Summing It Up
• Networking and an ever expanding knowledge base are the keys to successful management of the environmental areas (water, habitat, chemicals and wildlife) that have a direct impact on club properties.
• Course superintendents are in the best position to serve as linchpins between a club and local or national regulators.
• Communities tend to perceive clubs and courses as sources of problems, not cooperative solutions; clubs must take a proactive approach to turn this around.
• Fallout from the September 11 attacks has heightened concerns about how clubs handle, store and control chemicals, fertilizers and other treatment products.
Associations Worth Keeping
One of the best sources for information that can help superintendents keep in step with environmental law is the Lawrence, Kan.-based Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) and in particular its environmental foundation, the Environmental Institute for Golf (EIFG). The Web sites of these groups, gcsaa.org and eifg.org, offer superintendents and club workers resources for getting background and updates on public policy and environmental management issues. The EIFG’s site addresses several areas specifically, with sections on water for irrigation and runoff protection; wildlife habitat management; pesticides and fertilizers; and waste management. The groups also provide channels so superintendents can develop contacts with others in the industry— especially helpful because regulations can vary from state to state and even among different parts of a state. The EIG’s newly redesigned Web site now also offers a new feature called “The EDGE.” Under that tab are links to environmental guidelines arranged by topic. Not surprisingly, water management —the hottest topic these days—currently has the most links. Regional organizations like the Oregon Golf Course Superintendents Association (OGCSA) can also offer a wide array of services, including environmental guidelines tailored to operations within their purview. According to Executive Director Allan Clemans, the OGCSA guidelines were researched in 2000 and published in November of that year, to offer superintendents in that state some help when facing issues in four main environmental areas: best management practices, integrated pest management, water quality control and wildlife habitat enhancement. The OGCSA Web site, www.ogcsa.org offers visitors four success stories from Oregon clubs that have met environmental challenges. The OGCSA guidelines are available in printed form for a fee, with proceeds going to the national EIFG. They are also available in CD form.
All photos courtesy Stone Creek GC
Golf course superintendents struggling to stay on top of environmental laws and regulations would do well to take a cue from some of their patrons. Look at the golf aficionados strolling around your fairways and riding in your carts. Many of these duffers—be they small business people and government officials, cubicle dwellers, or executives in their business casuals—are also spending their time on your links networking with others, making business contacts and closing deals.
That same sort of networking can be the key to successful management for golf course and resort superintendents in the environmental areas—water, habitat, chemical storage, and wildlife resources—that have the most direct impact on their work. Superintendents should look to develop contacts not just with regulators, but others in industry and professional associations, because often just sharing experiences is the best path to finding a way to overcome problems. Getting Immersed in Water Greg Lyman, director of environmental programs for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), considers this to be a good strategy for superintendents across the country. He gives the example of water use, for one main reason. “Water represents a key environmental issue, no matter where you are in the country,” Lyman says.
In some areas of the country where water is scarce or expensive, consumption is the key worry; in others, runoff may be the main concern; and in others, it could be a mix.
In all cases, superintendents are the linchpin between the course and its regulators, Lyman thinks. So becoming involved with the local Soil and Water Conservation District, watershed council, and the water company to help craft regulations that protect both the environment and the course’s interests can be to everyone’s benefit.
That’s been the experience of David Phipps, superintendent for the past five years at county owned, privately run Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City, Ore.
About two years ago, Phipps saw an announcement from the local Soil and Water Conservation District about a new watershed council forming in the area. He expressed interest and was invited to meet with the group. “I got the impression that they were really excited to talk to me,” he recalls.
But not because they thought they could learn a lot from him. Rather, they thought they had an opportunity to educate a golf course superintendent about management practices.
“The first impression they have is that golf courses are polluters,” Phipps says.
After the meeting, Phipps invited the group back to the course. He showed the district leaders around Stone Creek, and they were impressed enough to offer him an advisory position with the new council. He now receives e-mail updates from the group that help him stay on top of any new regulations coming down the pike.
Which highlights the real issue for superintendents: How can they take action to address regulations that haven’t yet been passed? 9-11 Fallout Carrie Riordan, director of information and public policy for the GCSAA, says that water regulations have come to the fore in the last couple years, as places out West face droughts and water shortages, and almost every part of the country has a renewed interest in controlling pollutants and runoff. Storage of chemicals, fertilizers and other treatment products is also getting renewed focus. “A lot of this is wrapped in post-September 11 issues,” she notes.
Good communication within the clubs is also essential, Riordan adds. Board members must give the professional staff what they need to stay up-to-date on regulations and environmentally sound practices. “Give the workers the time and resources [needed] to protect the interests of the club,” she advises.
Phipps of Stone Creek is also a big believer in the value of communication with other clubs and with superintendents‘ associations. He attributes a lot of his own success to the late Dr.Michael Hindahl, a Board member with the Oregon Golf Course Superintendent Association (OGCSA) who held a Ph.D. in microbiology and had extensive research experience. Without Hindahl’s pioneering efforts, Phipps says, the OGCSA would never have its current commitment to environmentally sound practices.
In particular, Dr. Hindahl helped to develop the OGCSA Environmental Stewardship Guidelines, recognized by the GCSAA with the Presidents Award for outstanding environmental stewardship in 2005. The guidelines help superintendents follow environmentally sound practices, not only for water, but also pest management and wildlife enhancement.
And now the OGCSA is partnering with its neighbors to the north, the Western Washington Golf Course Superintendents Association, to form the Northwest Turfgrass Association Environmental Committee, which promotes the guidelines throughout the region and also recognizes superintendents for environmental leadership. Out With the Good
The core of the guidelines is the water quality program, which tests water as it enters and leaves the course. After using the program for five years, Phelps says he now sees water actually become cleaner as it leaves his course. Buffer strips around all the lakes and streams on the course have been the most significant change, and Stone Creek also allows tall grass to grow between fairways, to enhance habitat for prairie birds and animals.
Phipps has even used the club’s practices to develop a course for the general public that teaches homeowners how to have a lush lawn without overusing chemicals and fertilizers.
Not surprisingly, when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality visited Stone Creek, it was so impressed by the practices it saw that it requested full copies of all the environmental plans, to use as boilerplate guidelines for other courses.
“Our idea behind this was to get our ducks in a row, to help prevent agencies from regulating us too much, or in the wrong way,” Phipps said. “So far, it seems to be working.”
It’s worked out personally for Phipps as well: He won an award from the Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District as Cooperator of the Year.
As Phipps’ story shows, superintendents who take the time to learn and network will not only be well versed on regulations, it will show in the appearance of their courses. And community members will understand that a golf course can actually be a place that, as GCSAA’s Lyman says, “represents valuable green spaces within the watershed.” C&RB