Editor’s view

I call Jeff Carlson the thinking man’s superintendent. So it’s no wonder he has a brilliant idea.

First, a little bit about Carlson before getting to his idea. He is the certified golf course superintendent at the Vineyard Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown, Mass. At Vineyard, where Carlson has worked since 2000, synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use is prohibited. So Carlson must rely on organics, myriad cultural practices and a lot of strategy to maintain turfgrass. I’m not saying that other superintendents don’t have to think in their jobs, but the 65-year-old Carlson might have to think a little harder.

Carlson has also gained a solid reputation for his environmental prowess. He is a product of his environment when it comes to turfgrass management. Carlson has worked most of his superintendent life near the coast in southeast Massachusetts, an environmentally sensitive area, where restrictions are as common as whale watchers. But Carlson is not anti-inorganic by any stretch of the imagination.

OK, back to Carlson’s idea. I interviewed him recently for this month’s cover story on the future of turfgrass maintenance, specifically what it will be like in 2050. I knew the astute Carlson would be an excellent interview for the story. But one of Carlson’s ideas for the future would work now.

Carlson suggests that golf course superintendents take on the additional title of “environmental agent” at their golf courses. A superintendent would become the point person on everything relating to the environment.

The idea makes great sense, especially considering that federal, state and local environmental regulations will only get more challenging. A course’s superintendent/environmental agent would monitor regulations and understand the permitting process.

Maybe the environmental agent component of a superintendent’s job would morph into the superintendent’s full-time job. He or she would become a golf course’s environmental go-to person on all fronts, not just with turfgrass maintenance. Then golf courses wouldn’t have to hire consultants to look into things like permitting processes or wetland mitigation or even clubhouse renovation.

“This is something we really need to look into,” Carlson says. “It would add great value to the superintendent.”

It would also add job security for a superintendent. While that’s not the primary motivation for Carlson’s idea, it is a factor, especially considering that all it takes is for a superintendent to fall out of favor with one or two members at a golf club to get fired.

At Vineyard Golf Club, Carlson is already operating in the environmental agent role to some capacity. He appears before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on various issues related to the club and the environment. He attends board meetings. If anybody has any questions about the golf course and the environment, they know who to ask.

Besides, who else would they ask? The green committee chairman? The general manager? Nothing against them, but they probably don’t know mower clippings what the superintendent knows.

“All of the superintendents I know are acutely aware of any environmental issues at their clubs,” Carlson says.

A golf course’s environmental agent could also stop a situation from turning political. Because the environmental agent has established trusted liaisons with key people in the community, things wouldn’t get blown out of proportion when the golf course is mistakenly blamed for using too much water or causing death to birds because of pesticide use.

Carlson has established such trusted relationships with government decision makers on Martha’s Vineyard that they recently asked him to help write a fertilizer regulation to combat the possibility of nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water. Carlson was more than happy to help. Besides, he didn’t want them writing a strict regulation without his input that would make it impossible for him to manage the course’s turfgrass nutritional program.

Slowly, more golf courses are marketing their wares from an environmental perspective. Case in point: The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay near Chattanooga, Tenn., where many golfers play the course to see the wildlife.

Carlson’s excellent idea – the environmental agent – comes from a man who has lived and breathed this industry for many years. His passion has led to his success. But let’s not wait until the Chicago Cubs win the World Series for Carlson’s idea to kick in.

Kick it in now.