Move over Leno and Letterman. Thom Nikolai and the Turfgrass Talk
Show have come to town!
Backed by the jazz trio Mirage, Nikolai led a discussion on sustainability with guest celebrities Michael Morris, CGCS, Crystal Downs Country Club, Michigan; Nick Bright, Golf Course Superintendent, Daufuskie Island Club & Resort, South Carolina; David Davies, CGCS, TPC Stonebrae, California; and Tim Hiers, CGCS, The Old Collier Golf Club, Florida; and Greg Lyman, GCSAA’s director of Environmental Programs.
The superintendents represented diverse experiences: Bright is at a course coming back from bankruptcy; Davies is at a course with a housing development that has been slowed by the economy; Hiers is well known for his extensive efforts to make his course a sanctuary for wildlife; and Morris believes that the term sustainability has been “overused and oversold.”
To show just how diverse golf courses can be, Bright, Davies and Hiers described the challenges at their courses --- from California to South Carolina and Florida.
As everyone who reads GCM knows, Bright kept the grass alive at Melrose GC during bankruptcy with a staff of four, limited equipment and virtually no budget. He figured out how to maintain a decent looking course without overseeding and found that the course is faster and firmer. Now that he has funding, he’s brought back aeration and topdressing and reclaimed wetland areas. One problem is that heavy rains caused the 18th green to fall into the ocean, so a temporary green is being used while the 18th is being rebuilt. Being forced to get by with the barest of necessities has led Bright to make management changes that he would not have otherwise.
In contrast, Davies is at TPC Stonebrae east of San Francisco at an elevation of 1500 feet. However, he sees similarities in the challenges faced by superintendents: “Everything we do is based on profitability and resource management.” Davies also echoed Morris’s thoughts about diversity, but took a different direction. Cultural diversity is important – how are golf courses trying to reach other groups? He said, “Not just affluent anglos are playing golf --- we can’t cater to that mindset.” He sees sustainability as “positive resource management.” At TPC Stonebrae, 90% of the waste generated is recycled, and water use has been reduced by 18%-20% each year. In addition, all tees are surrounded by native vegetation, and 400 goats are brought in seasonally to control out-of-play areas.
Tim Hiers and Old Collier Golf Club have received numerous environmental awards over the years. The course is a haven for numerous bird species, reptiles (including snakes) and pollinators. Hiers calls sustainability a balancing act that can and should result in efficient use of resources, increased and diverse habitat, improved playability, aesthetic balance and improved employee performance. When they are trying to achieve these goals, superintendent should not be afraid to ask for help, said Hiers, who pointed out that Eileen Buss, Ph.D., at the University of Florida, helped him solve his grub problem without pesticides, which saves time, money, and yes, is environmentally friendly. Because Old Collier uses brackish water for irrigation, the course is seashore paspalum, which is more salt-tolerant than some other turf species. Old Collier is a veritable laboratory of sustainable golf course management practices with everything from leaving tree snags for nesting birds to recycling grass clippings and outfitting trees with lightening protection.
Ultimately, the lesson is that sustainability can take different forms depending on the course and the situation, but sustainability is about relationship management, financial management and environmental management. Sustainability may be a catchword, but it is also a necessity.