Don’t fear green thinking

Columns - TEEING OFF

April 5, 2021

Alligators once scared me, bees once bothered me and lush golf courses once dazzled me. Then I started hanging around golf course superintendents. Whenever I cross an alligator, I now see a majestic creature with fewer places to live. I view bees as producers of a healthy smoothie, oatmeal and yogurt additive. I don’t need wall-to-wall green to play fun and imaginative golf shots.

Superintendents and their teams are among the most important protectors of the environment in developed communities. Managing vast open spaces comes with educational and resource management responsibilities. Think of how far golf has come in this area.

The first of three stories written by Lee Carr in our “Guide to Environmentally Savvy Maintenance” explores the evolution of the 30-year-old Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (page 21).

Cleveland Metroparks Washington Golf Course, a 9-hole, par-29 course five miles from the Golf Course Industry headquarters, resides in an industrialized Northeast Ohio neighborhood, yet it possesses ACSP Gold certification. Signs along the course describe the purpose of wetlands and help visitors identify wildlife. Without a professionally maintained landscape, deer, coyotes and birds would have abandoned the urban neighborhood years ago. The critters now share greenspace with children learning how golf benefits communities.

On a recent trip, I toured Dunes West Golf and River Club with longtime superintendent Robert Mackie. Dunes West is an 18-hole public course in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a city north of Charleston that has gained more than 70,000 residents in the last 30 years. Dunes West opened in 1991, around the time Mount Pleasant’s rapid expansion commenced. Robert started our tour by pointing to a pair of alligators lounging by a pond along the 17th hole. Golfers fired shots into the par 3 as the gators chilled. Robert knew exactly where the alligators bask, the proper observation distance and the importance of providing a healthy habitat. Homes are being built in Mount Pleasant at startling rates. Thanks to the land Robert carefully manages, the alligators still have a safe place to live.

Later in the trip, I visited The Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, home to three golf courses. I met superintendent Brook Sentell outside the clubhouse for Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point, where a statue of “Albert” the alligator greets golfers. A plaque declares Albert “an enduring symbol of The Sea Pines Resort’s environmental stewardship.” Combine clever signage with practices such as using recycled mulch and offering superb playing through targeted irrigation, and you can understand why Sea Pines, also home to Harbour Town Golf Links, boasts a trifecta of ACSP-certified courses.

Illinois public golf heavyweight Cog Hill Golf & Country Club (page 30) is another high-profile facility regularly touting its eco-awareness. Lee’s story about Chris Flick and his team sparks as much curiosity about Fairway Farms and the apiary as it does the facility’s beloved Dubsdread course.

Growing produce, harvesting honey and learning the nuances of wildlife takes time. Purchasing a precise irrigation system and electric equipment takes money. So is all this eco-minded work worth it? Lee explores this question in conversations with Missouri superintendent Isaac Breuer and legendary Florida superintendent Tim Hiers (page 26).

I’ll argue there’s a long-term payoff to thoughtful eco-driven measures within the confines of the job. Adding a pollinator plot can provide a pleasant diversion and positive talking point. Investing in electric equipment can create goodwill with homeowners and employees. Knowing the best places to spot alligators, birds and furry mammals can make golfers temporarily forget about double bogeys, four putts, and their work and personal stresses. Our guide isn’t designed to turn golf courses into parched zoos. We’re hoping it inspires readers to think more broadly about the job and the purpose of golf. Start small and stay committed. Environmentally savvy maintenance can help golfers overcome fears and annoyances.


Guy Cipriano