Year-round environmental stewardship to get special attention on April 22, through demonstrations like “gas-free day” at Chambers Bay.
The recognition of Earth Day on April 22 might officially be a single 24-hour period, but for members of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the focus on sustainable golf course management has become a year-round proposition, the association notes.
Golf course managers now oversee property totaling nearly 2.3 million acres, providing a myriad of environmental, economic and social benefits to communities, the GCSAA reports. From an environmental perspective, the cooling properties of golf course turf are so effective that temperatures over turfed surfaces on a sunny summer day can be 10-14 degrees cooler than over concrete or asphalt.
Golf courses also serve a valuable function in filtering and storing storm water and runoff. Turfgrass is proven to be effective against soil erosion as it effectively binds the soil through a network of roots throughout the top layers of soil. Up to 90 percent of the weight of a grass plant is in its roots.
“GCSAA members are professional land managers,” says Greg Lyman, Director of Environmental Programs for the GCSAA. “They are entrusted with providing an enjoyable experience for the golfers of today, but not at the expense of future generations. That is the essence of sustainability. The focus is on the triple bottom line of people [residents/communities/golfers], planet [environment] and profit [business]. If any of those elements are not in alignment, then the property is not sustainable.”
Lyman and regulatory officials who are committed to protecting the environment note that solid improvements in golf course stewardship efforts have been made.
In a recent interview with the Golf Channel, Rob Wood, a Director in the Water Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said, “The golf industry has made very significant strides in areas like water and energy conservation and reuse, reduction of areas in turfgrass, preservation of native vegetation, habitat protection, wetlands conservation, recycling wastewater treatment, fertilizer reduction, integrated pest management, and storm water runoff management, just to name a few.”
Tom Brennan, an associate of Wood’s at the EPA, credits the GCSAA for providing the resources and measurement for its members to affect positive change.
“GCSAA has been a leader in expanding the conversation beyond the element of sustainability and wrapping in information about the practices of superintendents,” Brennan says. “What bigger commitment than to step up and put yourself out there?”
Key to this advancement has been the support of GCSAA programming through its philanthropic organization, the Environmental Institute for Golf (EIFG). The EIFG has as its mission to foster sustainability through research, awareness, education, programs and scholarships for the benefit of golf course management professionals, golf facilities and the game. The resources invested by the EIFG have provided facilities the tools to enhance their sustainability efforts.
The GSCAA took the occasion of this year’s Earth Day to spotlight some of its most environmentally active members. The list of superintendents recognized by the organization included:
Tim Powers, Certified Golf Course Superintendent, Crystal Springs Golf Course, Burlingame, Calif.—Crystal Springs CG sits within a 32,000-acre wildlife refuge near San Francisco on a ridge above three reservoirs that hold the drinking water (14 billion gallons) for Bay Area residents. The 120-acre site is home to abundant wildlife, including several species of birds, deer, coyote, bobcat, fox, amphibians and reptiles. The facility was recognized in 1998 as a Waste Reduction Awards Program from the California Waste Management Board. The golf course maintenance department recycles all cans, bottles, plastic and cardboard generated from the course. The food and beverage operation also recycles, and all paper is shredded and recycled. Crystal Springs GC entered into an IPM-CHAMP (Integrated Pest Management – Chemical Application Management Program) in 1996 that was unique at the time, and has since been used as a model in many other operations. The plan is designed to reduce inputs and to create new management techniques.
Tom Brodeur, TPC Boston, Norton, Mass.—The TPC Boston golf course is sited on approximately 383 acres, of which 260 are core environmental habitat. There are more than 200 acres of vegetated wetland included in the core habitat. Other ecosystems include several acres of open groundwater, upland with native trees and shrubs, and multiple acres of grassy areas dominated by poverty grasses, including different varieties of bluestem, broomsedge and fine fescues. TPC Boston is a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses, having been recertified in April of 2011. As part of this program, the club utilized a local conservation officer to conduct a comprehensive site walk of the property, reviewing pertinent environmental practices and the evolution of the property since 2001. TPC Boston is the host course for the PGA Tour’s Deutsche Bank Championship. Through the combined efforts of TPC Boston and Deutsche Bank, this event became the first carbon-neutral event in the history of the PGA Tour.
Tom Lively, Certified Golf Course Superintendent, TPC San Antonio (Texas)—TPC San Antonio opened in January 2010 with a 36-hole (two-course), well-planned, eco-friendly layout. The highlight of these layouts is a closed-loop irrigation system, ensuring the protection of the Edwards Aquifer. TPC San Antonio was designed to take full advantage of the abundant natural resources, majestic trees and indigenous flora and fauna found throughout the property, including the adjacent 750-acre nature preserve and sanctuary for the protection of the Golden-Cheek Warbler. As many as 63 species of birds have been detected in the preserve and on the golf course. Supplemental shelters for birds and mammals are present throughout the property and consist of mulch and wood piles in out-of-play areas.
The GSCAA also cited these members for their efforts to communicate about environmental stewardship through website blogs and other means:
- Paul L. Carter, CGCS, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, Harrison, Tenn.
- Matt Ceplo, CGCS, Rockland Country Club, Sparkill, N.Y.
- Lance Johnson, CGCS, Legacy Ridge Golf Course, Westminster, Colo.
- Eli McGallian, Sandpines Golf Links, Florence, Ore.
- Darren Reddekopp, Greywolf Golf Course, British Columbia, Canada
Earth Day-related coverage by local media outlets also highlighted several golf courses and superintendents around the country.
Peter McDonough, Golf Course Superintendent at the Keswick Club, just outside Charlottesville, Va., was featured by television station for “doing more than just turning on sprinklers and fertilizing the grass.”
As McDonough told the station about his job, “You have to be an agronomist, a horticulturist, an ecologist. My job is science and art. I think that’s the best way, as a golf course superintendent, we kind of frame ourselves, our responsibility to land management, responsibility of having a quality-conditioned golf course for the golfer, and then how are we marrying both at the same time.”
McDonough was featured for being “proactive in helping the environment through golf course management,” and the station reported how he was “taking his passion to Congress to discuss golf course environmental issues affecting the United States,” as part of National Golf Day on April 18.
McDonough, a 21-year member of the GCSAA who received an Excellence in Government Relations award from the association in 2008, has also worked at the state level with the House of Delegates and Senate in the Virginia state capital in Richmond, it was noted, to help design and write legislation addressing water conservation and fertilization that’s been signed into law, which in turn has helped the Chesapeake Bay restoration project.
“I love what I do,” he told the station. “That’s the driving factor. I also recognize that if you don’t set yourself out front to promote the game, someone else is going to do it for us, whether the message is good or negative. My belief is that you really need to stand out front and hold your head high, because this is something really fun that we do. I enjoy it thoroughly, and it’s something you hope to hand off to everyone else down the line.”
“You’re able to share golf’s good story,” he added about his work in government relations. “Everybody is understanding of the work of the First Tee here in Charlottesville, all the positives it brings with life’s lessons, and the big part is a game that can be played for a lifetime. I think the part of where the environment fits into the picture, and how you’re communicating that message, is something that people in my profession are excited to talk about, so we have a privilege to do so, and that’s why I find this a great opportunity.”
A careful approach to tree management on the golf course at Saucon Valley Country Club, Bethlehem, Pa., as directed by the club’s Director of Golf Courses and Grounds, Jim Roney, was highlighted in a recent report in the Allentown, Pa. Morning Call.
Driving the newspaper’s reporter across the 850 acres of golf course that he tends to daily, Roney pointed out a chestnut tree that sustained significant damage during harsh storms of 2011.
“This is one my favorite trees,” he said, “and it really took it on the chin. Hopefully, we can save it.”
Roney has cared for the club’s three courses since 2005. After losing hundreds of trees to rain, wind and ice storms of 2011, Saucon Valley is nearing completion of a project that will add more than 200 trees back to the grounds. But, as Roney said, the club isn’t simply replanting trees where they fell.
As part of its long-range landscape plan established in 2007 during the renovation of its Old Course, the club is replacing trees with those better suited for the courses and the local environment. It’s also addressing some of the old plantings that no longer fit with the club’s mission.
“We’re being very, very careful and serious about doing the right thing with the property,” said Robin McCool, Chairman of Saucon’s Greens Committee. “It’s our baby, and we want to take good care of it.”
Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused significant flooding and tree damage across Saucon Valley’s 60 holes of golf. Then came a late October ice and snow storm that caused even more damage and forced course closures. Roney said the damage was as bad as he has seen at Saucon.
The club knew it would have to replant (it has two tree farms for such a purpose) but wanted to do so consistent with the maintenance plan established five years ago. That meant planting indigenous, non-invasive trees (such as hardwoods) in places where they made sense both strategically and environmentally. And not emotionally.
In golf, trees can become symbols. “Indiscriminate” planting, as McCool called it, has affected courses and clubs in the Northeast since the 1960s. Decades ago, members moved trees from their yards to their favorite greens, creating overgrown, chaotic forests that compromised healthy turfgrass.
Mid 20th-century overplanting has prompted many courses to cull trees from their grounds, most famously at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, which removed thousands of trees before the 2007 U.S. Open. Saucon Valley removed trees during its renovation of the Old Course, primarily behind greens where shade and water caused problems.
But, as Roney said, trees are vital to traditional parkland courses, not only for environmental and aesthetic reasons, but also for design and playability. That is the foundation of Saucon’s planting program.
“You don’t want to lose the aesthetic and architectural appeal of trees on the golf course,” Roney said. “That’s all part of what we’re doing. We’re not just cutting down diseased trees or planting trees because we want to. You need to be responsible.”
That means eschewing ornamental or decorative plantings in favor of indigenous ones, using native species, and removing non-functioning vegetation. Further, it means emphasizing the golf course.
“The golf ball has the right of way,” Roney said. “You need trees, but you don’t play golf in them.”
Added McCool, “The overall objective is to give members a playable golf course that’s beautiful to look at but also healthy.”
What may have been the ultimate Earth Day-related promotion came from Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., which will host the 2015 U.S. Open (“Sudden Impact,” C&RB, November 2008). On April 22 at the property, which is owned by Pierce County, Wash. and managed by KemperSports, Superintendent David Weinecke will direct course mowing and maintenance operations without using one ounce of gasoline. With the help of Jacobsen and RMT Equipment, only electric mowers, greens rollers, bunker rakes and utility vehicles will be used that day.
Wienecke has invited golf course superintendents from throughout the region to test the equipment on the course as it used.
“It’s been a dream of mine to build awareness in the golf community that we can be stewards of the environment while providing conditions worthy of a U.S. Open,” Wienecke said. “Chambers Bay already uses much less water and fertilizer than most golf courses, and we’re proud of our success as a reclaimed gravel mine. Jacobsen and RMT will show that the technology exists for the industry to take conservation efforts to the next level.”