Kemper Sports Interview - Part 1

Although most golf management companies have an environmental program (which usually consists of Audubon Certifications and other lesser known stewardship rating programs), Kemper Sports out of Illinois has created a new program "Green To A Tee" that their own courses are aspiring to reach. This really raises the bar in our industry, so of course I had to get an interview with someone.

But first, here’s some background info:

From the Kemper Sports website, "The Green to a Tee program encompasses environmentally focused initiatives within several core areas of facility operations, including:
· Golf course maintenance
· Habitat management
· Water conservation
· Energy usage
· Recycling
· “Green” vendor utilization
· Staff education and training

In addition to formalizing the company’s policy on environmental practices at both the corporate and property levels, the Green to a Tee program arms the more than 5,000 KemperSports staffers throughout the U.S. and PuertoRico, with tools and training in environmentally-friendly practices that they can implement on the job and in their homes".

To get the details of how this program works, I spoke with Jim Seeley, Kemper Sports Executive Vice President. - Green to tee, where/how did it originate?
Jim Seeley - Just over 1 year ago, Kemper Sports decided as a company initiative, to formalize our environmental program due to the emphasise throughout the world of environmental concern, and specifically within our industry. Theres a lot of miss-information out there about whether golf courses are environmentally friendly or not, we believe they are.
I was asked to head up the effort to develop this program, just prior to earth day in 2008. So we formed a committee from General Manager’s, Superintendents and Food and Beverage directors for ideas to put towards an environmental plan. We realized the scope of this was much bigger than we first thought, so we formed a group of facilities in to a base test group, developed a rough format and spent a number of the next months compiling the criteria and ideas into the knowledge base. It’s basically a click and find program on our intranet system that gives users access to solutions to their specific environmental concerns. - What resources did you use to find the background info?
Jim Seeley - A huge number of resources contributed to the knowledge base. Including EPA, Audubon International, USGA, and numerous others. During this process we realized that a number of our facilities were already doing a number of the environmental approaches recommended by the resources, but we also realized that we could compile a number of resources to help our employees bring this environmental concern back to their homes. - Any examples come to mind?
Jim Seeley - Yes, as matter of fact, my wife is an award winning landscaper, she’s actually won three awards for our her garden. She’s used a link provided by the program to ( , it is a weed data base as it has helped her identify and learn how to properly treat and manage our weeds. I hear from many of our staff that they've brought these ideas home and introducing the concepts to their families. - I understand the program is organized in to stages, how does this work?
Jim Seeley - It was organized in to tiers, so our courses could progress through increasing levels of environmentalism.
Level 1 is essentially our awareness level. Aimed at teaching staff how to integrate very simple environmental techniques that any facility could integrate in to the current operations with out greatly impacting their budget. At level one staff must take the first steps in our IPM program, which at this stage covers basic awareness principles.
Level 2, the property must register and begin work on ACSP status, reach Level 2 of our IPM program which includes establishing threshold levels and mapping and conduct a basic energy audit, usually conducted by the local utility company.
To get to level 3 you have to be Audubon certified, complete level 3 of our IPM program and conduct a more in-depth energy audit. This of course costs money, of which we have to allow the property to put their own funds towards this process.
Level 4 you have to embrace concepts such as LEED in to their buildings, solar and wind power,. Although these can be expensive, what we look for most is that they are bringing in the ideas that LEED promotes without having to go the depth of becoming LEED Certified, which would be an expensive undertaking. Also, a self contained wash water pad must be integrated in to their maintenance center.
We have a lot of municipal properties we expect to be the first to integrate these technologies because they are attempting to green all municipal facilities and are under pressure to do so. We’ve got one property that already is using photovoltaic panels on the roof of their maintenance facility. - Will your program reflect advancements of technology, say for instance as organic products improve?
Jim Seeley - Most definitely, this is a living breathing program, not a day goes by that we learn more about how to work better with the environment. With organics for instance, we’ve got courses throughout the country that are experimenting with organic methods and products. In fact, to reach level 3 we ask that the curse is embracing some kind of organic method. We don’t dictate what the specifics are because each property is so different from each other and no one program could ever fulfill the needs of all of our properties.
As our understanding of organics, and other technologies, grow, we will require that all properties embrace those ideas. And the program will forever be evolving and we require that each course keeps up their efforts. You can’t for instance, reach level four and then take a holiday from this, the program will always be asking our properties to improve. And we are always working hard to find ways to reduce resource use, for instance with our water consumption. - For example?
Jim Seeley – Within the IPM mapping requirements we ask that they locate where their isolated dry spots are located. This first step of knowing where your problem areas are is crucial, then they are able to get the water to where it is needed once the superintendent deems it necessary. As time goes on we can then integrate technology to help us manage these and other areas, many of our properties are looking at Remote Sensor Technology for example. - So lets say that a Superintendent finds a particular technique to be quite helpful, say in conserving water, how does this technique make it to the rest of your courses? How is information shared?
Jim Seeley – On our intranet we have to forums, one specifically for the Green to a Tee specifically and one for turf maintenance in general. Once a new concept is introduce, we send it out to everyone in the network and ask for their feed back on the forum. We’ve been very pleased to see all staff at all levels embracing this program.

Next week I’ll post the remaining portion of the interview which dives in to the specifics of how they communicate this message to their staff, their members, public golfers and more details on the “green vendor utilization” policy, quite an impressive tool!