Off the Record: Oklahoma’s bermudagrass connection

By |  January 18, 2022 0 Comments
75 numeral (Photo: selim bekil / iStock / Getty Images / Getty Images Plus)

Photo: selim bekil / iStock / Getty Images / Getty Images Plus

In November, at the 75th Annual Turfgrass Conference, I presented a turfgrass research and extension history at Oklahoma State University to celebrate the past 75 years. There are several interesting facts that I learned while preparing my talk.

In 1946, a traveling group of industry professionals held the first Oklahoma Turfgrass Conference. Fred Grau, Ph.D., director of the USGA Green Section, and O.J. Noer, Ph.D., and William Daniels, Ph.D., traveled to Oklahoma.

Also, in 1946, Wayne Huffine, Ph.D., received his BS degree and MS degree in 1947 from Oklahoma Agriculture & Mechanical College. He was appointed assistant professor in the Agronomy Department. Regents renamed Oklahoma Agriculture & Mechanical College, or OAMC, to Oklahoma State University (OSU) in 1957.

In 1950, Huffine took a leave of absence to obtain a Ph.D. from Purdue University under William Daniel, Ph.D. In 1953, Huffine returned to OAMC and was a constant figure in the turfgrass program until his retirement in 1981.

In the 1960s, Jack Harlan, Ph.D., and Wayne Huffine, Ph.D., traveled worldwide and collected more than 700 bermudagrass genotypes. The USGA Green Section Research and Education Fund supported the evaluation of these selections for turf purposes.

In 1968, Charles Taliaferro, Ph.D., started as an assistant professor at OSU. Taliaferro received his BS degree in agronomy from OSU in 1962 and his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 1966. After graduation, Taliaferro worked for Glen Burton, Ph.D., in Tifton, Ga., as a USDA research geneticist. With Taliaferro’s assistance, Huffine started to select bermudagrass genotypes for seed production of turfgrass varieties. For my MS degree, I worked with bermudagrass genotypes that eventually produced Guymon seeded bermudagrass.

When Huffine retired, the university moved the turfgrass program from the Agronomy Department to the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department. In 1982, Doug Brede, Ph.D., was hired in the research and teaching position, and in 1983, Robert Green, Ph.D., became the turfgrass and nursery production extension specialist.

Green left in 1984, and I became the state turfgrass extension specialist in 1985. In 1986, Taliaferro and Brede received a USGA grant to develop cold-hardy, seeded bermudagrass varieties. The USGA support helped to give the turfgrass breeding program an extra push. However, in the fall of 1986, Brede left OSU for a breeding position with Jacklin Seed Co.

Jeff Anderson, Ph.D., came to OSU in 1987 and started controlled growth chamber experiments on low-temperature tolerance of bermudagrass. The USGA increased funding in 1989 to include vegetative bermudagrass, and the Oklahoma Advancement for Science and Technology provided matching funds.

By 1990, the bermudagrass breeding program was well on its way to developing new hybrids between African bermudagrass and common bermudagrass. There was also an increased effort to find better bermudagrass tolerance to spring dead spot.

Dennis Martin, Ph.D., arrived in 1990 and played a crucial role in evaluating Taliferro’s promising experimental bermudagrasses for the golf course and sports fields. Nathan Walker, Ph.D., provided expertise on spring dead spot biology and screening.

The list of successful OSU bermudagrasses include seeded varieties Riviera and Yukon and vegetative cultivars Midlawn, Midfield, Patriot, Latitude 36 and Northbridge.

After Taliaferro retired in 2006, Yanqi Wu, Ph.D., has coordinated the bermudagrass breeding program. Tahoma 31 is the latest bermudagrass released by the OSU program. Additional shade research is underway by Charles Fontanier, Ph.D., who arrived at OSU in 2010.

Grau’s traveling group of professionals to the first Oklahoma Turfgrass Conference and Huffine’s decision to pursue a turfgrass career kicked off Oklahoma’s turfgrass science and management program. Harlan and Huffine’s world collection of bermudagrass and subsequent funding by the USGA created a new direction of bermudagrass breeding for the Transition Zone. The USGA provided valuable vision and support.

About the Author: Mike Kenna, Ph.D.

Mike Kenna, Ph.D., is the retired director of research, USGA Green Section. Contact him at

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