GUEST COLUMN: Do you care for the environment?

GUEST COLUMN: Do you care for the environment?

Is golf such a traditional game that even its managers are afraid of change?

July 6, 2010

Golf courses have long been perceived as environmental wastelands that use high amounts of chemicals and way too much water. We all know that these intensively managed areas have slowly begun to integrate organic and sustainable management practices. Although this topic is very highly publicized, actual changes in practices are sluggish. Maybe golf is such a traditional game that even its managers are afraid of change? If we want golf to thrive in the future we need to change the way we do things so that the game is able to sustain itself.

For the game of golf to endure the rigors of the social, economic, and environmental demands, attention must be given to specific areas of golf course management. According to the Environmental Institute for Golf these areas include water management, integrated plant management, wildlife/habitat management, energy/waste management, and golf course siting, design and construction. As a golf course manager, improving in all five areas is a daunting task, not to mention money and time consuming. With man hours being decreased, budgets being slashed and unprecedented environmental conditions present, it can, at times almost seem impossible. Like any new skill being learned, we need to crawl before we walk and walk before we run and not dive head first into the two foot kiddie pool. Here are some simple steps towards making your facility more sustainable.

New generation, new ideas     
As a new breed of young, up and coming assistant superintendents, we bring a new train of thought to the industry. Challenge yourself to seek changes from the ordinary by thinking outside the box.

Use your intelligence to initiate and try new, well thought out ideas. Don’t become complacent. Test your comfort zone and step outside those boundaries. Assess your daily practices and be able to justify why things are done. Doing things the same way because it has always been done that way won’t cut it.

Don’t be afraid to take the initiative. Superintendents are extremely busy and taking the initiative shows your enthusiasm and growth.

Learn principles of habitat/wildlife management
Golf course managers are generally not well-educated in habitat/wildlife management. This can be attributed to the unique differences between golf course and habitat/wildlife management. Golf course managers want things perfect immediately and habitat/wildlife managers understand that the process takes time and has a lower threshold for perfection. Furthermore, golf courses tend to strive for uniform monocultures whereas habitat/wildlife management seeks polyculture and diversity. Learning, but more importantly, understanding the basic principles of habitat/wildlife management will make our jobs easier in the future.

Also, understanding the environment that we are in can help us in becoming better golf course managers. We can look at things holistically and try to manage systems as a whole,  instead of independently. Nature is a system in which things are always in relative balance and changing one thing may cause harm elsewhere if proper care is not taken.  

Spread the good word
If the general public was asked what they though about golf courses, the majority would answer with something along the lines of them being resource hogs and heavy chemical users. We need to encourage communication of the positive aspects of golf courses such as providing wildlife habitat, as well as serving as water treatment systems that can not only catch runoff, but also reduce the amount of pollutants that reach groundwater sources. This list can go on and on but we need to work to spread this message.

As an assistant superintendent, be accessible to the community. Many non-golfers have valid concerns about golf courses and how they are managed. Educate and explain to people what you are doing and why you are doing it. Do things the right way, especially when no one is watching. Also, be prepared to handle criticism effectively and take advice with an open mind.

Most importantly, share your information with your peers whether success or failure. Your local GCSAA chapter can be a great outlet for this. We are all in this together and it is a huge goal that cannot be accomplished by a single individual.   

Every little bit counts
In today’s rebuilding economy, it seems difficult to justify improvements towards sustainability. Budgets are being slashed and golfers are still expecting comparable or even improved golf course playing conditions. This may seem impossible but with the right action plan the mission can be accomplished.

Prioritizing is a huge importance. Choosing areas for improvement need to be well thought out and justified (and hopefully cost effective too). Projects can be as small as installing compact fluorescent lamps (cfl’s) at your facility or as large as an irrigation system overhaul. Every little bit helps.

There are also federal and state funds available for habitat/wildlife management, especially if there is a species of concern at your golf course. These funds are highly sought after but may be a way to move towards sustainability with spending very little or no budgeted funds.

Hopefully some of these simple steps will spark some interest amongst the golf course industry. We owe it to ourselves and to the future of golf to do our very best to ensure the long term vitality of the game. As Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is when you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”
Don’t go insane.

Seril Shimizu, M.S., is assistant golf course superintendent at Makalei Golf Club, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Contact him at