We know a lot of golf course superintendents don’t like the word and might wish it would go away, but “sustainability” isn’t going anywhere. In fact, superintendents are going to hear about sustainability more and more.
Which brings us to the Sustainability in Golf: The Business of Green conference, which was held in September at Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The event featured various speakers, including yours truly, as well as a sustainability symposium and a zero-waste workshop. The conference is the brainstorm of Teresa Wade, the founder and executive director of Experience Green, a nonprofit organization focused on the what, how, why and when of sustainability, with the long-term goal to improve society through increased stewardship of the environment.
The conference featured solid discussion about the environmental, economic and social components of sustainability. This type of conference needs to be held throughout the country to educate superintendents about sustainability’s components and how they can fit at their respective golf courses.
Here are some of the key things that were discussed:
The industry needs a person like Wade, who is passionate about this subject, to spearhead it. It’s likely that Wade will be heard from in regards to sustainability more and more as time goes on.
Wade’s goal was to get those in attendance to think about implementing sustainable measures at their golf courses. Before the conference ended, she passed out pledge cards and urged attendees to pledge to do something sustainable at their facilities.
“It doesn’t have to be a big thing,” she said. “You’ll never know if something will work unless you try it.”
William Paddock, founder and managing director of WAP Sustainability Consulting, stressed that sustainability is a business issue, particularly when it comes to identifying cost savings and properly managing costs.
In his presentation, Paddock showed a slide of cost statistics that scream of the challenges superintendents face today in regard to managing costs. The slide revealed that since 2004 the cost of electricity at golf courses is up an average of 39 percent, the cost of water is up 59 percent, and the cost of fertilizer has soared, all while golf rounds have diminished 6.6 percent.
Paddock’s message: Make changes to your budgets faster than they occur.
Josh Heptig, director of golf operations for the County of San Luis Obispo in California, participated in a zero-waste workshop.
“I’m here today because I’m crazy enough to do something that others might not be able to do,” quipped Heptig, who oversees the county’s 18-hole Dairy Creek Golf Course.
Heptig implemented a zero-waste program at Dairy Creek, so all food scraps and paper from the clubhouse are collected along with course clippings and other waste and turned into compost. It’s then spread on the turf and used in the course’s fertigation system.
“Zero waste is a culture shift, but it’s really stinkin’ easy [to do],” Heptig said.
Zero waste begins with a waste-assessment analysis, he noted.
“Look at the waste stream coming through your facility,” he advised. “What percentage is recyclable, what percentage is compostable, and what percentage has no other alternative than to go into trash. If you can get [trash] down to 10 percent, you can consider [your operation] zero waste.”
Heptig stressed that sustainability means different things to different people.
“To me, sustainability means survivability,” he added.
Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of grounds and golf course maintenance, said one of the highlights of his career was being part of the well-documented restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, which made big news in golf and sustainability circles.
Despite its environmental components — less irrigated turf, more native plants, etc. — the restoration was done to sustain the course’s business model, Farren said.
Pinehurst No. 2 is just one of nine courses at the resort, none of which are overseeded anymore as part of the new business model. Get this: In the past, Pinehurst had to purchase 300,000 pounds of seed to overseed its courses. This year the course didn’t have to purchase seed. Farren noted that the operation saved $42,000 in seed costs alone, which amounts to about 40 percent of the overseeding budget. The cost of painting turf — which is now being done at Pinehurst instead of overseeding — wasn’t nearly that much.
Dana Lonn, managing director of The Toro Co’s Center for Advanced Turf Technology, said Toro talks to customers all the time, and customers tell Toro that they want things “better, faster and cheaper,” which doesn’t necessarily equate to being sustainable.
Lonn stressed that better, faster and cheaper can be a misguided route to go.
“You can miss the target if you do that,” Lonn said. “Look at PCs — they’ve gotten better, faster and cheaper, but we don’t buy them anymore. Now we buy tablets and smartphones.”
On the topic of inground soil sensors, Lonn said he doesn’t think they’ve become as pervasive on golf courses as they need to be. He’s is a huge proponent of soil sensors, an invention he considers highly sustainable.
“When we’re watering grass, we’re putting water in the soil so the plant can extract it when it needs it,” Lonn explained. “How do we know when there’s enough water? We measure it. That’s why we need soil sensors.”
In fact, Lonn said he’d rather have one soil sensor than a weather station if he were a superintendent because he could gain more information from a soil sensor to make better decisions about irrigation.
Paul Carter, the certified golf course superintendent at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay in Tennessee, and Anthony Williams, director of grounds at the Stone Mountain Golf Club in Georgia, confirmed what many superintendents often wonder: Can environmental measures implemented at golf courses lead to increased rounds and revenue? Yes, Carter and Williams said.
At Bear Trace, Carter and his crew spend as much time on environmental measures as they do maintaining the turf. Bear Trace is an environmental haven for wildlife, including a mating pair of American bald eagles that nest in a lofty pine tree near the course’s 10th green. People come to the golf course to see the wildlife as much as they do to play golf, Carter said.
Noted Williams, “We’ve seen an uptick in golf rounds when the wildflowers [on the course] are in full bloom because more women come out with their husbands to play golf and see the wildflowers.”
Brian Stiehler, the certified golf course superintendent at Highlands Country Club in Highlands, North Carolina, has brought an “edible park” to the private club, which has proved to be a hit with members and a truly sustainable operation.
On a 1.5-acre parcel of land across from the course, Stiehler grows a variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers. The farm provides 20 percent of the lettuce used in the clubhouse. Stiehler also grows spinach, carrots, sunflowers, turnips and more. Members are welcome to harvest the crops, and much of it is provided to a local food bank.
Superintendent magazine’s Lawrence Aylward can be reached at 330-723-2136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.