Sustainability - What level are you at?

Last week I was driving to a turf seminar and while stuck in road works on the world renowned M25 (looking at Caterpillar diggers) I started to wonder; How sustainable am I? Apart from thinking that the motorway (highway for you North American boys) was not very sustainable I started to think about all the good things I'm doing. Less fungicide, less herbicide, basically less pesticides all make me happy. Then I thought about the grass species I like; creeping bent grass, poa annua and ryegrass and I started to panic. Perhaps I am not sustainable. Will my world fall apart?

A well maintained creeping bent green

When the R & A brought out their articles about sustainability and the reintroduction of the finer grass, fescue all those years ago, it gave turf guys like me a bad name. We were seen as the bad guys who would work with species that the R & A classed as unsustainable such as poa annua. The fact that people like me see this grass as an indigenous species which if managed correctly can produce 1st class surfaces, didn’t matter to these guys. We were unsustainable and it’s as simple as that!

Looking back over my career I’ve always felt I was a sustainable turf manager. The surfaces that I produced were always what the R & A wanted; Firm, fast and true. But the fact that I was not doing this with their ‘dream’ grass fescue was seen as a sin in their eyes. So what does sustainability really mean?

This is a hard question to answer and I’m not too sure there is one answer. In Wikipedia (my new dictionary) it says ‘ the capacity to endure’ meaning the ability to last. But what does this mean in the turf business? Which is more 'sustainable', the golf club that produces fescue greens but is losing money through a lack of customers, or the high end golf club who has very high chemical usage but is making huge sums of money? See. It's hard to answer.

Well me being me I have to have an opinion on it.

In all the years I’ve been visiting golf clubs I don’t think I’ve ever met a greenkeeper who I thought was ‘unsustainable’. Yes they could be doing some things better, but on the whole they try their best. They top-dress often, reduce their fertility levels and generally produce a good surface under trying circumstances. We know some guys are more proactive than others, but a lot of this comes down to what the clubs want and what resources they have at their disposal.

So what is sustainable in the golf industry? I’ve categorised that there are 3 levels. Which one do you fall in to?

1. The top levelAll singing, all dancing ultra-sustainable. No outside agencies to help you maintain the course. Sheep used instead of mowers, seed produced on site (not at a factory in Holland), and all fertilisers (if needed) produced from local manure. Not many clubs fall into this category me thinks.

2. The middle levelA more realistic approach. Good surfaces are produced that deliver profitable businesses without the need for high end budgets.

3. The bottom level
A high end unsustainable approach. Huge resources are needed to produce a product but the numbers don’t add up. Manchester City comes to mind in this level.

So there you are, this is my take on sustainability. 3 levels with the majority of us falling in to the middle category. For the record I consider myself in level 2. Yes, at certain times of the year I do rely on chemicals but this is done at a reasonable cost, without the need for excessive use, but ultimately gives the customer a product that they can market and sell. That’s the balance we all have to get right!