Pennsylvania Turfgrass – Member Spotlight
Dan Douglas’s 35-year career in Sports Turf Management in many ways parallels the growth of the industry in Pennsylvania. President of the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization (KAFMO) since its inception in 1993 and Eastern PA Turf Conference committee chairman since 2018, Dan has been named the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council’s George Hamilton Distinguished Service Award recipient for 2019. This award is presented to individuals who have exhibited outstanding service to the turfgrass industry. It is considered PTC’s highest individual honor and Dan was recognized by the membership in a formal ceremony at the Penn State Golf Turf Conference at University Park last November.
Dan had previously been honored five times as the Minor League Baseball Eastern League Groundskeeper of the Year, twice as the STMA/MiLB Sports Field Manager of the Year, and in 2001 received STMA’s highest honor, the Harry C. Gill Founders Award. We asked him to look back and share some of his career milestones with others in the field.
What draws a young man to turf management? Dan started playing golf at the age of eight and so had been around turf most of his life, but at Penn State he started out as a forestry major and then switched to soil conservation. “It wasn’t until one of my general agriculture classes took us out onto the playing field at Beaver Stadium that I got hooked on turf, and more specifically, sports turf,” he recalls.
During Dan’s senior year in 1986, Penn state alumnus Joe Ketterer recruited him to work for a landscape contracting company in Virginia. One of the client sites was George Mason University, which was rapidly expanding their athletic programs and facilities. GMU hired him away from the landscape contracting company so he could concentrate on making their playing fields as safe and playable as possible — priorities that still form the gold standard of sports turf management. “At the time I was one of the first groundskeepers to carry the title ‘Sports Turf Manager’ for a university’s athletic department,” he remembers.
Five years later and just months after marrying his wife, Cathy, Dan Douglas got a call from Dr. Waddington at Penn State to say that the Reading Phillies were looking for a full-time groundskeeper. Most minor league teams didn’t put much effort into their playing fields at that time, so this was a unique opportunity. The owner of the Reading Phillies, Craig Stein, is a Penn State alumnus who shared his vision. Thanks to the support he has received from the Reading Phillies organization, he has been able to make Minor League Baseball groundskeeping a satisfying 30-year career.
KAFMO and the PTC
A few years after arriving in Reading, Dan Douglas was approached by Penn State Extension educators Don Fowler and Jim Welshans. The fairly new Sports Turf Managers Association was growing and looking to form state chapters. Don and Jim recruited him to help form the Pennsylvania chapter, which became the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization (KAFMO). KAFMO now has over 350 members and is involved in education, scholarships, awards, and raising funds for sports turf research. Dan is grateful to the Reading Fightin Phils organization, his family, and dozens of past board members for making it possible for him to stay directly involved with KAFMO over three decades.
Dan says his initial involvement with the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council was “mostly me being selfish for the members of KAFMO.” He describes the PTC conferences and trade shows of the early nineties as “legendary” and says the behind-the-scenes experiences he had and the connections he made there were instrumental in the success of KAFMO. As KAFMO was gaining its footing, the PTC, the Penn State Turf program and Penn State Extension provided a strong foundation for its development.
Since 2000, Dan has served two six-year terms on the board of the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council. He sees his involvement as a PTC director raising money for turfgrass research now as “in a way giving back to the programs that supported my professional life and the accomplishments of KAFMO.”
When asked to describe a high point in his professional life, Dan Douglas immediately flashed back to the year 2012. “The entire 2012 season was a high point. We hosted the Eastern League All Star Game that included a zany hitting competition the day before,” he reminisces. “The hitting competition had a lot of elements to it that were never attempted before, but we were able to pull them off.” He credits the trio of Penn State interns on the crew that year with the fact that the field played so well all year.
At the end of the season Dan was named the Eastern League Groundskeeper of the year and MiLB/STMA’s Double A Sports Field Manager of the Year. “The awards have my name on them,” he says, “but it was the dedicated crew that really deserved the recognition.” He is proud that all three interns from that year are finding success in the turf industry and fulfillment in their personal lives: one is recently engaged, one is recently married, and the other is married with a child. “The professional and personal accomplishments of those who looked to me as a mentor are what I’m most proud of.”
Changes in the field
When asked about then and now, Dan Douglas says that one major aspect of turfgrass management that has changed over the past 35 years is the amount of information that is available. “Everything is a Google search away now,” he says. After spending a lot of time and effort creating educational opportunities for the members of KAFMO and the PTC, he is pleased to be part of the effort to disseminate unbiased information. He hopes grounds managers take the information these organizations provide back to their facilities. But he is also old school enough to hope they aren’t afraid to “learn the old-fashioned way — trial and error.”READ THE ISSUE