Environmental stewardship has brought recognition and enhanced playing conditions to a New Jersey club that borders a watershed reserve.
After nearly a decade in the golf course maintenance profession, Matt Stout had become quite familiar with programs that recognize golf properties for their environmental stewardship—and of the value such recognition can have not only for course and grounds operations, but also for the overall benefit of a club and its members and guests.
So when Stout took the reins in 2005 as Golf Course Superintendent at Hopewell Valley Golf Club (HVGC) in Hopewell, N.J., he became a man on a mission. His goal from the outset was to bring environmental recognition to the private, 18-hole course in a very locally specific way: by achieving River Friendly Golf Course Certification from central New Jersey’s Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.
Golf Course Scorecard
Club Name: Hopewell Valley Golf Club
Club Web Site: www.hvgc.com
Designer: Thomas Winton
No. of Members: 300
Year Opened: 1927
Golf Season: Mid-April to mid-October, but the golf course remains open all year
Annual Rounds of Golf: 25,000
Honors and Awards: River Friendly Certification from the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (December 2009)
Stout wanted to meet the standards of this organization because it would be the natural—and neighborly—thing to do. “[HVGC is] right next to the watershed reserve,” he says. “Our properties border each other, and this [program] is specifically geared to golf courses that are in the actual watershed.”
Five years later, Hopewell Valley, located east of the Delaware River just north of the state capital in Trenton, is now one of only two golf courses in the watershed to have earned River Friendly Certification (TPC Jasna Polana in Princeton, N.J., is the other). Bill Stone, President of the HVGC’s Board of Directors, gives Stout primary credit for championing the environmental effort from the beginning.
“We supported his efforts to do it,” Stone says. “He thought it was important to do this, and kudos to him [for seeing it through].”
Showing They Care
The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the environment in the 265-sq. mile region drained by the Stony Brook and Millstone rivers, designed the certification program to help superintendents improve their land management practices in a way that would benefit the environment, residents, golfers and the community. The association provides one-on-one consultation to establish goals as well as resources for achieving the objectives.
To become “River Friendly,” the golf course had to complete actions in each of the program’s four categories—water-quality management, water-conservation techniques, wildlife habitat enhancement, and education outreach.
“We wanted to let the neighbors know that we care about the environment,” Stout says. “Sometimes golf courses get a bad rap, but they’re great open land areas for wildlife, and great places to get exercise outdoors.”
Demonstrating this was not accomplished overnight, however. “It took about four years to get certified,” Stout says. “We wanted to do it right.”
It’s no wonder that water quality and conservation are priorities at HVGC—the Stony Brook River actually runs through the middle of the course, crossing four holes and running alongside another hole.
One of the first ways in which the club started to upgrade its water-management practices was to improve drainage on certain fairways and greens. The improved drainage allows the maintenance staff to control soil moisture, which in turn greatly reduces the need to spray for pests and disease.
Hopewell Valley has implemented a top-dressing program to eliminate layering in the soil, which can lead to poor drainage. The top dressing also creates a universally even soil profile, which allows the maintenance staff to control and enhance soil conditions.
“We have heavy clay soils that don’t drain well,” says Stout. “They stayed wet, so we sprayed to prevent disease.”
Now, however, instead of wall-to-wall spraying, the maintenance staff targets pests with spot spraying. Hauling away excess pine needles, where the adult population of insects frequently congregates, reduces the need for blanket spray applications.
Superintendent Profile: Matt Stout
Education and Training: Horticulture degree from State University of New York-Delhi; turf certificate from Rutgers University
“We compost clippings and leaves and use them to seed plants and shrubs around the clubhouse,” Stout adds.
The staff also conducts soil testing every three years, to analyze the best ways to amend the soils. The testing helps to determine the source of any problems, devise effective solutions, and gauge the proper amounts of products to apply.
Even a common household product has helped the staff protect the water features on the course. “We started spraying vinegar mixed with water, instead of Roundup, within 30 feet of any water on the course,” reveals Stout. With this change, the crew discovered that the vinegar acts more like a growth regulator than a defoliant, and has eliminated weeds in those areas, while helping wildflower species thrive in the same spaces.
Hopewell Valley has also reduced its pesticide applications by increasing its use of organic fertilizers. This benefits not only the turf, but the surrounding native areas and bodies of water as well.
Because organic fertilizers tend to be slow-releasing, they stay in the soil for up to 13 weeks, while inorganic products are fully released in up to three weeks. With their ability to stay in the ground, organic products also reduce runoff into streams, lakes and ponds.
The crew also prevents contamination in the streams and ponds when it washes its equipment.
“We use a lot of equipment and have to wash the clippings off,” Stout reports. “We have a ‘dog leash system’ where we set up wash areas in the rough on the golf course, and we move it every day.”
In addition to enhancing water quality, the HVGC course and grounds staff has employed a number of tactics to reduce water usage on the golf course.
|A bridge made of recycled materials is just one of many features of the HVGC golf course that demonstrate an emphasis on sustainability; among others, asphalt cart paths have been replaced with pervious gravel.|
“We do a lot of hand watering instead of relying solely on the sprinkler system,” Stout reveals. “We also do a lot of irrigation maintenance, to make sure there are no leaks.”
Sprinkler head upgrades have included the replacement of old heads with more modern and efficient technology that lets the crew control where and how much water is used. The new heads also have different nozzles to help control water usage.
HVGC has also turned to improved turfgrass species that are more drought-tolerant, and uses wetting agents to help the soil absorb water more efficiently.
In the Wild
Hopewell Valley has increased its natural areas on its 180-acre property by planting native grasses and wildflower species. The native areas eliminate the need to mow and reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticide applications. They also have improved the wildlife habitat on the golf course.
“We built more than 40 birdhouses and placed them on the golf course,” says Stout. “This gives the birds a safe place to nest, and it has increased the bluebird population in the area.”
Buffer zones around the ponds and streams filter out pollutants and excess nutrients while also aiding aquatic wildlife. The buffers also provide habitat for semi-aquatic wildlife such as salamanders, snakes, muskrats and turtles.
Other sustainable practices include the replacement of worn asphalt cart paths with pervious gravel paths that allow water to soak into the ground. Tee markers and cart path markers are made from on-site materials, and the course even installed a bridge made of recycled materials (see photo).
“We’re extremely happy that our membership is committed to [the environment] just like we are,” notes Stout.
A New Image for New Jersey
Earning the River Friendly Certification has bolstered the image of Hopewell Valley, Stout says.
“The image that most people have of New Jersey is probably formed by refineries or by flying into the Newark airport,” he explains. “But we’re in an environmentally sensitive area. We have a lot of open space, wetlands and low-lying ground here.”
The efforts required to achieve River Friendly Certification were not a tough sell to the membership, he adds.
“We value our open space,” confirms Stone, the Board’s President. “We’re a walking club. We do not require our members to take riding vehicles, and our by-laws say that we can’t take away a member’s right to walk the course.”
The club’s Head PGA Golf Professional, Duke Kimball, has worked at the property for 12 years, and before that was part of the maintenance crew while in high school and college in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The River Friendly Certification, Kimball says, has clearly enhanced the aesthetics of not only the property, but the community.
Course & Grounds Profile: Hopewell Valley GC
C&G Annual Budget: $875,000
C&G Staff: 12-18 employees in peak season; three, including the Superintendent, are full-time
Key Staff Members: Assistants Joe Lash and Peter Daley
Irrigation System: Buckner system with about 400 heads
Water Source and Usage: Wells and the Stony Brook River; usage of less than 15 million gallons per year
Equipment: About 20 pieces of major equipment; seven are leased
Aerating Schedule: Two times a year, usually in spring and late summer
Maintenance Facilities: Lower maintenance shop by Hole No. 2 houses most of tools and small equipment; main office on main drive at front entrance includes a large bay for carts and storage; a pesticide storage area; room for two offices; an extra room with a loft for heated storage, where small tools and supplies are kept; kitchen and restroom; and storage barn by driving range for large equipment
Duties and Responsibilities: Golf course maintenance; maintenance of three Har-tru tennis courts, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and two paddle tennis courts; responsible for all buildings on the property
“It shows what we’re trying to do here at the golf club, and what Hopewell is about as a club,” Kimball notes. “We’re here for the environment. We hung a River Friendly sign on the first tee, and a lot of our members belong to the watershed association.”
Community members outside of Hopewell Valley have taken notice of the environmental efforts as well.
“We are one of the social centers for the community,” says Stone. “A number of local organizations have meetings at our club, and we are part of the fabric of the community in which we reside.”
Many avid birdwatchers also come to the property in the fall, notes Kimball, who is in constant communication with Stout about matters ranging from pin placements to marking hazards.
Apparently, winning ways are another longstanding tradition at Hopewell Valley. The final landowner prior to the development of the golf club, Ephraim Wells (a pharmacist who made his fortune by patenting and producing rat poison), used the land as a horse stud farm. The farm produced Baron Dillon, one of America’s most famous trotters at the turn of the 20th century, and the club’s main dining room is called “The Baron Dillon Room.” In the early days of the club, the barn stabled horses; today, the golf shop shares space in the original barn with the clubhouse.
Fast forward to the 21st century, where the golf course continues to be a training ground for winners. Ten local high school golfers have grown up in HVGC’s junior program, Kimball says proudly, and the undefeated Hopewell Valley Central High School golf team won the state championship in the spring.
|The efforts of the course and grounds staff to emphasize natural areas and sustainable practices fit well with the value that HVCG places on open space; the club’s by-laws preserve members’ right to walk the course.|
Stout plans to build on these successes by continuing his environmental efforts. He wants to put in a recyclable wash pad, which should be installed within the next three years, and to add even more natural areas to the golf course to further reduce mowing and save fuel costs.
The long-range plan also calls for a major irrigation upgrade. Hopewell Valley currently has a computer-controlled, variable-frequency-drive pump station, but an upgraded system will give the staff more control over water usage. The property also plans to add a runoff pond, which would allow it to save rainwater for reuse and backup supply.
Stout also hopes to extend the environmental efforts beyond the grounds to the clubhouse, with eco-friendly practices such as the installation of low-flush toilets and the use of solar power. “We’ll continue to work toward these things,” he says. “It’s a process.”
The numbers already speak for themselves about the payoffs that have been gained so far. According to the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Hopewell Valley has achieved a 71 percent reduction in chemical use, a 50 percent reduction in water use, an 8-acre increase in habitat, and a 1-acre increase in stream and pond buffers.
Ironically, Stout says, the most challenging part of it all has been completing all of the required paperwork. “We would do these things every day anyway,” he says. “If you’re environmentally sensitive, you want to do these things.”faq