Since its inception, the University of Michigan’s Radrick Farms Golf Course has made environmental stewardship its priority—and the golf course has the accolades to prove it.
Sustainable golf course maintenance has always been a focal point at the University of Michigan’s Radrick Farms Golf Course in Ann Arbor, Mich.—and others have taken notice. The golf course has collected numerous awards in recent years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of its staff.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture certified the golf course through the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program (MTESP), a nationally recognized program to advance environmental stewardship and increase compliance within Michigan’s turfgrass industry. The program organizes efforts of the industry, state agencies, Michigan State University and environmental advocacy groups, and was developed with support from the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation, Golf Association of Michigan, and two state of Michigan departments: Environmental Quality, and Agriculture & Rural Development.
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Golf Course Superintendent Dan Mausolf recently spoke to Club & Resort Business about the philosophies and efforts behind these accolades.
Q: How long have you been pursuing environmentally friendly golf course maintenance practices at Radrick Farms?
A: Getting involved with the environmental programs started in 2001, the first year the MTESP was introduced. But environmental stewardship goes back to the inception of Radrick Farms Golf Course, when Fredrick Matthaei Sr. donated the property to build the golf course. According to Pete Dye, Matthaei was “ahead of his time” when it came to environmental excellence.
Q: Radrick Farms has won environmental awards or earned certification from a number of organizations. What did you do to earn these accolades?
A: I’ve been involved with the recertification in the MTESP. I spearheaded the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) at Radrick Farms, and I have worked with Washtenaw County Community Partners for Clean Streams. I discovered the Groundwater Guardian Green Site program by chance. After reviewing the programs, it made complete sense to join. Groundwater issues directly tie into the other programs, so it seemed like a natural fit for us to join that initiative as well.
I’ve worked through each module or portion of each of these programs. We’ve added buffer zones around all water features, reduced chemical and water usage, and used chemical and fertilizer products that are safer for the applicator and the environment. Each category within the ACSP has different expectations. They include Wildlife and Habitat Management, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, Water Quality Management, and Outreach and Education.
Q: What does it mean to be recognized by these organizations?
A: Environmental stewardship is very important to the staff of Radrick Farms, the University of Michigan, the City and Township of Ann Arbor, the State of Michigan, and to me. To be recognized by these groups, especially Audubon International, gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment. These accolades required a lot of time and dedication to achieve and to maintain, and they promote a positive culture and are a morale booster for the staff.
Q: How does this recognition affect your standing in the golf industry?
A: I think anytime a golf course can be recognized in this way benefits the entire golf industry. I hope that our recognition may help another golf course achieve the same kind of recognition. It shows that golf courses can achieve environmental success like we have at Radrick Farms—golf courses are a business, after all. The social and economic impact a facility can have on the surrounding community can be very beneficial. Golf courses give people the ability to relax and enjoy the outdoors, to get away from the everyday hustle and bustle. And it can help support the economy. I also believe the future of golf depends on turf managers acting as stewards of the environment.
Q: How does it affect your image in the community?
A: We’ve had a positive effect on the community. The Washtenaw County Water Quality Protection Award that we earned is given to a different business within the county each year. State Representative Mark Ouimet just recently recognized Radrick Farms’ accomplishments in environmental excellence after winning the 15th annual Washtenaw County Environmental Excellence Award for Water Quality Protection. That award showed the community that a golf course can have a very positive effect on the environment. Environmental excellence is also very important to the University of Michigan.
Q: How does it affect the public’s view of golf courses as environmental stewards in general?
A: The efforts put forth to achieve this environmental excellence show the public that a golf course can have a positive effect and be environmentally sound despite the preconceived notions that a golf course overwaters, over-fertilizes, and applies too much pesticide. It also shows that amidst a challenging economy, a golf course can be a steward without breaking the bank, so to speak.
I think there is a responsibility from every professional turf manager, whether a public or private facility, to be eco-friendly. As a professional in the industry, it’s my obligation to be environmentally sound. I want my children to enjoy the environment that I grew up in, and I want to make it better for them.
Q: What kind of assistance have you gotten from other community members to help you achieve your environmental goals?
A: Community support is vital to the success of our environmental efforts. With the help of our season pass- holders, golf course staff, Future Farmers of America Dundee Chapter, and the University of Michigan Botanical Gardens staff, we have been able to complete or re-certify within each program. Each one of these groups has specific areas of expertise that we are able to use at anytime.
Q: How much overlap is there between the requirements and expectations of these organizations?
A: These organizations have a fair amount of overlap. Each has its own focus area though. ACSP and Groundwater Guardian Green Site are international programs. The MTESP program is state-specific while the Community Partners for Clean Streams Program is a local program for Washtenaw County.
The ACSP focuses on many areas with wildlife management being a highly focused area. The MTESP has the benefit of keeping golf courses up to date with governmental regulations and things that will happen in the future regarding the inputs to maintaining the golf course grounds. The Community Partners for Clean Streams and Groundwater Green Site focus on water use, water conservation and have a big focus on surface water impact to open water sources. We find that working with each group provides us an all-inclusive environmental excellence approach that keeps us up to date on every level of sustainability.
Q: How is your experience, along with the renewed emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendly maintenance practices, changing turf school curriculums?
A: Although I am no longer enrolled in a formal turf program, I think it is important that turf programs instill eco-friendly practices within their curriculums. Just like technology, the environment is ever changing. Turf professionals have to be up to date with the current and future issues that we face. I truly believe golf course superintendents are some of the best problem solvers there are. We adjust to Mother Nature daily, balance a home-to-work life, and at the same time, do what’s right for the environment and the turf. The golf course superintendent wears many different hats at many different times. I hope curriculums teach the next generation of superintendents how to balance all the things that take place on any given day.
Q: How have your environmental initiatives affected golf course conditions?
A: I think the biggest positive change I’ve seen in playing conditions relates to moisture levels in putting surfaces. This has been a major win-win situation for our bottom line and for the environment. The use of moisture meters changes the amount and timing of water applied to turf. We can irrigate more effectively and more efficiently, creating a healthier stand of grass that benefits players and the environment. The meter gives us a firm number that we can use to make timely decisions on when to irrigate and with how much water.
Q: What kind of role has technology played in your sustainable maintenance practices?
A: Technology is a big component of turfgrass management. The introduction of Spectrum Technologies moisture meters, a live weather station on the property, and a smartphone have all been great additions to the maintenance practices used at Radrick Farms. Weather data is used to determine ET rates. The moisture meters can lead us to determining how much moisture has been lost during any given day. That combination of ET and hard numbers from the meters give us the data to make informed decisions about the nightly irrigation cycle.
The smartphone is used to look at weather forecasts as well as monitor irrigation pump stations. Since the phone can log into the irrigation computer remotely, I have the ability to monitor the pumps and shut them down if a problem exists, such as a pipe break or a sprinkler head that is stuck on. This technology enables us to conserve resources such as water.
Q: How have they affected the bottom line?
A: Our bottom line seems to have a mostly positive effect on being an environmental steward. In fact, course conditioning has gotten better and customer satisfaction is very high. Seventy-two percent of our customers feel environmental stewardship activities are important or very important. Being eco-friendly is a guiding principle in day-to-day management decisions. The environment is very important to the success at Radrick Farms Golf Course. There have not been any decisions made that negatively impact the environment.
Q: What kind of responsibility comes with being an environmental leader?
A: An environmental leader in my mind takes an individual that has the drive, dedication, and willingness to go above and beyond the norm. It’s not an easy undertaking to be involved with the programs that we are involved with. Hours of planning and execution go into the awards and recognition that we have won. It means doing the right thing all the time, whether or not people are watching.