Golf course owners and operators have an opportunity and obligation to provide a high quality golf course that is in harmony with the conservation of its natural environment. They need to be both environmentally and socially responsible in the management and maintenance of their courses. This article provides a summary of how golf course managers can be more sustainable. It is an excellent getting started guide for eco friendly golf course maintenance practices.

The Importance of Environmentally Responsible Golf Course Maintenance

Perfectly manicured and unnaturally green golf courses maintained by excessive watering and chemical treatments are not sustainable. Many common course maintenance practices hurt our planet and use scarce resources. The goal of sustainable golf course management is to create and manage dry, firm and playable fairways and greens that are populated by grasses and plants that require the least chemicals, fertilizer and water for maintenance. With the right policies and processes, golf course managers can reduce waste and minimize the risk of polluting the environment.

Top 5 Sustainable Golf Course Management Initiatives

The shared goal of the golfing industry is to offer a sustainable course to the community that is managed with a focus on water conservation, energy conservation, alternative energy usage and pollution prevention. Effective sustainable maintenance starts with these five areas:

1. Water Management – Use effective irrigation and drainage to minimize water usage

  • The goal of water management is to minimize the amount of water used and to reuse water when possible.
  • Reuse water to conserve. About 13% of United States golf courses use recycled water through piping allowing for excess water to be collected and reused in the future. This may require meeting with an expert and investing in innovative highly efficient irrigation technology and practices; 
  • Use certain types of grass seed. Bermuda or zoysia grass are heat, drought and salinity resistant in the summer months and call for less water usage and still maintain their natural green color during the winter seasons.  

2. Mowing – Lower fossil fuel fuel emissions with fewer cuts and electric equipment.

  • The goal of eco-friendly mowing is to minimize energy consumption and harness renewable resources.
  • Reduce how often you mow. With fairways and greens being mowed at a rate of 2-4 times a week to maintain course expectations, harmful emissions are being released at the same rate from gas powered mowers harming the environment and quality of grass.
  • Use electric eco-friendly lawn mowers and landscaping equipment in order to reduce/eliminate the harmful carbon emissions released into the environment. Use solar or wind to power your course and charge your equipment.

3. Fertilizer – Use safe and the least amount of fertilizer to achieve the desired results.

  • Apply fertilizer in a safe way that protects air, water and soil quality and eliminate the risk of over fertilization, which often results in the killing of plants and grass. 
  • Use organic fertilizers where possible. Chemical fertilizers are made for short-term growth but in the long-term, end up hurting plants and grass. There are many options for organic fertilizers which are great alternatives including this list from Green Business Bureau’s article on Best Organic Fertilizers

4. Aeration – Be sure to implement hollow coring and solid tining at the correct times.

  • Aeration done right is eco friendly. It assists with soil compacting allowing better air and moisture penetration resulting in moisture hydrating the soil more efficiently and saving water in the long term. 
  • Aerating soil is most effective during the peak growth period which is typically late spring into early summer as well as early fall. It is advised to only aerate soil 1-3 times a year (depending on climate) to ensure the soil isn’t too “loose” but rather properly aerated. 

5. Top Dressing – Apply sandy materials at rates and frequencies that counter thatch accumulation.

  • Placing a small layer of sand on greens, will improve aeration as well as water drainage.
  • Similar to aerating soil, a top dressing of sand should only be applied 1-2 times per year during the peak growing period for grass (Late spring to early summer, as well as early fall).
  • Top dressing acts as a long-term fertilizer, enhancing soil structure and sustainability towards lawn stresses and thatch build up

Sustainability and Golf Go Hand In Hand

Environmental and social stewardship have always been at the heart of golf. Great golf courses respect their natural surroundings and the environment. They provide beauty, trees, plants and a green space to towns or cities. The courses also provide natural habitats and ecosystems for birds and other animals. 

But golf course owners and operators need to tread lightly on natural resources. They need to conserve water, avoid pollution and keep a minimal carbon footprint. When done responsibly, golf provides employment, recreation and education to the surrounding communities.

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