Turfgrass management program alumnus retires after legendary career

Kelly Jedrzejewski
November 23, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During Frank Dobie's more than five decades as a golf course superintendent, making difficult decisions was “par for the course.” But one of his earliest decisions — to enroll in Penn State’s Golf Course Turfgrass Management program — arguably was his easiest and most important.

Dobie, who recently retired from Sharon Golf Club in Sharon Center, Ohio, after 56 years as superintendent and general manager, was a member of the two-year program’s second class in 1958 and has actively supported it ever since.

"The best decision in my professional life was my choice to go to Penn State in 1958. I’ve loved every day of my career and the relationships it’s brought me."

-- Penn State alumnus Frank Dobie

“The turfgrass industry is large, but small at the same time — everybody is super connected,” said John Kaminski, program director and professor of turfgrass science in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “There’s a handful of people you can name as leaders in the golf turf area, and Frank is one of them. He’s had an incredible career and positively influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s lives along the way.”

In his position at the Sharon Golf Club, Dobie, who now is superintendent and general manager emeritus, was the longest-tenured superintendent and the longest-tenured general manager in the country. He was the 2011 winner of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award, which is the highest award given by the association.

Dobie did not start out to study turfgrass management — after high school, he planned to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. A classmate told him about the Penn State program, and Dobie thought there might be a career in it.

“I worked in an office one summer and hated it,” he said. “I also worked on a golf course all through high school and loved it, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ One week at Penn State and I knew this is what I was going to do.”

Dobie studied with several of the turfgrass science legends at the University, including the late H. Burton Musser, professor emeritus of agronomy, and Joseph M. Duich, professor emeritus of turfgrass science. These men and his classmates were a driving force behind Dobie's commitment to the program at Penn State.

“The ages in our class ranged from 18 to 49, but the comradery and enthusiasm of my fellow students still stand out in my memory,” he said. “That has never waned over the years with the alumni.”

After Dobie and his roommate, Tom Burrows, graduated from the program, they wanted to do something to pay back the industry and Penn State. They decided to form a research fund for Duich.

“When we told him our plans, Dr. Duich said, ‘We have plenty of money. What we need is a way to keep the alumni in touch with one another after graduation,’” Dobie said. Subsequently, Dobie, Burrows and Duich met at the Nittany Lion Inn and jotted the bylaws for the Penn State Turfgrass Alumni Association on a paper napkin.

They decided to keep the association simple — which is why the bylaws fit on a napkin — and tie the annual meetings to the Golf Course Superintendents Association’s annual conference. The alumni group has met every year since 1969.

Frank Dobie bylaws

Joe Duich, Frank Dobie and Tom Burrows in 2008 with the famed Penn State Turfgrass Alumni Association bylaws napkin.

IMAGE: Frank Dobie

Dobie said the alumni association strengthens connections within the industry. “There wasn't competition or hiding secrets from the guy down the street,” he said. “If I needed help, not only could I pick up my phone and call my neighbors, I could call anybody in any state — the connection between superintendents is phenomenal.”

The alumni association was not the end of Dobie’s service to Penn State. When Musser died in 1969, Fred Grau, agronomy extension specialist, approached Dobie about helping with the newly established foundation in Musser’s honor.

Today, the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation supports turfgrass management by recognizing the top doctoral student in turfgrass science each year with a cash award. Since its creation, the foundation has given more than $659,000.

However, when the foundation was created in 1969, its coffers did not have much. Dobie suggested hosting charity golf tournaments.

“I volunteered to hold the first fundraising tournament at the Sharon Golf Club; Dr. Grau loved the idea,” Dobie said. “That’s when he told me I was a member of the foundation's board and that my title was fundraising chairman.”

Dobie called his industry friends to set up golf tournaments. Together, they have held more than 80 tournaments, increasing the foundation’s funds to $1.6 million today. While there are corporate donations, most funds are derived from the tournaments and individual contributions. Dobie became president of the foundation in 1988.

After Duich died in 2013, his wife, Pat, contacted Dobie about setting up a scholarship in Duich's name for Penn State students. The Joseph M. Duich Scholarship Fund was created under the umbrella of the Musser Foundation in 2015 from donations by alumni and others. A total of $10,000 has been awarded to students in the two-year program at Penn State. They plan to increase the amount awarded each year as the principal of the fund increases.

“I learned from my mentors to be willing to share my successes and my failures with others,” Dobie said. “It’s one of the reasons I was drawn to this profession. The best decision in my professional life was my choice to go to Penn State in 1958. I’ve loved every day of my career and the relationships it’s brought me.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 14, 2020