On Course

A day after his high-school graduation, Rob Golembiewski landed a summer job experimenting with turf grass at Michigan State University. The self-confessed perfectionist says he still loves to work in his yard. (Photo: Lynn Ketchum)

Rob Golembiewski wears a size-13 shoe, but that’s nothing compared with the shoes he has to fill. The former head of the golf and turf management program at the University of Minnesota’s Crookston campus has replaced Tom Cook as the director of Oregon State University’s turf management program.

Thirty-one years ago, the hardworking and revered Cook, who retired this fall, single-handedly created the program, which has produced superintendents at prominent golf courses, including Pebble Beach and Bandon Dunes.

“It’s phenomenal what Tom did as a one-man show. I have an appreciation for what he built. I’ll be very protective of it, and I look forward to taking it to the next level,” says Golembiewski, who launched the golf and turf program at Montana State University and co-owned a landscaping company for six years in Arizona.

He has wasted no time getting down to work. He clocks at least 12 hours a day teaching, picking the brains of industry professionals over lunch and speaking at conferences. On weekends, he’s at his office, which he painted himself – a luminous Beaver orange. (“It was a little brighter than I expected,” he confesses.)

Right now, he’s deciding what research projects to take on.

“I’ve been visiting with turf breeders, golf course superintendents and landscapers trying to get feedback about what the Pacific Northwest industry sees as key issues,” he adds. “I want to do research that impacts the Northwest and the nation.”

He plans to continue the program’s research on perennial ryegrass, the fertility of annual bluegrass and the performance of certain grass mixtures in shaded conditions. The research is conducted on five acres of experimental plots and putting greens at OSU’s Lewis-Brown Farm. Golembiewski intends to expand the putting green area there by up to 10,000 square feet.

He’s also looking to enhance what takes place inside the classroom. In December, he met with a committee of industry representatives to hear its thoughts on how graduates of the program have performed at the representatives’ companies and how the curriculum stacks up to others.

Unlike Cook, though, Golembiewski doesn’t have to scramble to gather grants and donations to fund his employment during the summer. Earlier this year, the family of the late OSU alumnus Nat Giustina announced that it had donated $1 million to endow a professorship for Cook’s replacement.

Golembiewski’s endowment is a far cry from his first paid job in the business. That was back when he was a teenager taking care of a neighbor’s immaculate yard.

“They loved me because I was meticulous,” says Golembiewski, 39, the second youngest of 11 children. When it comes to his own yard, the Michigan native describes himself as a perfectionist. “I mow straight lines and pick up every leaf,” he says. “I love to work in the yard.”