Achieving ACSP Certification at Overlake GCC

Shortly after I accepted the Assistant Golf Course Superintendent’s position at Overlake Golf & Country Club, it was a goal of mine to guide the club through the process of becoming a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through Audubon International. I had been involved with the program at other clubs and knew what a great tool it could be to highlight environmental excellence at Overlake.

The first section of the certification process, Environmental Planning, was challenging for me as it involves a lot of information gathering. This section requires a description of all of your site information and development of a general plan on how you will institute all of your environmental programs. It also sets up your plan for the subsequent five sections, so I wanted to devote significant time to it.

I was tempted at first to take on everything myself, but soon found out that it was just too time-consuming to complete all of the paperwork, institute new environmental programs and manage the staff to ensure we were maintaining exceptional playing conditions on a daily basis. While course conditions continued to improve, and major projects were being implemented on the golf course, I was a bit frustrated with how slowly the Audubon program was progressing. I finally came to the conclusion that, in addition to my day-to-day responsibilities of managing the course, there just weren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish this undertaking on my own.

2nd Assistant Superintendent Marcus Harness and Horticulturist Lacey Leinbaugh explaining the difference between native and exotic plants to the students of St. Thomas School
I realized that I am fortunate enough to work with many highly educated and highly trained people, each of whom can bring their own expertise to the program. Audubon International encourages you to get as many people involved as possible, which allows the mindset of high environmental standards to permeate through the staff, members and the community as a whole. I began by forming a core committee of staff members who were each responsible for one section of the program. Lacey Leinbaugh, the club’s Horticulturist, assisted me on the Environmental Planning section as well as being in charge of Wildlife Habitat Management. Spray Technician Ryan Rosevear coordinated the Pesticide Use, Reduction and Safety section. Irrigation Technician Jeff Nass completed the Water Use section and 2nd Assistant Superintendents Chris Thornton and Marcus Harness completed the Water Quality Management and Outreach and Education sections, respectively. We also involved community members by working with teachers through the First Green of Washington program. The past two years, we have used the course to provide environmental learning opportunities for students from Interlake High School in Bellevue and St. Thomas School in Medina. As the program continues to grow we are adding more club and community members to our Audubon Resource Advisory Group.

Soon after organizing the Resource Advisory Group, we completed our Environmental Plan. We began to hold monthly meetings and set a goal to achieve certification by the end of 2011. The committee worked very hard to achieve this goal and in December, Overlake was rewarded by becoming a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through Audubon International.

The second is of the goats working on a large patch of blackberry adjacent to the sixth hole.

One notable highlight of our environmental efforts included using a herd of goats for brush management in an area where it was not possible for staff to remove brush by hand. Overlake hired over two hundred brush goats for a week in May and they were able to clear several acres of undesirable blackberry and thistle. This would have taken our staff several weeks to complete the same task and taken valuable work hours away from the playable areas of the course. This also allowed us to reduce chemical usage, especially since this area lies in an environmentally sensitive no-spray zone.

Throughout this process we have continued to evaluate all of our programs and determine ways to improve both operational and environmental efficiencies. Some of our programs have had an immediate positive effect on the playability and presentation of the golf course. Maintaining the course in a firm, dry condition has resulted in a significant reduction of water usage. Irrigation and fertilization of many rough areas has been reduced and in some cases, eliminated altogether. Several out-of-play areas have been converted into “native” vegetation areas, where grasses have been allowed to grow long and native trees and understory plants have been planted and encouraged. The members at Overlake appreciate the club’s commitment to the environment and have embraced these changes, as well as the unique challenges that a firm, fast course provides.

Since achieving certification, Overlake Golf & Country Club has no intention of resting on our laurels. We continue to hold our Resource Advisory Group meetings; this year we will further examine each section of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program to determine ways to continually expand our environmental programs. While we are extremely proud to have achieved certification, we believe that it is really just the beginning of what can be accomplished at Overlake. We look forward to continuing our commitment to the environment with the assistance of Audubon International in the years to come.
Cory Brown has been an Assistant Superintendent for over 10 years, the last 5 of which have been spent at Overlake Golf and Country Club, in Medina, Washington. Scott Stambaugh has been Superintendent at golf courses in California and Washington and the Superintendent of Overlake GCC for the past 6 years. (Also, check out this local news story about their ACSP efforts)

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