A Sustainable Golf Course

Last December I posted the following piece on my blog. The piece took a look at many of the practices we had put into place to create a sustainable golf course. Scott asked me the other day to give an update on how our efforts went this season. First, the original post for your reading enjoyment. In the next couple days I will post on how things went this past season; what worked, what did not and what we learned. 

The word sustainable has been gaining popularity and momentum in the golf course business for a few years. Sustainability and sustainable practices have been discussed multiple times on this blog and I am proud to say we practice sustainable turfgrass management at Northland. Recently, as I have written blog posts and articles I have been thinking about what, exactly, it means to "practice sustainable turfgrass management".

To sustain something is to keep it going or continue its being. For us at Northland, sustainable turfgrass management is about developing programs and practices, which can be sustained over time, regardless of the environmental or economic conditions. The past three seasons of turfgrass management at Northland have been about finding the practices, which best allow us to maintain at top quality golf course despite changing and uncertain environments of all sorts. As you read through the "Organizational Reviews", which began last week with tees and will continue after the holidays, you will find sustainable practices to be the very foundation on which we manage this golf course.

A couple of examples:

  • In November of 2008 I posted on how a simple change in fairway mowing patterns and frequency had saved us money and put those dollar to better use improving the quality of the golf course. If you missed it or need to refresh your memory, you can read the post here.

  • Pesticide restrictions are becoming more and more common around the world. In Europe and Canada restrictions have been put in place nation-wide, while many state and local governments in this country have enacted restrictions, on a smaller scale. To this point Northland remains unaffected by pesticide restrictions but with one of the world's largest sources of fresh water sitting right out our front door the possibilities of future restrictions are strong. While we have not been forced into pesticide restrictions, at this time, the use of a sustainable approach has allowed us to move away from the need to rely on pesticide use in our turfgrass management.

  • Fertility, along with water are the two life driving requirements of turfgrass. In the past two years the increased price of fertilizer has caused golf course superintendents everywhere to take a hard look at their fertility programs. Here at Northland we have made a drastic change to how we approach turf fertility. Rather than give the turf everything it needs we ask our turf, in a sense, to find its own food. Many of you may remember the email I sent in my first season as Golf Course Superintendent. In that email I compared our turf transition to turning a couch potato into a world class athlete. By reducing fertility and forcing the plants to work for what they get we have created a strong sustainable turf in which the strong plants thrive and the weak plants disappear.

  • Last but not least is water. Without water, turf would have a difficult if not impossible time surviving. However, in excess water can very well be the single biggest detriment to fine turf. The reduction of water use has probably been the most noticeable change at Northland in the past three seasons. Water reduction has come, at times at the expense of color. However, the reduction of water has seen many more far-reaching benefits. The reduction of water has, along with fertility reduction, helped create a tougher turf. This is evident when seeing the root structure, visible in this photo, after an irrigation blow-out on 18 fairway.

    Check out the roots this irrigation blowout on 18 exposed. Th... on Twitpic

    Reducing water has not only strengthened the turf it allowed us to drastically reduce other inputs. In addition to the above mentioned reduction in fertility we have, over the past three seasons, been able to drastically reduce or eliminate expensive fungicide applications to our playing surfaces. In large part this is due to the reduction of water usage. When speaking about water it is important to note that our reduction of use has not left us under-watering but rather watering only to a level which sustains healthy turf; a proper level of water use.

A sustainable golf course can mean many things. At Northland it means we are producing a product, which can be sustained across the varying environments a golf course might face from season to season.