A Conversation with Ken Cousineau


I always jump at the opportunity to discuss the future of golf with someone who has influence, understands the issues and is capable of thinking outside the box, so obviously I was thrilled to sit down with the Executive Director of the Canadian Golf Superintendent Association Ken Cousineau.

I was curious to learn the influence of the CGSA on the Canadian golf industry, and how Ken guides the CGSA to facilitate the societal, regulatory and technological changes related to the environment growing at what seems to be an expediential rate.

Turfhugger.com – What does the general public think of our industry? Do they understand the issues as we do?

Ken Cousineau – I find the general public understands the environment influences the original design of the golf course, it’s easy to see how the architect reveals the lay of the land, but it doesn’t stop there. So much of what happens on the course after is also an environmental influence from pest pressures, airflow, drainage, to wildlife and rainfall. The role of the superintendent is to identify these influences specific to their property and manage them in a way that cooperates with nature.

Turfhugger.com – Because if you compete with nature you will loose?

Ken Cousineau – Exactly. You’ll not only loose with the environment, you’ll loose in the public eye. The public is very concerned about environmental issues, as are we. That’s why when we look at these issues we must look at them in a science-based method. I’m not sure if much of the public understands the way golf courses use resources like water, there are many misconceptions.
A golf course isn’t like a bottled water company that takes the water right out of the environment and redistributes it all over the world. Many courses are designed to direct rainfall in to reservoirs and use the water multiple times. Also, we are seeing a lot of courses redirect storm water runoff from parking lots and neighboring properties. The use of effluent has become quite popular in golf community and resort projects.

Turfhugger.com – There a lot of properties that have no choice but to use water from streams, rivers and aquifers some of which are running low. What is the CGSA doing to ensure these courses are not over using those resources?

Ken Cousineau – With all environmental issues we aim to develop policies and expose our members to technologies and programs to help them better manage their natural resources. We’ve looked at each area of environmental concern (Water Conservation, Water Quality, Habitat, Pest Control, Air Quality etc…) and have adopted policies to establish what is an appropriate position within these issues. These policies help our members to understand what appropriate conduct or position to take on particular issues is. These positions and policies are forever evolving, taking into consideration new research and regulatory requirements. The policies allow our members to claim a position on a particular issue.

We take the opportunity through the website, or through the magazine to promote new technologies, products or programs with the aim to use our resources more efficiently. I think our superintendents are experiencing a similar situation now as what the whole industry experienced in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, with the big golf course boom. The number of courses grew, while the number of golfers grew but not at a rate where it evened off. There are still too many courses for the number of avid golfers and some courses may not succeed.

Similarly on the environmental side we see a number of private and public environmental programs like Audubon, GEO, E-Par and even municipal by-laws and provincial programs too. The market is saturated and superintendents are left asking the question “what do I do, what will work the best for me in the long-term?”. Obviously they have to reach the standards set by regulatory bodies first and then consider the other programs meant to specialize in stewardship. Ultimately a program that is cost effective, will help the superintendent reach all regulatory requirements and is able to deal with environmental issues effectively will be the most helpful. That’s a lot to ask but that’s why we try to expose all of our members to all of the options and let the free market decide.

Turfhugger.com – So why is it that despite all of these positive environmental management strategies, products and technologies, golf courses still have a negative image in the public eye?

Ken Cousineau – I think there are some organizations out there that are legitimately concerned about land use issues but have decided to focus on golf courses without stepping back and taking an un-biased and truthful look at the situation. I think if they really evaluated the golf industry and dropped these pre-conceived ideas of what a golf course is they would find something very different. Every time I fly in to Chicago I notice how much green pace is provided by the golf courses. If you look at Toronto for example, many people talk about how great it is to have High Park in the city, but then turn to golf courses and view them as detrimental to the environment. High Park is a fraction of the size of the amount of green space that golf courses provide.

[Side Note: High Park is 398 Acres with about 135 acres (1/3 of total space) of natural areas. The park is fragmented from wildlife corridors and mostly surrounded by residential, commercial and highways. Toronto golf courses (13 with Toronto Addresses) are generally situated within river corridors and are approximately 200 Acres each, adding up to about 2,600 Acres of green space. The average urban golf course consists of approximately 15-30% of naturalized areas, making at least approximately 390 Acres of naturalized habitat. I’d love to get some concrete numbers, as this is a rough estimate, perhaps this should be a future article of mine.]

Let’s face it, if these golf courses were not constructed when they were, those properties would not be parkland, they’d likely be houses. If you take the park at the corner of the street and try to turn it into what a golf course would do with an out-of-play area by no longer irrigating it, and naturalizing the space with native meadow plants and birdhouses, people would be outraged. Politically it wouldn’t happen. So I think golf courses if anything are even more advanced then what our public space policies currently are.

Outside of the city we see developments popping up around the golf courses that are directing water into sewer pipes then directly into these golf courses. This direct run-off increases the flow and has caused damage to the infrastructure of some of these golf courses. The water is filthy, carrying hydrocarbons from roads and who know what else. Golf courses have taken on the role of filtering these pollutants, while still trying to maintain all of the other roles the course fulfills. I’m not saying that every golf course in Canada is 100% perfect but I’m confident the majority are doing things right and are part of the solution.

Turfhugger.com – So how do we get the public to understand this? What is the CGSA doing to help change the public perception?

Ken Cousineau – We’ve created a package for our members that will help them answer questions related to the environment, and we’re currently working on the 6th edition of the Environmental Management Resource Manual for Canadian Golf Courses, (More info on the manual) that should be ready for this winter. It’s the 6th edition in 8 years because things are really moving that quickly in our industry. The CGSA is committed to maintain these resources and keep them available to our members. We’ve had the National Allied Golf Association adopt our environmental policies and we are working closely with all of NAGA’s members to communicate our efforts so that the industry as whole can be prepared to convey our message to members, the public and the press.

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