GCI's Bruce Williams remembers the life and legacy of Dr. James R. Watson.
The turfgrass industry lost a friend and a leader that was the face of Toro for almost half a century. Dr. Watson spent 46 years with Toro as their vice president of customer relations and agronomist. He retired in 1998 but continued to serve as a consultant to the company until his passing this week at 93 years of age.
In a time when few people actually studied turfgrass management or conducted research, Dr. Watson graduated from Texas A&M with a B.S. in agronomy in 1947. In 1950 he attained his Ph.D. from Penn State University and was appointed to the position of assistant professor in the department of agronomy at Penn State University. Dr. Watson taught soil and pasture management and conducted turfgrass research.
In 1952 Dr. Watson joined Toro and became their first agronomist and held that position for almost half a century. He was also vice president of customer relations. A big part of what Dr. Watson did for the company and the industry was to travel the globe and keep the industry updated on current trends and technologies that were being developed. In the 1960’s and beyond there would be standing room only for the many presentations that Dr. Watson made. Although he represented Toro he was the kind gentleman from the South who seldom mentioned his brand, but everyone knew that he was Mr. Toro.
During his time at Toro Dr. Watson was involved in many initiatives including equipment development and evaluations, development of water conservation technology and the early entry into the home lawn irrigation market.
By the middle of Dr. Watson’s career he was recognized by a number of organizations for his vast contributions to the turf, sports turf and golf industries. In 1976 he received the USGA Green Section Award. In 1977 he received the Agronomic Service Award from the American Society of Agronomy. In 1979 he became a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science of America. In 1991 the Sports Turf Managers Association honored Dr. Watson with their Harry Gill Memorial Award. In 1995 Dr. Watson received the highest honor of the GCSAA as they presented him with the Old Tom Morris Award. He was a member of the USGA Turfgrass and Environmental Research Committee since 1982 and remained a contributor even in his later years. Dr. Watson was a board member of the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation and was very active in the annual selection of the top Ph.D. candidates in the turf industry. His most recent award was the Donald Rossi Award from the Golf Course Builders Association of America.
The people at Toro always spoke of Dr. Watson as a pioneer, teacher and legend in the turfgrass industry. The back yard at Toro HQ became a research facility for Dr. Watson and other researchers at Toro and is now known as the Dr. James R. Watson Research & Development Proving Grounds. In 1998 Toro established the James R. Watson Scholarship to honor Dr. Watson for his many contributions. Since 1998 many scholarships to deserving people have provided through this endeavor.
We will all miss the smiling face and the twinkle in the eye of one of the great guys of turf. He lived a long and prosperous life sharing with all along the way. Always the visionary and always the leader we can be thankful that our industry is better because of people like Dr. Jim Watson.
Bruce Williams, CGCS, is principal for both Bruce Williams Golf Consulting and Executive Golf Search. He’s GCI’s senior contributing editor.