Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, CA hosted a field dedication ceremony in honor of the late Dr. Kent W. Kurtz. The beautiful, sunny day was fitting for honoring a legend in the sports turf and golf industries.

Mt. San Antonio College dedicates field to Dr. Kent “Doc” Kurtz

Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, CA hosted a field dedication ceremony March 24 in honor of the late Dr. Kent W. Kurtz. The beautiful, sunny day was fitting for honoring a legend in the sports turf and golf industries.

Over the past few months the students of Mt. SAC worked hard to build a learning laboratory that is comprised of a small stadium, now known as Dr. Kent W. Kurtz Memorial Stadium, with regular field features that can and will be used for training young men and women on baseball field construction and maintenance. How fitting that such a living laboratory should be named after Dr. Kurtz.

Kent Kurtz was a major influence in sports turf and golf turf for many decades. His influence extended way beyond southern California and he was sought after for many consultations on soccer fields, horse racing tracks, baseball diamonds, and football fields around the world.

During his time at Cal Poly Pomona, Dr. Kurtz trained many young men and women that are now managers of major sports venues all over America. His students included Brian Scott, professor of horticulture and Agricultural Sciences Department chairman at Mt. SAC and the genesis of the field construction and dedication. Brian has always considered Dr. Kurtz his major mentor. Many of the students from Mt. SAC matriculated to the program at Cal Poly Pomona to eventually study under Dr. Kurtz.

The day of the dedication began with a wonderful family style barbeque that was enjoyed by all the attendees. Many stories about Dr. Kurtz prevailed during the warm-up to the main event. Dr. Kurtz’s family and friends came from near and far to share their many remembrances of a great man.

In his role as Master of Ceremonies for the day, Brian spoke of the many contributions that “Doc” had made to the industry over a long career. He added some personal anecdotes which included a bit of a stubborn streak that “Doc” had and his methodology for getting everyone to chip in and get the job and projects done whether they liked it or not! Brian also shared a story about “Doc” having to make a presentation away from campus and sending his lecture in on a tape recorder so the students would not miss a beat. Brian indicated that Dr. Kurtz was well networked and always found jobs for his many students in a variety of venues in golf and sports turf. “Dr. Kurtz was a giver that influenced many lives and all in a positive way!” he said.

Dr. Kurtz’s brother and son also addressed the crowd of 40+ with anecdotes of a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Dr. Kurtz had a wonderful 35 years at Cal Poly Pomona and many years in the industry before that working in the seed and chemical business dating back to days with Upjohn back in Illinois and Michigan. While Dr. Kurtz was an unassuming gentleman he will be remembered as a legend and icon in the industry.

Steve Wightman, turf manager for San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, remarked on the years when Dr. Kurtz was the first Executive Director of STMA. Steve said “STMA would not have survived without Dr. Kurtz, who kept it afloat in the early years.”

Emails were read from dear friend John Souter in England with his many memories of work and travels with Dr. Kurtz. Paul Cushing also sent his regards and gave praise for the many golf turf guys that learned from “Doc” over the years. A couple of those former golf students were in attendance, including Richard Ray and Dave Zahrte.

Richard said, “The dedication was a moment for reflection. As I reflected on the past, Dr. Kurtz, a friend, mentor, and educator had a huge influence on my success not only professionally but also personally. It was not what he taught, but how to implement the knowledge gained to be successful. Dr. Kurtz had a passion for the turf industry and passed that on to his students.”

While some could not attend the ceremony they shared their thoughts. Mike Schiller told me that “Doc” was the #1 Cubs fan in the world. “He was a one in a million individual who loved the industry and trained many great people,” Mike said. “I was blessed to have him in our home many times and I was lucky enough to be his flunky and work on many STMA projects together. I miss the old guy!”

That seemed to be a common theme from many who were “coerced” into working on committees and projects with Dr. Kurtz. Good leaders certainly know how to get others involved and bring out their unknown skills. Dr. Kurtz apparently was an expert at that!

One of the finest speeches of the day came from Dr. Kurtz’s daughter, Heather (see below). The crowd was moved by all the speakers but especially by Heather’s comments.

As the ceremony drew to a close there was the ceremonial first pitch of dozens of wiffle balls to open this field officially. Dr. Kurtz’s grandson announced to all “PLAY BALL!”

While Dr. Kurtz left us in 2006 he will live forever in the memories of many. The dedication of the field and stadium is a monument to his energy and drive in the world of golf and sports turf. The gathering of family and friends was just as “Doc” would have liked it. He would have loved the CUBS logo in centerfield and a bit of the fanfare regarding his background. Quite a nice tribute for a wonderful man that is gone but not forgotten.

Bruce Williams, CGCS, consults in the golf industry and is executive director of the California Turf and Landscape Foundation. He is a Past President of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

Ceremony comments from Dr. Kurtz’ daughter

“Greetings, everyone. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Heather, Kent’s daughter and I am joined today by my husband Steven, our daughter Amelie, my brother Todd and his son Skyler, and dad’s brother Kerry, our uncle Kerry. I know I speak for my entire family when I say how touched we are that this is happening; we are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Dad with all of you today and want to thank MT SAC for allowing this field to be built.

“A huge thanks also, to Brian Scott and his students for your vision, hard work and loving tribute to my father and to the countless contributors who helped make this field, and this celebration possible. Together you have bestowed a great honor on a deserving man; if he were here today he would be jovial, yet humble, emotional, yet definitely sassy, but mostly, he would be deeply happy and so proud.

“I have to admit that when I first heard that it was a wiffle ball field, I giggled. If you knew anything about my dad, you likely knew that he was more of a spectator when it came to sports, than an active participant. In his younger years he ran track, but with age, his back problems and that incredibly round belly, he wasn’t exactly sporty even if given a pinch runner and a pinch hitter, let’s face it, he still would have made a better umpire!

“Despite his lack of play, this field is a very fitting tribute because dad was crazy about sports, almost any sport really. Ninety-nine percent of the time when I would walk into his home office, he had some match, game, or tournament on the TV or radio though most of the time he wasn’t even watching the competition, because he was so engrossed in something academic or industry related, but it was on nonetheless because it was a crucial piece of his world. It was the background that made everything else right—sports were simply part of who he was—they were a companion, hobby, passion and medium for his artistry. 

“This field is also fitting because sports and their required turf were a link to his students. As an educator myself, I know that watching students grow, being in a position to positively impact their lives, and celebrating their successes are the greatest rewards a teacher can hope for. Educating, guiding, and enjoying his students was an enormous part of dad’s life, a hugely happy and satisfying part of dad’s life. He lived and breathed his commitment to his students; it was imperative to him that they all learn, try hard and ultimately, land sustainable careers, and he dedicated his life to the success of his kids, his university and the elaborate network of organizations, and friends that united them all. It was Dad’s personal mission to educate students thoroughly and thus send capable applicants out into an industry he adored. It was his expectation that as his alumni grew and were promoted in the field, that they would remember where they came from, and continuously look back, grab the hands of new students and pull them up, assuring that they too had a chance at success.

“With the dedication of this field, Dad has been given the greatest reward a teacher can receive—the ultimate confirmation that he made a difference in the lives of his students, and that because of his many efforts and their hard work, they learned and are successful and happy. To have a ball field, built for students, by some of Dad’s best former students, affirms that his efforts were worthy and that the legacy of his mission is alive and well, despite his absence. To all who have come today to honor their educator and friend, thank you for all you have given back to my father by way of each other.

“Again, on behalf of my entire family, thank you to all who made this event possible, and to everyone who has come today. Gathering at a ball field with friends deeply loved, but seldom seen, eating burgers, and sharing stories about Dad are such incredible and unexpected gifts and we are so grateful. Todd and I are especially thankful for this chance to share with our children the life of their grandfather. Dad dreamt of being a grandpa and knowing what an amazing one he would have been can sometimes be a heavy reality to shoulder. Because of this event, and the stories you share with us today, Amelie and Skyler will have a deeper and more thorough understanding of who their grandpa was. While he can not be seen playing wiffle ball with them today, nor thank you in words, Brian, for all you have done, nor express his love and appreciation to all who have come to honor and remember him, there is no doubt in mind that he is present, smiling, laughing, critiquing the field and getting ready to shout out ‘play ball’!”