In the Field: Kevin Frank

“For me, golf was really something my family got me started in, it was kind of a family activity and I probably first started when I was visiting my grandmother in Florida," Frank states. Kraig Ehm has the story.

July 6, 2018

Kraig Ehm and Kevin Frank at the golf course.

“For me, golf was really something my family got me started in, it was kind of a family activity and I probably first started when I was visiting my grandmother in Florida," Frank states. Kevin’s love of golf intertwines with his turfgrass work. Kraig Ehm has the story.

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In the Field with Kevin Frank - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In The Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm Kraig Ehm. In this episode of In The Field, I'm at the College Fields Golf Club in Okemos, Michigan, talking with Kevin Frank, Associate Professor and Extension Turf Specialist at Michigan State University. We will be discussing turfgrass research at MSU, and how it impacts the golf industry. And, we'll also delve in to Kevin's golf game, as he golfs. Kevin, thanks for joining me.

Kevin Frank: Thank you for having me today.

Mic by the tee.

Ehm: Okay, Kevin, before we talk turf research, how did you get started in golf, and how long have you been golfing?

Frank: For me, golf was really something my family got me started in. It's kind of a family activity, and I probably first started when I was visiting my grandmother in Florida, and as far as how long I've been playing, I'm going on about 39 years now.

Ehm: What puts a smile on your face when you're out there golfing?

Frank: I think a lot of it, for me, is I just really enjoy being outside. A golf course, for me, at times, is a very quiet place, and you get a chance to interact with Mother Nature a little bit, and it's just a very enjoyable and peaceful setting most of the time. I don't look at golf as a way to get rid of frustrations any more. A lot of people get frustrated by golf. For me, it works well with what I do, in that, working with turfgrasses, if you're out there playing by yourself, sometimes you see things, or you start thinking about different things, or different approaches, or what you maybe need to research. I look at it as an opportunity that's kind of relaxing, and gives you an opportunity to think.

Ehm: Heck of a putt. How far away was that?

Frank: 30 feet, I think.

Ehm: Klunk.

Frank: Went right in the hole.

Ehm: Rapid fire golf question time. Who is your favorite tour player, and why?

Frank: Probably over the last 10 years, it's been Phil Mickelson. This year, it's been easy to kind of jump on that Jordan Spieth bandwagon, just because he had such a phenomenal year, and I enjoy watching him play such a tenacious competitor, that I've really enjoyed seeing that in the last year.

Ehm: Favorite tour event?

Frank: Masters, most likely. Start of the golf season, especially for all of us who live up north. When you see Augusta National in the spring with the dark green grass and the flowers blooming, and everything, it's pretty tough to beat.

Ehm: Okay, how about favorite golf movie?

Frank: Probably have to go with ... Well, there's two choices there. Probably the favorite golf movie is Caddyshack, and then if you want to go really back, there was a movie, I don't know what year it was produced. It's an old classic movie called Follow the Sun. It was about Ben Hogan, and following when he was in his car wreck with that bus, and probably not on the top of most peoples' list of golf movies they've ever seen, but it was actually a pretty interesting show. But unfortunately, most of the golf movies aren't very good.

Ehm: Okay, if you could pick an ultimate foursome to play with in golf, who would be in your foursome?

Frank: Ultimate foursome, so professional golfers. It'd be an interesting group. If we can go back in time, take old Tom Morris, go forward a little bit, take Jack Nicklaus, and then round it out with Tiger Woods. Those are probably three of the giants of the game over the years.

Ehm: If you could golf anywhere, where would you like to golf?

Frank: Probably say St. Andrews, it's just such a historical, unique setting, and I think Saint Andrews, being located on the edge of town, it's just part of the fabric of life over there. And I think they get a lot of things right, that maybe in some respects, golf doesn't get right on a normal basis.

Ehm: Favorite club to hit with?

Frank: Wow. That's a tough one. Favorite club? I'd probably say my driver most of the time, yeah, driver.

Ehm: Did you ever use a Mashee, a Brasee, or a Nibluck?

Frank: I do, actually I have a set of Hickory Sticks that I play with occasionally, and it's the true wooden shafts from the, what was it? About pre-1930s, or 25s, or so. I play with those every now and then. That's a different experience.

Ehm: Okay, for those of us who've never played with those, what's it like?

Frank: For most golfers, and this probably sound really arrogant, but it's like normal golf, in that you look up, and you don't know where the ball's going.

Ehm: Have you seen me golf?

Frank: Yeah, probably. But it's very challenging because there's so much whip in those wooden shafts, that you can make a good, what feels like a good swing, and I look up, and sometimes it's going straight sideways. It is a very challenging game, using Hickory Sticks, because you don't hit the ball very far either. So you can go to a golf course that a lot of people consider short, by today's standards, and it'll be very challenging playing with those clubs.

Ehm: Do you have a handicap?

Frank: Yes, I do. Do you want to know it?

Ehm: I have one, too. My golf instructor said it was my swing. I didn't think that was very funny. Your work involves turfgrass research. Talk a little bit about the program at MSU.

Frank: Yeah, so the program at MSU in turf, it goes back many, many years. Probably where you consider the most significant impact of really kind of where the modern program developed was with Dr. Jim Beard, back in the '60s, and I like to really call the triumvirate of turfgrass research here at MSU, Dr. Beard, Dr. Vargas, and Dr. Rieke. Those three really, really developed a program, in cooperation with the turfgrass industry here in the state, and I would say we're kind of all standing on their shoulders today, of what we do.

Ehm: How important is it for the golf industry to have Michigan State University working with turfgrass research?

Frank: Well, obviously, I'm a little bias because I'm one of the researchers, but I think what we do well, in addition to the research, is the extension or extending the information to the golf, to not only the golf course superintendent, and the owners, but the golfers, themselves, in the state. And we're here, so a couple of years ago, we had, many areas of the state had devastating winter kill, where a lot of the greens were dead coming out of the spring. And we did our best to go around, try to help understand what some of the causes of death were. But more importantly, make recommendations so those courses could get back playing as soon as possible, and not cost any more, or not lose any more revenue, whether you were a public facility or a private facility. So I think in many respects, I look at it as we serve the public, we try to do the research that they're going to need in the next 20 to 40 years, let's say. And sometimes we're on the cutting edge and they may not understand it immediately of how it's going to impact them, but ultimately, we do impact the game and how it is not only managed, but played, in some respects.

Ehm: Talk a little bit about some of the research projects that you've been involved in here.

Frank: Yeah, so some of the work that I've done more recently, and keep in mind, we have a very diverse group of faculties, we work on all different aspects of turfgrass, whether it's diseases, or insects, or weed issues, or just maintenance practices. Some of the work that I've been working on during my time at MSU, I've looked at some of these winter kill issues and trying to understand what kills the grass, and trying to figure out how do we grow it back faster, or quickly when it's coming out of the spring dead? Some of my colleagues have done some really fabulous work in disease management. I mean, Dr. Vargas, throughout his entire career at MSU, has really focused on trying to make it as sustainable as possible, so as few applications as you need, of whether it's a fungicide, or a fertilizer, to produce good turf quality, and help the turf survive through when we do have a hot, humid, stressful summer. So really, I think our entire approach has always been trying to figure out what are the best conditions we can provide, while still having an eye on economics of what it takes to run a golf facility, have an eye on the environment. We want to make sure that whatever we're applying, isn't going to contaminate, whether it's groundwater, or surface water, or have any indirect impacts that we don't want it to have. So it's kind of our goal, is really always trying to look at, trying to get good playing conditions for the game, but also keep an eye on both the financial side of it, and of course, the environmental.

Ehm: Anything else you'd like to add? Talk about the turfgrass program, or do you want to brag on your golf game at all?

Frank: No, I would not want to brag on my golf game. I'm like most golfers, some days it's great, and some days it seems very, very average. Probably one of the things that I think when you look at our program, overall, is just I've talked a little bit about research, I've talked about the extension. Certainly, our teaching program over the years, we've educated literally hundreds, if not thousands of golf course superintendents that work all over the country. And usually, it's nice to be able to see when somebody says, "Well, I'm going to California, or Arizona, or Florida, or wherever they're traveling," and they might run into a superintendent that was educated here, and is very proud to be a Spartan, so I think that's always kind of a neat aspect of the program.

Ehm: I would like to thank Carey Michelson, Director of Operations at College Field's Golf Club for allowing us to golf here today. And I'd like to thank Kevin Frank, Associate Professor and Extension Turf Specialist at Michigan State University, for joining me today. Tune in next time for another episode of In The Field.

 

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