Archive for category: News

Inaugural Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass Field Day Draws Big Crowd at Star Turf Farms

Sod Solutions held a Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass Field Day on the morning of Oct. 31 at Star Turf Farms in Indiantown, FL. The event gathered over 70 prospective turfgrass producers, turfgrass installers, sports field managers, golf course superintendents architects and industry professionals together to see the first release from the Celebration X Breeding Program in a farm setting. The event started with coffee, doughnuts and breakfast sausages prepared by Everglades Equipment Group.

Sunrise at Star Turf Farms at the Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass Field Day.

Christian Brouqsault and Mark Kann with Sod Solutions shared details about the new grass as well as licensing and trial information. Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass breeder, Mr. Wayne Philley of Mississippi State University gave a presentation on the new cultivar, the first release of the “Celebration X” breeding program in September 2022.

The program stemmed from the idea of cross-pollinating Celebration® Bermudagrass with numerous attractive bermudagrass genotypes collected and maintained over the years at MSU to create new lines. The program’s goal was to take all of the top characteristics of Celebration while developing new lines with better cold tolerance, a finer texture, fewer seed heads and less thatch. Celebration Hybrid resulted from interspecific hybridization between Celebration and an African bermudagrass (Cynodon transvaalensis) selection.

Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass Field Day, on October 31, 2023 at Star Turf Farms.

At the field day, Philley said he gives all credit to God, because all he did was put the pollen of C. transvaalensis onto a Celebration seed head, held it in his hand and put it into a germinator and then transfer the seedling into a pot. “From there I started planting 72 cell plug trays and then we started the material transfer agreements. All you guys who have evaluated it, I truly appreciate it and it’s an honor to be standing here. It’s very humbling. It’s very gratifying to see it on the move,” he said.

During the field day, attendees got the chance to dive deep into the experiences of many turfgrass growers who have cultivated the Celebration Hybrid™. They have heard insights from sports and golf course professionals who have hands-on experience with this variety, trialing at their facilities. They generously shared their perspectives on this exciting new variety.

Trial Testimonials

B.J. Haunert, Vice President of Production at Modern Turf in Rembert, SC, spoke at the Celebration Hybrid Field Day, sharing that they can’t keep enough Celebration® Bermudagrass on their farm right now. “As far as Hybrid goes, we see many courses are going to the same mowing height, melds out to the waste areas or tree lines. They’re looking for fast and firm even in fairways, and this one, by far we’ve seen more of those conditions with it,” Haunert said. He also said they’ve noticed better rollout and ability to dry out with Hybrid than the other Celebration X lines. “We’re moving forward as quickly as possible on our commercial production with this.”

Star Turf Farms General Manager Jon Lallement thanked the attendees for visiting their farm so they could showcase Celebration Hybrid. “We truly believe this is going to give us another great variety to be able to offer our customers. Some of the great features include the darker green colors, the tight density, it requires less mowing compared to other varieties and it also stacks and rolls up very well. It is a very grower-friendly grass,” he said. “ We have sent out a tremendous amount of this grass so far this year with nothing but great success and customer satisfaction. We also hope that by visiting Star Turf Farms today, it will let everyone see that we only grow quality, fumigated turfgrass, here in South Florida. We have had huge success with regular Celebration® Bermudagrass over the years, and we believe that we will have the same or better success with Celebration™ Hybrid.”

His colleague, George Farmer, the golf and sports representative at Star Turf Farms, also spoke at the Field Day. Farmer has 23 years of experience as a golf course superintendent and he’s lived in south Florida since 2009. He shared they currently have 60 acres of Celebration Hybrid planted, with plans to expand. Farmer told the attendees that the fields the event was being hosted on were recently under four inches of water in October but had already greened up extremely well since drying out. He also explained that since they’re held to a high standard of Best Management Practices (BMPs), especially Nitrogen, for the attendees to note they weren’t pushing the grass as you would on a golf course with a fertility program or putting out micro packages.

Ryan Swilley the director of agronomy at The Dye Preserve Golf Club in Jupiter, FL, was also at the event. He previously worked at Gulf Stream Golf Club in Delray Beach, FL, and has trialed Celebration Hybrid at both courses. He shared the farm-to-field quality in South Florida as something that’d been missing for a long time but complimented Star Turf Farms for a stellar experience. “It’s really good to have grass show up on your property that you feel like you can be proud of and roll out and be ready to go pretty shortly after it hits the ground.”

Swilley has noticed Celebration Hybrid has tight density and that a golf ball is able to sit up on the grass. One of the perceived advantages he sees with Celebration Hybrid is the ball will hit the face and tends to roll back down into the bunker rather than getting caught up in the grass. He also says it stays tighter and produces less thatch than traditional Celebration. He planted Celebration Hybrid next to Celebration, noting the subtle color difference might not be noticeable to those trying out the new variety, especially if they’re worried members might notice.

Following the presentations and testimonials at the Field Day, all attendees walked to a field several blocks over to watch harvesters cut big sod rolls of Celebration Hybrid. The Magnum sod harvester pushed the cut sod onto a conveyor. Farm staff would then cut the grass once the tight roll was ready and it would roll off the back of the harvester; by mid-afternoon, they were loaded onto a truck for delivery.

After the harvest demonstration, Everglades Equipment Group served lunch for all attendees. Special thanks to Everglades for providing delicious food and to Star Turf Farms for hosting such a successful and informative event.

For more information about Celebration Hybrid Bermudagrass, click here.

This article was written by Cecilia Brown.

Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass big rolls leaving Star Turf Farms after the field day.

Growing from the Ground Up: The Remarkable Journey of Star Turf Farms

Star Turf Farms is a well-recognized sod business in Florida known for its superior quality and longtime farming operations established across the region. What started as a 600-acre cattle-grazing farm has now grown to 30,000 acres. The dedication behind this turfgrass operation and the people running the business are a testament to their success.

Noel Shapiro, Justin Sobie and Jamie Shapiro.

Star Ranch Enterprises Inc. was founded by a Poland native, Noel Shapiro and his brother Jaime Shapiro. Noel was born in 1927 but his family moved to Cuba in 1936 to escape as the Nazi regime started taking hold of their homeland. Noel went on and established his life in Cuba. He got married and started his family and everything was going well until dictatorship came into play. Noel fled the country with his family for the United States in 1959.

His grandson and the current owner of Star Turf Farms, Justin Sobie, shared that his grandfather came here without knowing the language and was in need of a job. Noel found his way by getting involved at a hardware business in Hollywood, FL which he eventually purchased.

“Little by little, through hard work, determination and the power of hope he got out of the hole he was in and started building condos, homes and apartments parallel to working in the hardware business,” Sobie said. “And then came his love for the land. He started investing in agriculture which then led to him finding his love for the sod business. His visionary mentality and successful business acumen was beginning to define the true American dream.

When he left the construction business, Noel purchased a few hundred acres of land and bought registered Brahman cattle, beginning Star Ranch Enterprises Inc. in 1969, which would later expand to also include Star Farms Corp. and Star Turf Farms. The fields had old Florida St. Augustinegrass that he let the cattle graze on until he would move them on the land so he could cut the grass. Noel sold sod for three-quarters of a penny per square foot.

They started with growing sod and over time added sugar cane, citrus and row crops. Sobie explained that it’s important they have the luxury to be a diversified business. “My grandfather always said don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. We are fortunate enough to have the land mass to expand different types of crops, commodities, rock and peat mine operations.”

Star grew a lot of citrus from the 1990s until the early 2000s, which was also around the same time the market peaked. Now they’re fortunate to have converted most of their citrus farms in Martin County to sugar cane and row crops before the citrus market started to decline.


The Leadership of Richard Burns

In 1989, Star Turf Farms’ current Senior Vice President and General Manager, Richard Burns, started working for Noel when the farm had grown to 1,500 acres of land, consisting of two farms with a little bit of sod growing. At that time, Star Turf Farms owned the land and grew the product, but they would contract the work to cut, sell and install it.

Fortunately, Burns came to Star with robust knowledge of the turfgrass industry. When he graduated high school from Glades Day School in 1981, he went on to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia. Then, he returned to Belle Glade in 1983 and started working for Mace Sod, which his longtime acquaintance, Robert Mace, owned. Burns was a hard worker and he advanced quickly from an intern to farm manager at Mace Sod, where he oversaw 14,000 acres of St. Augustine. “It was big volume, big numbers. It was the good old days,” he said.

Richard Burns (right) taking a look at a field of Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass with Wayne Philley, former MSU turfgrass researcher and professor.

He’s seen different areas in the state fluctuate in sod production over the duration of his career. He anticipates the Tampa and Fairmont area produces the highest volume of sod today. “There were probably 20,000 acres of St. Augustine sod in the Glades back then and there’s not near that many anymore. I would say it’s at least cut in half in that area now. There are a lot of smaller farms that have popped up across the state and that can add up to a lot of acres. There’s a lot of competition.”

He worked at Mace until they sold out in 1988 and then he started helping Noel at Star shortly after. Sobie explained that Burns has been a tremendous asset to their family and their business since he came on board in 1989. “My grandfather always told me that and it’s true. Ever since my grandfather started slowing down, Richard has been a mentor to me and has taught me a lot about the sod business, which he has been in for almost his whole life.”

Burns has been married to his wife, Cheryl, for 37 years and enjoys his career in the turfgrass industry. Their son, Coulter, just graduated from Auburn University with an MBA. His favorite part of his job is getting up every morning and getting to do something he enjoys while seeing something new every day. He spends most of his days driving between their farms that span across five counties, staying very busy. “It’s hard work and I’m very hands-on. I don’t think we would be where we’re at by not being that way.”

CitraBlue® St. Augustinegrass field at Star Turf Farms in January 2022.

Sobie said Star would not have grown from a pioneer turf farm in Florida to the large operation it is today without the good, honest people they surround themselves with. “There’s no way we would have made it to 30,000 acres without the help of Richard Burns and the entire team we have put in place to help lead our business. It’s taken a lot of dedication and hard work to make this growth possible. From our farm managers to our field labor, our office personnel and our dedicated executive team, everyone truly makes a difference in defining our success.”

Burns explained the farm was growing from day one but they started moving the acres forward in 1989. “By 2000, we were heavily into the sod business and the past 23 years have been full steam picking up different properties and developments and growing every year that we could,” Burns said.

Growing roughly 6,000 acres of turfgrass, they’re the largest grower in the state of Florida. “We have been for a long time and we strive for quality with no exception. That’s something I’ve instilled in myself since day one. We have to have good quality,” Burns said.

Sobie agreed saying his grandfather always instilled in him, “If you give the land what it needs it will produce for you what you want, however, you may not cut any corners if your end goal is to be successful.” He said they put everything back into the farm to ensure the quality is maintained.

Turfgrass Operations

Star Turf Farms produces over 5,000 acres of St. Augustine in a given year, depending on sugar cane prices. Burns explained again this is why it’s important to have diversification of crops and hopes that the sod and sugar cane markets stay as good as they’re going right now.

“We’ve been growing bermudagrasses since 2000, and now we’re heavily in it. We’ve got big plans now that we’re out in front,” he said.

Pictured (from left) are Star Farms General Manager, Jonathan Lallement; Owner, Justin Sobie and Senior Vice President and General Manager, Richard Burns at the Star Turf Farms Field Day in March 2023.


Just three years ago, Star Turf Farms made a major adjustment as they decided to start their own harvesting and installation operations. “Getting into these new varieties and all these new names of grass types, we have to expose ourselves and show that we are the farmer, we are the landowners and we are the ones producing this grass and in some cases installing it,” Sobie said. “We’re changing the way we are viewed in the industry by wearing one hat that is vertically integrated from the farm to the home or golf course. We’re one team behind this from start to finish.”

Burns explained that they still use some of the same contractors they’ve worked with for 25 years, but they hired General Manager, Jonathan Lallement three years ago. He shared that Lallement has been a tremendous asset for the expansion of the company to oversee their own sales, harvesting and installations, which are mainly in Southwest Florida, in Lee and Collier Counties.

Simultaneously to vertically integrating the business, they’ve also increased the number of turfgrass varieties being grown to include more golf grasses to take advantage of where their regional market is focused right now. “We’ve been successful so far and I think things are bright for the future,” Burns said. Sobie agreed, sharing his excitement for expanding their business to the next level by getting into the golf course grass industry.

Currently, Star Turf Farms produces 12 different turfgrass varieties, including Celebration® Bermudagrass, Celebration Hybrid™ Bermudagrass, NorthBridge® Bermudagrass, CitraZoy® Zoysiagrass, CitraBlue® St. Augustinegrass, EMPIRE® Zoysiagrass and Palmetto® St. Augustinegrass.

When it comes to the latest releases, Burns said Celebration Hybrid looks very promising in the golf realm, CitraBlue is growing a lot and CitraZoy is still in expansion mode across the state.

On March 21, Star Turf Farms held its first field day event at the farm to showcase all of these varieties. Sobie and Burns explained the business has always been one to fly under the radar, but now they’re going to start advertising what they do in a big way. They look forward to continuing their relationships with sports, golf and landscape professionals by hosting more of these events in the future.

“The field day was a success and the weather was perfect. We were glad so many people could make it out to the farm,” Burns said.


At the Star Farms Field Day in March, Sod Solutions President Tobey Wagner (far left) presented Star with a plaque recognizing Star as a licensed producer for over 20 years.


Burns said there is a huge need for turfgrass across the state right now and they do their best to keep up with demands. They also have to work with various agencies for regulations and expectations, especially in regard to adversity with water to plan for valid solutions moving forward.

Sobie’s aspirations for Star Turf Farms would be to create more value for the product they’re selling, whether it be different turfgrass varieties, soil types or other ways they maintain what they produce. He also plans to continue his grandfather’s goals for the business by continuing to expand while maintaining renowned quality.

“My grandfather taught me a lot and we didn’t argue much. When people hear about family businesses, this one was a special one. We were able to bond in and out of the workplace and expand the business. I would say in the last 10 years we have acquired close to 10,000 acres of land,” Sobie shared.

He looks forward to moving the business forward in honor of everything Noel did to grow Star Turf Farms into what it is today. Noel passed away just last year at the age of 95.

Sobie is the only family member working for Star Turf Farms and shared that he had a special relationship with his grandfather and he took him under his wings at a young age. “What a role model he was to me. I enjoyed learning from him, being with him, having meetings with him, and buying and selling land together. He always reminded me that this is the best country in the world. We just had a special bond that continues. I learned the business from him and now I’m continuing my grandfather’s legacy.”

Learn more about Star Turf Farms here.


George Farmer, Jonathan Lallement, Bruce Carter and Richard Burns of Star Turf Farms pictured with their sod donation at the “Inside the Ropes” interactive stage at the GCSAA Show in Orlando in February 2023. Pictured (far right) is Mark Kann with Sod Solutions.

This article was written by Cecilia Brown.

Copyright © Star Turf Farms, 2024 | All Rights Reserved. | Site Designed and Powered by Roar Media.