Zach Holm knows all about turf. The Red Bulls training facility manager is now lending that expertise to Sussex County Community College’s Agricultural Department.
This coming fall, Sussex is adding turf management courses to its Horticultural Science Degree program. The College is poised to bring a new aspect to students interested in a career in an expanding turf management field that includes ballfields, golf courses, and other green areas. As Manager of the Red Bulls professional soccer team’s training facility for nearly six years, Holms will be consulting on the College courses. These courses include Introduction to Turf and Advanced Topics in Turf that will prepare students with the knowledge and skills to identify turf grass, common turf pests, and associated weeds. Students will receive a solid introduction to the science of turfgrass, soil testing, and renovation practices.
“The turfgrass industry makes a significant contribution to our state’s economy as managed turfgrass covers 18% of New Jersey’s land throughout the suburban and urban landscape,” noted Erin Collins, Supervisor of Agriculture Business and Horticulture Science at Sussex. “Turfgrass can provide us with environmental benefits of erosion control, carbon sequestration, cooler and cleaner air alongside beauty and specialized fields or extensive courses to enjoy sports on.”
Collins added, “With an increased focus on athletics at SCCC, we have identified that our sports fields provide a unique opportunity for hands-on, experiential learning with students on campus. As the study of turfgrass science and its management naturally includes golf course managers and employees, Sussex can set itself apart from other two-year and even four-year colleges by offering turf courses that cover the gamut of the industry. A distinct aspect of sports turf management is in understanding how to create a field that is playable, enjoyable and safe for regular practices and sometimes intense games.”
The turfgrass industry employs tens of thousands of employees every year. It is anticipated that Grounds Maintenance Workers, which includes those Turfgrass managers and employees, will increase 10% over the next ten years.
With opportunities abound, Sussex officials reached out to Holm, who holds a B.S. in Turfgrass Management from Delaware Valley College and an M.S. in Sports Management from Southern New Hampshire University. While in college, he completed internships at Fenway Park, Peoria Sports Complex, Qualcomm Stadium (at the time home to the San Diego Chargers), and Yankees’ AAA PNC Park affiliate in Scranton. After college, he worked as the Assistant Groundskeeper for the Staten Island Yankees and then Head Groundskeeper for the York Revolution.
The College’s relationship with Holm, who resides in Byram Township, began a few years ago when the soccer team had field troubles before a national tournament. Holm arranged for Sussex to use the Red Bulls’ practice facility. Naturally, talk eventually came around to field maintenance. Holm visited the campus not long after to offer some general advice. When he was approached recently about helping to plan out Sussex’s turf courses, Holm was glad to help out.
“The original goal was to get students hands-on experience working on the College’s athletic fields,” said Holm. “It’s turned into a win-win all around. I think my selling point was I believe the turf industry can do a better job of recruiting people. When I meet someone for the first time and tell them what I do, the reaction is something like ‘oh wow that’s so cool; I didn’t know that was a job. Did you go to school for it?’ With that in mind, if the College recruited from high school athletic departments, more kids would be interested in the industry.”
Holm knows the worth of a good groundskeeper and agrees wholeheartedly with a baseball icon. He noted that “Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck said in 1983 that a good groundskeeper is worth 10-12 wins.”
The majority of the turf courses will be taught later in the day to make it easier for students who want to learn about the career or expand on their knowledge through their other jobs.