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 Fields of Green. Story by Wright Thompson.


In 1995, with Minner about to depart for Ames, Fresenburg found himself responsible for the Turfgrass Center. That same year, MU, like many other schools, decided to replace its football field's fake turf with the real deal. He and Minner helped direct the project.

Although it was just the second sports field Fresenburg had ever done, he realized the opportunity before him. But even as he learned more and more, the synthetic industry was cooking up the next contender. A Canadian firm had already created FieldTurf, which used ground-up automobile tires to replicate the soft feel of natural turf. It was the future and, even if natural grass experts like Fresenburg couldn't see it, that future was coming.

For his part, Fresenburg didn't have much time to fret about the future. He was working hard with MU's ground crew making Faurot's grass perfect. Missouri is in the transition zone, where it gets too hot during the summer for cool-season grasses, but too cold in the winter for warm-season grasses.

That's always the problem with grass; it's alive and has its own agenda. It lives in symbiosis with us, not serving at our whim. It doesn't care about athletic schedules or costs. "If you can grow grass in the transition zone," he says, "you can grow grass anywhere."

As the newest synthetic comer began its march, Brad Fresenburg was undertaking a journey of his own. He'd come back to MU in the 1980s to get an MBA, a degree that would help him manage the business side of the Turfgrass Center. By the late 1990s, he was known around the region for his expertise. Still, he had more learning to do.

Sooner or later, he knew he'd have to get a PhD. Sure, it's ridiculous that one of the nation's experts in sports turf would have to take classes in turf, but that's the game. So, two years ago, he enrolled in school again. He missed the first two weeks of Introductory Turf because he was giving statewide pesticide application training. When he finally arrived, some students saw him in the hall.

"Oh," one asked, "are you the guest speaker today?"

"Oh, no," he told them. "I'm taking."

The students, some of whom had worked under him, began looking at each other, panic in their eyes. "The first thing they said was, 'There goes the curve,' " Fresenburg recalls.

He finished the class, got an A, and was teaching Advanced Turf the following fall. His students have always done well, starting at the replica baseball infield and soccer field he's installed at the center. The Missouri baseball team -- showing that it is indeed part of a larger academic community -- practices out there during the fall, in part so Fresenburg's students can see how different grasses react when the cleats are flying.

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Published by the Office of Research.

©2006 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.