Paul Carter says he has been accused of tooting his horn too often for his environmental approach toward golf course maintenance. And that’s a shame because Carter’s horn needs to be heard time and again in a call for that approach.

Carter is the certified golf course superintendent at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay Golf Course near Chattanooga, Tenn. He’s made a name for himself the past few years for his environmental sleight. Earlier this year, Carter was named the overall winner of the 2013 GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards. Last year, Bear Trace won Golf Digest’s 2013 Green Star Award for environmental excellence.

Paul Carter and a couple of the creatures that have made Bear Trace their home.
Photos: by Lawrence Aylward and Courtesy of Bear Lake

Bear Trace is also well known for being the home to a mating pair of American bald eagles that nest in a lofty pine tree near the course’s 10th green. And, last month, Charlotte-based Jacobsen elected Bear Trace as the site for an Earth Day event. Bear Trace features an army of Jacobsen’s all-electric turf maintenance equipment as part of its commitment to sustainability.

So, yes, Bear Trace and Carter are receiving much attention for their environmental endeavors. And if some people have a problem with that, well … that’s their problem.

Hopefully, Carter will continue to toot his horn … and loudly. What he’s done at Bear Trace – installing 45 nesting houses for birds, returning 50 acres of previously maintained turf to naturalized areas, converting the bentgrass greens to ultradwarf bermudagrass to reduce fungicide and water inputs, etc. – has been good for the environment and fantastic for golf’s image.

The Earth Day event was the first for Carter and Bear Trace. It could be a first for a golf course. In the past, Earth Day and golf courses haven’t been mentioned in the same conversation.

Several media outlets attended the event, including trade media, Chattanooga’s newspaper and television media, and Ron Whitten from Golf Digest magazine. Credit Jacobsen for putting the event together. Hopefully this is the start of something bigger.

I sat down with Carter during the event to talk about golf and the environment, and the possibility of more courses hosting Earth Day events.

Carter told me he challenged himself to take the course’s environmental curriculum to another level when he arrived at Bear Trace about a decade ago. He has succeeded. Carter and his crew spend 50 percent of their time on turfgrass maintenance and 50 percent of their time on environmental projects. They’ve also formed constructive relationships with local environmentally minded groups, such as the Friends of Harrison Bay State Park.

The payback for Carter is knowing that he will someday leave a piece of land in better environmental condition than he found it. Oh, there’s also the thrill of seeing an American bald eagle soaring above you as you go about your duties on the course.

Let’s get this straight: Carter isn’t touting Bear Trace’s environmental endeavors to attract attention to himself. He’s doing it to prove to naysayers that golf courses can do right by the environment. And for the courses and superintendents that do embrace the environment, Carter has proved that hosting an Earth Day event to let the public know of the good things they’re doing isn’t out of the realm.

“They should toot their own horns whenever they can,” Carter says.

And they should feel good about it.