FARGO, N.D. — There’s a seeming sweet spot at the intersection of sports and agriculture, two things North Dakota State University excels at, in teaching students how to maintain athletic fields and golf courses.
But the home of the five-time Football Championship Subdivision champions has discovered that not many people are interested anymore in its bachelor of science degree in sports and urban turfgrass management, and is dropping the major.
“I think this is just an example of the normal ebb and flow on campus related to curriculum and programs,” school provost Beth Ingram said, noting students can still take required turfgrass classes while pursuing a major in horticulture.
There are stand-alone turfgrass degree programs in about 30 states. Such programs are meant to prepare students for jobs as golf course superintendents, sports turf managers, lawn care operators and facility managers.
NDSU’s major began in 2002, about the peak of America’s golf course building boom. The last decade has been a course bust: According to the National Golf Foundation, 234 courses closed in the United States in 2015, the most since the group began counting in 2006.
“At one time developers were saying we could build a golf course a day and not catch up to the number of people who are playing golf,” said Greg McCullough, PGA golf professional at Edgewood in Fargo. “While that was probably not very accurate, in my opinion, I can see why there was a demand for turfgrass superintendents and things like that.”
There are currently eight students in the North Dakota State program, all of whom will have the opportunity to earn their turfgrass degrees. In the meantime, Rich Horsley, head of the plant sciences department, is still promoting the Fargo school to potential turfgrass enthusiasts.
“A lot of the students have been interested in working on golf courses, but we have had students get jobs on ground crews at sports facilities and landscaping crews for urban parks,” he said. “To get established, one, you really have to love it. You probably aren’t going to be able to get a full-time job in North Dakota, so you have to be a little bit transitory.”