"green" Courses

By DiAnne Crown

November 21, 2013 5 min read

Politically correct is also profitable these days as golf course designers and managers, who have traditionally been some of the recreation industry's largest water hogs and consumers of chemicals, are employing creative, beautiful and smart conservation methods throughout their properties. In fact, their forward-thinking practices are attracting positive attention from golfers and stewardship organizations alike, as the consummate mind-body-spirit golf experience at some of the world's most pristine and prized courses is now eco-friendly.

A 2012 Forbes Travel Guide article profiled five U.S. courses recognized for protecting marshlands; composting and recycling; collecting water runoff for irrigation; creating wetlands; preserving dunes; reducing the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers; utilizing drought-resistant plants; and creating flora and fauna diversity in border areas. It's more than just creating beauty for golfers and eco-havens for wildlife. It's smart money.

Conserving water and minimizing additives "is a bonus to owners," says Curtis James, superintendent and director of grounds and agronomy at a private golf club on Chicago's North Shore. James uses several conservation methods to maintain the health and beauty of the golf course.

"Proper irrigation and drainage systems utilize rain water and minimize scheduled watering," notes James. "Watering properly -- not overwatering and creating overly lush groundcover -- creates a dry, firm, fast playing condition and minimizes the water needed to maintain the course. And we plant native and wildlife areas that don't need watering."

James says that he tries not to water at all. But when it's absolutely needed, he does it only at the right times, in the right amounts, so the moisture will be absorbed and not run off.

"We use organic fertilizers in correct amounts. We create bird trails and habitats to enhance the environment for all wildlife," and encourage them to winter over, James explains. "And we use integrative pest management, which means we don't overspray with preventive fungicides; we watch for certain disease thresholds and then spray. It's all part of the green process." ?

Water management is one of the main components at all award-winning, eco-friendly courses, including the ones that make Links magazine's top 10 list. Success stories make it sound easy, but it takes patient, comprehensive planning to get the balance right.

Bradley Walwer, a civil engineer and recreational golfer, discusses the importance of phasing in changes carefully. "Water quality and quantity are huge, ongoing issues for waste-water engineers," he says. Making mistakes can be costly.

"For a while in the 1970s, environmentalists saw that effluent runoff was dirty, so they cleaned it before they got rid of it, making it so clean and oxygenated that the fish in streams and rivers loved it," Walwer explains. "But, even more than the fish, the microbiological life in the water loved it and exploded in numbers. (Unfortunately) these microbes multiplied so fast there wasn't enough food to sustain them and they died off all at once."

"So engineers," he continued, "are trying to develop smaller, localized, and natural areas -- retention ponds, bioswales, vegetative filters, constructed wetlands, etc. -- to address this problem."

"Golf course designers can do these same things; create the beautiful water hazard to collect, filter and reuse the effluent run off from the surrounding areas," even including surrounding neighborhoods, he concludes. All benefit.

Everyone has a role, designers and players alike. Anyone can recycle, many can choose to play at eco-friendly courses and some can even walk the 18 holes, enjoying a closer commune with nature. So, whether your next trip to the links is a destination golf vacation or a trip across town to your favorite Saturday-morning club, check out the native grasses, runoff-filtering stream, recycling bins, solar panels on the clubhouse and even the electric golf carts. Maybe you'll be playing 18 holes at the next award-winning, eco-friendly course.

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