Just as 20th-century golf course superintendents strove to produce the highest-quality golf courses possible, their colleagues do the same today.

However, today’s superintendent is pulling double duty: providing great conditions while simultaneously serving as a steward for the environment. That’s not to say that superintendents back in the day were not doing all they could for the environment, but it was nowhere near the hot-button issue it is today. For many years, it simply wasn’t a requirement for superintendents to be cognizant of so many environmental issues, as it is today.

Superintendents are now expected to be fostering not only environmental stewardship, but also environmental sustainability and everything that comes with it.

Today, environmental sustainability is as crucial to superintendents as playability or greens speed.

But what, exactly, does “environmental sustainability” mean? I think we all have an idea of what it means to us personally, but does it mean the same thing to the superintendent down the road? Or the neighbor who lives next to your course? Or to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency?

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. Taking that a little further – to make it applicable to us as managers of golf courses – sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes. That’s something we can use!

Another usable definition of sustainability would be: “The responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources, and allow for long-term environmental quality.”

The really big picture

To be clear, we’re not just talking about environmental sustainability, but also social and economic sustainability, and how they all affect each other.

Social sustainability, or community sustainability, refers to establishing a program that is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible. The desired end result is a community where we can meet our needs as humans (including having recreational outlets like golf courses) without undermining our natural resources.

When it comes to sustainability, I try to pretend that my golf course has no border. I think of the houses next to my course as part of my environment – as are the streets and the nearby lakes and rivers. I take the wild animals that come and go under consideration, too.

Together, we’re all part of something bigger. The golf course affects everything around it, just as everything around the course affects it in turn.

I think we all fall into the trap of believing “our environment” is just the golf course. We must realize that the environment is not just the biosphere of earth, water and air – it’s also the way we interact with those things. The interactions are part of the environment, too.

This is why we, as golf course superintendents and environmental stewards, must do our part in any way we can.

That puts superintendents in a tough position. On the one hand, we’re being asked to provide top-quality golf courses, which requires using (and depleting) natural resources. On the other hand, we’re being asked to always keep environmental sustainability in mind. But how, exactly, can supers sustain something that they are inherently depleting with almost every action they take?

I don’t think there is a right answer. We humans are constantly depleting resources no matter what we’re doing – taking a shower, watering our yards, heating our house, driving our cars. Golf courses are simply a small part of the big picture and, like every other entity on this planet, we supers can only do our best to foster environmental sustainability.

I give you this advice: Keep doing what you’re doing and be as environmentally sensitive as you can while still providing the best golf course possible.

What more can you do? After all, you’re only human.