf bermudagrass; and monitoring the impact of cultural management practices on organic matter accumulation, root health, turf quality and TARR disease severity in ultradwarf bermudagrass.
Rossi recently obtained her Ph.D. in plant biology with a focus on abiotic stress physiology from Rutgers University. The objectives of her dissertation research included identifying molecular and metabolic factors that may delay symptoms associated with heat stress and improve heat tolerance. Most of her research has aimed to identify traits associated with the alleviation of heat stress on bentgrasses as well as compounds that metabolically alleviate heat-induced leaf senescence.
“The study of turfgrass science is vital to the growth and longevity of the golf course industry,” GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans said. “Thanks to continued support from our friends at The Toro Company, we are able to recognize the remarkable work of Chapman, Merrick and Rossi.”
As an undergraduate student studying biology and plant adaption to environmental stress at Ramapo College of New Jersey, Chapman’s interest in pursuing a career in turfgrass science was sparked after volunteering in Dr. Bingru Huang’s turfgrass science research lab at Rutgers in the summer of 2015. After that, she knew she wanted to be a part of those research advancements and share in the excitement among her peers in the turf industry.
Merrick’s path to turfgrass science began as an undergraduate student at Iowa State University, when the only option for an upper-level horticulture class that fit her schedule was a turfgrass management course. That course led to a love of turfgrass management and then to her working at several golf courses after graduating from Iowa State, including Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort and the Grove Park Inn Golf Course in Asheville, N.C. From there, she decided to dive deeper into education and find ways to give back to the industry that she loves so much.
Rossi’s unwavering interest in plant research and management is expansive and traverses many disciplines, from horticulture and plant production to sports turfgrass. She was also part of the Plant Biology Department and studied under the guidance of Dr. Bingru Huang at Rutgers University. Rossi is determined to contribute her findings to the field of turfgrass science and facilitate the production of novel plant health products and heat-tolerant lines so turf managers will have strategies for withstanding complications associated with climate change.
Ensuring the application of good science to turfgrass management is an important part of Dr. Watson’s enduring legacy. Cathryn, Brandi, and Stephanie have honored his memory and advanced the industry through research on key challenges and their passion for turfgrass science.
Watson was a visionary and leading authority on turfgrass. He was vice president for customer relations and chief agronomist for The Toro Company. The winner of the USGA Green Section Award in 1976 and the 1977 Agronomic Service Award by the American Society of Agronomy, Watson was named a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America in 1979. He also won the 1991 Harry Gill Memorial Award from the Sports Turf Managers Association; the Old Tom Morris Award, a special GCSAA honor, in 1995; and the Donald Rossi Award from the Golf Course Builders Association of America (GCBAA).
Over the course of five decades at Toro, Watson collaborated with the scientific community and customers, and conducted research on water conservation, the adaptability of turfgrasses, fertilization practices, snow mold prevention techniques for the winter protection of turfgrasses, and more. He authored more than 400 articles on turfgrass management.