Tom Cook pioneered turf program at Oregon State University

Published online: Aug 05, 2017 Sod

During a 30-plus-year career at Oregon State University, Tom Cook was doing more than running one of the country's top turfgrass programs. He also viewed his job as part-time matchmaker.

"Looking back now, it's pretty funny. I thought what I did was run a dating service, matching personalities with golf courses," said Cook. "You have to get to know the students and their style and match them with the right superintendents so they could progress in the industry."
Cook, 67, took over the Oregon State program in 1977 when he was just 27 years old. During the next 31 years, until he retired in 2008, more than 300 students went through the program that Cook ran mostly as a one-man show. 
"I couldn't seem to accumulate enough funds to hire anyone until about six years before I retired," he said. "But I had lots of energy."
It wasn't until 2001, when he hired Brian McDonald as a research assistant that he had paid help.
"It was like the Great Pyramids: Nobody knows how he built it. Before I got there it was just him. What Tom managed to do by himself is a mystery," said McDonald, a former student under Cook who graduated from Oregon State in 2000 after a career as an accountant.
"The university never game him a dime more than his salary. When he started the turf farm, he was bringing his own lawn mower out there. That's how far it has come."