"God Bless the Superintendent"

When I heard the above line from golf course architect Mike Hurdzan, I knew I had my title.

Mike, like many other designers/architects, focusses on environmental issues in his website, but it's in his articles, interviews (and here) and even an Endowment Fund with the Environmental Institute for Golf that his passion for the natural environment comes out.

Recently I've witnessed some “greenwashing” attempts in our industry and interviewed a film director with somewhat of a negative view of golf. Which is why I contacted Mike to learn of his efforts to help dispel this negative image of our industry. As you can see in this brief interview (and links above and below), this guy walks the talk!

Pictured here is Bully Pulpit

Turfhugger – In your article titled “Course Design For Reduced Inputs”, your first sentence states “The goal of an environmentally friendly golf course is to require the smallest possible input of water, fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels...”.
Can you lead me to an example of your designs that accomplishes this?

Mike Hurdzan - Environmental golf course design is a process when most people think of it as a product. That process is to thoroughly study, analyze and map the land resulting in “opportunities and constraints” maps before any golf holes are considered. Less qualified or caring design firms want to jump right into designing instead of studying. The site assessment study involves a team of experts, tailored to the site characteristics, who contribute to the overall effort throughout the remaining design and construction steps to ensure that we are producing the least impacting golf course practical. By knowing the site and having the intellectual resources of the team, when the golf course is finally laid on the land it is with the most gentle hand possible.

An example might be Erin Hills, 40 minutes northwest of Milwaukee, where the golf course was built on the glacial outwash formation called “kettle-moraines” which look and act like seaside links land. There we learned that the fine fescue grasses predominate, the topsoils are thin, the internal drainage of subsoil was good, as a result there were few trees because of the arid nature of the soils. Further to disturb the topsoil was to uncover lots of rock and stone which would have complicated construction, grow-in and maintenance.

Therefore it was easy to then decide to:
• Use fine fescue grasses, with high levels of endophyte for the best natural resistance to disease, insects and drought tolerance to reduce pesticide requirements
• Fine fescues also need little or no fertilization compared to some more commonly used turfgrasses
• The turf was planted using a “no-till” method of spraying and overseeding that is common in renovation but not new construction
• Only a two row irrigation system was installed to limit the coverage area to save water
• Greens were California concept with flat tile to save energy and spoil waste from tiling operation
• Greens were seeded to “A” series bents because of proven performance benefits
• Invasive or non-native plants were rouged out of non-golf area by selective cutting and burning
• Wetland areas were hand cleared of invasive species
• Bunkers were lined to reduce maintenance and filled with native sand
• Cart paths were only paved on steep grades, otherwise used decomposed granite chips
• Sod was near 100% fine fescue turf
• Native areas were preserved wherever practical

For additional background info on Erin Hills,
check out GolfClubAtlas.com here and this video from GCSAA.TV

Turfhugger – Can you name any courses outside of your portfolio that accomplish this too? Any designers/architects that are accomplishing great things?

Mike Hurdzan - Other American firms with a reputation to delivering an eco-friendly course are Bill Love, Coore and Crenshaw, RTJ II, Gil Hanse, Clyde Johnston, John LaFoy, Kyle Phillips, and a whole bunch of others that don’t come to mind right now, but if you look at their courses you know they are doing it right. We, designers are happy to get recognition for all of this environmental stuff, but the REAL champions of the environment and the folks who make us look good are the Superintendents. These dedicated professionals can make any of us look good, but if we give them a proper platform to work form, they make us look like geniuses. God bless the Superintendents.

Interestingly there are several other design firms outside the USA that believe as we do that comprehensive site study must precede golf course design efforts if the golf course is really going to conserve, preserve and enhance the site that surrounds it. This especially true in countries where environmental concerns have been given a much higher priority than we do in North America for a much longer time. This was a bit of a surprise so now we are observing the work of these other designers who have been working with these strict conditions to learn their methods. By combining emerging technologies with tradecraft has allowed us to stay in front.


Hurdzan, a great role model for future architect,his sincerity for conservation is quite obvious when you play his courses.

BTW, turf hugger need to advertise, nobody knows of the site.

Thanks for your comments.
1) Hurdzan is great, I agree.
2) We don't advertise because we don't have the $ to do it right. Please pass on our info to others in the industry as this will be the best way for us to grow. How did you find us?

good article
does turfhugger have a eletter?
you should

We dont need any new golf courses.