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Jim Snow: An Enduring Legacy All Golfers Can Appreciate
January 21, 2021
By Kimberly Erusha
Most golfers do not know the name James T. Snow, but his 35 years with the USGA influenced the conditions we play on, even today. From Day One, his focus was on better turf for better golf. Although his responsibilities changed from a USGA agronomist to leading the Green Section department, his focus never wavered, and his efforts – particularly on the environmental front – were innovative and pioneering.
Snow, who died at age 68 on Nov. 25, 2020, was instrumental in the mission to establish the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. Today, with major support from the USGA, more than 1,000 golf courses in the United States have earned certification for their efforts to protect the environment and the natural heritage of the game.
Snow’s USGA journey began in 1976 after he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture from Cornell University. As a USGA agronomist he traveled the Northeast Region for 14 years, visiting hundreds of courses, dispensing practical management advice to golf course superintendents and green committees, helping them navigate myriad challenges while working within their budgets.
“Jim always tried to remind agronomists that successful golf course management is not about who has the biggest budget and the most perfect conditions,” said Jim Moore, former director of education for the USGA Green Section. “He cared as much about courses with affordable green fees as he did about those with bigger price tags. A lot of daily golfers benefited from that belief.”
Snow capped his USGA career with 21 years leading the Green Section as its national director. His influence broadened substantially as he guided the 17 USGA agronomists based around the country. He was steadfast in identifying long-range issues, organizing research to fully understand the challenges and developing science-based practical solutions.
Snow was the son of a teacher, and an important part of his legacy was his respect for education and outreach. An excellent writer himself, he skillfully guided the USGA Green Section Record as its longtime editor.
“To see how golfers were directly impacted by Jim’s advice, look no further than his many articles on trees, winter play and bunker maintenance,” said Larry Gilhuly, former director of the USGA Green Section Northwest Region. “His articles were some of the best and greatly benefited golfers around the globe. They were posted at countless golf courses over the last four decades.”
The magazine was long considered the best in the business for its timely, focused, practical coverage of golf course management. Pretty much all of its content passed through his painstaking filter before it reached course management staff and golfers, resulting in articles that were readable, concise and focused. His editorial skills also improved multiple industry books, such as the trailblazing “Turfgrass Management for Golf Courses.”
He will be best remembered for guiding the industry in critical long-range issues. He recognized that golf had to be more forthright in how it dealt with the environment. He directed USGA Turfgrass and Environmental Research Program funding to analyze what happens to pesticides and fertilizers used to care for golf course turf. This research led to definitive answers on how efficiently turfgrasses filtered water and what actions were needed to mitigate potential problems.
“Jim made tremendous contributions in promoting how golf courses can benefit the entire community for both golfers and nongolfers alike,” said Moore.
As environmental issues came to the fore in the 1990s, Jim recognized that the industry needed to better document and share what golf was doing to benefit the environment. With his foresight and support, the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf was established in 1990. It was the first program to document the game’s efforts to promote an environmentally responsible approach to golf course management through education and on-site projects.
“Golf courses participating in the program have added thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, better documented water conservation practices and promoted environmental education to golfers and within their communities,” said Christine Kane, CEO of Audubon International. “Jim Snow was a catalyst to get the golf industry involved from the beginning.”
Research and education required access to the materials, and Snow staunchly supported the Turfgrass Information Center, the world’s largest turfgrass database housed at Michigan State University. He rallied the USGA Executive Committee to pledge $1 million to expand the center. This information resource continues to be employed by researchers who build on previous findings and by those in the field to locate practical solutions. Snow’s influence ultimately reached putting greens around the globe as he led the 2004 upgrade to the “USGA Recommendations for a Method of Putting Green Construction.” Forging partnerships across industry groups from around the world, he guided a comprehensive review and update of the methods.
Snow’s contributions to the game were varied and impactful. The next time you sink a long putt that rolls smooth and true on a well-conditioned green, before you raise your arms and claim 19th-hole bragging rights, you should pause a moment and whisper, “Thanks, Jim.”
Kimberly Erusha is the former managing director of the USGA Green Section.