Making Amends With Industry Trends

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 Ottawa Valley Turf Association Newsletter.

Teach a Man to… Mow?

We’ve all heard the saying “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life”. The goal of this maxim is to demonstrate that a principled approach is long lasting and sustainable. Practices are simply there to help fulfill the principle. In golf course maintenance we are constantly asked to incorporate Best Management Practices, but if we do not understand and embrace the under-lying principle, the goal (or fish) can get away.

Industry trends and BMPs encourage strategies and technologies to meet concerns over water supplies, water quality, air quality, and habitat. These practices must evolve and be centered on a common principle; the common principle of all environmental BMPs and trends is efficiency. Efficiency is the effort between in-put and out-put, the smaller that effort, the greater the efficiency. Conservation is the most accessible and cost-effective means of reaching efficiency.

I know you’ve been inundated with “save money” articles in all of the industry magazines lately, so I’ve tried to provide a more long-term perspective concentrating primarily on f
uel and water conservation. My hope is these tips will contribute to your economic and environmental sustainability by helping you increase your operational efficiency.

Looking to cut corners? How about not cutting them at all!

Many superintendents have already experimented with naturalization projects. By establishing an out-of-play area of rough as a naturalized zone, a golf course will experience an automatic decrease in total fuel-use, labor, irrigation, potential pest management and wear on mowing equipment. In addition there are funding assistance programs through municipalities or conservation authorities that will rebate the landowner for 40-95% of total material costs.

In 2008 Beacon Hall Golf Club in Aurora Ontario completed a planting project worth $9,400 and received 95% of total costs rebated back to them for a total “out-of-pocket” expense of only $470.00. The conservation authority saw the benefit in the project to help shade pond water (preserve cold stream integrity) and contribute to habitat by connecting corridors to fragmented forest remnants. Although the golf course saw value in these results (contributed to Audubon Certification) they also experienced a savings in management costs of the steep roadside banks that were a nuisance to maintain.

Governmental bodies are not the only ones offering financial benefits as a result of environmental stewardship activities. As noted in the Beacon Hall example, naturalization and planting projects contribute to meeting Audubon certification criteria and certified properties are eligible for 2-10% reductions in annual insurance fees. If your golf club is paying $80,000 a year in insurance, this reduction could be between $1,600 - $8,000 in annual savings, meanwhile Audubon International membership is only $250 USD per year.

Here's a couple great videos (here and here) from TurfNet featuring Dr. Frank Rossi.
Turfhugger has already covered a number of naturalization techniques here, here and here.

Without using a mule, how can you save on fuel?

In the future we’ll see a combination of hybrid, solar-electric, hydrogen machinery, but in the mean-time using gas-powered equipment more efficiently makes most economic sense.

I recently spoke with Chris Tritabaugh of Northland Country Club in Duluth Minnesota about his fuel conservation efforts. “We saw savings with growth regulators and adjusting mowing heights, but changing our mowing patterns on fairways saved the most fuel”. Tritabaugh claims, “our fairways were striped with 9 holes being mowed each day for an average of 6 days a week. After calculating labor and fuel usage, we figured the cost to mow fairways for one season was approximately $30,000. In 2007 we began to mow the fairways in a light and dark pattern, all 18 holes being mowed only 2 days a week. After calculating the 2007 man-hours and fuel usage, plus adding the cost of turf growth regulators (which allowed for only two mows a week) the total cost per season is roughly $12,000. A difference of $18,000, a pretty nice number!”

Remember to change mowing patterns regularly to prevent soil compaction or “wash-boarding” of your fairways.

Here are a few more tried and trusted techniques to help you save on fuel:
• Cornell Universities Horticultural Department claims sharp mower reels/blades can save up to 25% of total fuel costs.

• Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club claims their “piggy back system” contributed to a 10% in savings. Two staff share a utility vehicle while string trimming, one staff member is dropped off at the front of the hole while the other continues to the middle and parks the vehicle. They both do their respected sides of the hole and meet again in the middle, preventing needless back tracking.

• 36-hole Randolph Golf Complex in Tucson Arizona has seen fuel savings of 20% by modifying mowing patterns by starting near the shop and progressing across the property instead of going from 1-18.

• When comparing reel vs. rotary mowers, reel mowers can use 50% less fuel per acre of cut grass than rotary mowers and a five-bladed reel will use 8-12% less fuel than a six-bladed reel.

• Gasoline costs more than Diesel fuel, and Diesel engines can be 20-25% more efficient.

• Fleet managers in various industries use these proven fuel conservation techniques:
o Post ”No Idling” or “Idling Gets You No Where” stickers as a helpful reminder.
o Ask employees to turn machinery off if they will be standing still for more then 1 minute.
o Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance, reduce fuel economy and cause the tire to rapidly wear. Keeping tires properly inflated can reduce fuel use by 3-4% on paved surfaces.
o Avoid piling excess weight that makes the engine work harder and consume more fuel.
o Consult the owner's manual for proper maintenance, and do it!

Chart New Waters

When it comes to water use, our industry tends to focus on irrigation efficiency and xeri-scaping. Although these are both extremely important ways of using water more efficiently, I’m going to instead focus on some emerging trends with conservation and efficiency at their core.

• Blackburn Meadows Golf Club on Salt Spring Island BC likes to be known as “Canada’s #1 Organic Golf Course” and they’ve recently added a new organic source, compost toilets. Compost toilets require no pluming infrastructure and the material is treated with effective microorganisms to be used in tree beds throughout the out-of-play zones.

• Golf Clubs who rely on municipal water for irrigation are looking at roof water collection options for garden areas. Lets say your maintenance building or clubhouse roof is 10,000 sq ft. and your average rainfall is 30” per year. Under that scenario you could collect approx. 707,493 Liters. With municipal water costing approximately $0.80 per 1000 Liters, the financial benefits are not terribly significant at $566.00 a year, but with the combination of increased rates and government rebates we may very well see rain barrels at a few Canadian properties. Golf courses in Australia and Arizona are already embracing this approach and are actually collecting rainwater in underground cisterns to reduce evaporation and leakage.

• One area we commonly overlook when it comes to water conservation is inside the maintenance facility or clubhouse. Kitchens, cooling systems and washrooms are huge users of tap water, especially during tournaments when everything gets used at once. There are a number of rebates available to Ottawa (and many other Municipalities) area golf courses including a $60 rebate for single-flush 6L and dual flush 3/6L toilets and a $75 rebate for high-efficiency toilets that flush with 4.8L or less. In addition golf courses are eligible for the High Volume User Rebate Program that can be valued up to $10,000.

BMPs should change to reflect new standards and expectations, we must constantly re-evaluate our management practices to ensure they are on the right track. As long as you’re focused on using environmental resources as efficiently as possible, you’ll on your way to being environmentally sustainable.