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GCSAA Members Lead Green Efforts: How Golf Courses Protect the Environment

Acres of grass, majestic trees, tranquil bodies of water. If it weren’t for the flags and tee markers, you might think you were in a national park and not on a golf course.

Golf courses offer not just a beautiful place to engage in a family friendly sport, but a variety of benefits to almost any community. Golf courses are also economic power houses. According to Golf 20/20, the nation’s golf courses add about $20.5 billion in direct revenues and $62 billion total to the economy every year. In addition, the annual impact of golf on charitable giving is more than $3.2 billion.

Along with the economic benefits, golf courses provide habitat, serve as natural water treatment systems, improve air quality, and offer community green spaces.

On the average golf course, more than 70 percent of the area is considered rough and out of play, according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). These areas of natural grasses, trees and shrubs offer appealing homes to species from throughout the animal kingdom. Golf course ponds, rivers and streams also provide aquatic plants and animals, and water fowl a place to call home.

Saving the Birds

Size is not a constraint for golf course superintendents when it comes to conservation efforts.

The Landings Club in Savannah, Ga., is the largest private club in America and home of GCSAA-certified golf course superintendent Michael J. Perham. Perham has restored many natural areas around the 800-acre property and established a sparrow field at a former turf nursery, resulting in regeneration of the rare Henslow’s Sparrow.

“The sparrow field is a five-acre former turf nursery site and materials staging area that the club, in concert with the birdwatchers, targeted as a natural weed field to attract a diversity of birds indigenous to open areas,” he explained. “The Henslow’s Sparrow has been observed at the field since 2002.”

Perham, who won a national 2006 Golf Digest/GCSAA Environmental Leaders in Golf Award for his efforts, says that the environmental stewardship is simply part of the club’s cohesiveness with its community.

“Interactive stewardship is everywhere here,” Perham said.

Ways to Handle Water

Water is a key factor in any golf course operation, and golf courses help retain and filter water in return. Well-conditioned turf absorbs and filters runoff rainwater to the point that in many communities, golf courses have become water recycling sites and use treated wastewater for irrigation. Turf is also conducive to growing microorganisms that cleanse water by digesting and speeding up the normal breakdown of contaminants in the water.

However, water issues do not always have simple solutions and can involve multi-year projects.

For GCSAA-certified golf course superintendent Dan Dinelli, erosion control was at the top of his project list. Dinelli and his staff at North Shore Country Club in Northbrook, Ill., developed an erosion control and bank stabilization plan for its ponds and streams, which not only provides better water quality on the course, but also improved the aesthetics of the course’s water features.

“We’ve enhanced our watershed’s health by improving the water quality through erosion control,” Dinelli said. “In doing so, we’ve enhanced the aquatic habitat not only benefiting aquatic species, but providing plenty of opportunities for our members and guests to enjoy their environment.”

Turf is also a friend of the air. Not only does a golf course provide a large area of flora that takes carbon dioxide from the air and turns it into oxygen, but it also provides a natural “air conditioner”—particularly in urban areas where much of the land is covered by asphalt.

From Course to Clubhouse

Golf clubs are also taking steps throughout the facility to make a positive environmental impact.

Michael Powers, GCSAA-certified golf course superintendent at Tournament Players Club (TPC) Twin Cities, oversees environmentally friendly practices from the course to the clubhouse.

“Resource conservation at TPC Twin Cities is a multi-faceted approach with participation of all employees, including the golf course maintenance, golf shop, club house, and food and beverage staffs,” Powers said.

At TPC Twin Cities, an acid injection system is used to lower bicarbonate levels in the irrigation water, which preserves soil structure. This practice also leads to the reduction of localized dry spot, thus reducing water needs. The clubhouse also exemplifies sound environmental practices through a geothermal environmental control system, which uses a series of heat pumps to realize a fifty percent savings in energy costs.

TPC Twin Cities efforts also extend to composting organic materials from the golf course and general recycling throughout the club.

“Our waste oil and filters generated through equipment use and maintenance are picked up for recycling,” Powers said. “All burnt-out fluorescent bulbs are recycled. Recycling receptacles are available for paper, cardboard, glass aluminum and tin cans. The clubhouse administrative offices and the maintenance department have implemented a policy to recycle 100 percent of the waste paper we generate.”

Eye on Change

From focusing on conservation and environmental stewardship to providing communities with improved air and water and natural habitats for wildlife, golf courses will continue to have a positive impact on the environment, especially as more and more clubs adopt environmentally friendly practices.

To learn more about what you can do, visit or

Angela Nitz is GCSAA’s manager, corporate communications. For more information about GCSAA, visit For more information about the Environmental Institute for Golf, visit 


New Study Provides Environmental Profile on Golf Courses

The Environmental Institute for Golf, the philanthropic organization of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, is the by-product of a collaborative effort of the golf and environmental communities.

The Institute is committed to strengthening the compatibility of golf with our natural environment. The primary areas of the Institute’s environmental focus are:

  • Water management
  • Integrated plant management
  • Wildlife and habitat management
  • Golf course siting, design and construction
  • Energy and waste management

In 2006, GCSAA launched the Golf Course Environmental Profile Project, thanks to funding from the Institute and The Toro Foundation. One of the challenges of demonstrating golf’s relationship with the environment has been a lack of centralized, uniform data for the features, management practices and environmental stewardship efforts associated with golf courses.

The goal of the multi-year Environmental Profile Project is to collect information from superintendents on their courses and practices. The results of the project will be used to:

  • Document environmental progress and determine the future direction of GCSAA environmental programming
  • Identify key issues for potential research projects
  • Respond to the government’s inquiries, answer the public’s questions about environmental issues, and promote the efforts superintendents are making on their golf courses
  • Provide a solid basis for comments on proposed regulatory issues that may impact the golf industry

To date, information from superintendents has been collected on three phases of the project: the physical profile of a golf facility; water use and conservation; and, this past spring, the amount of nutrients applied to golf courses. The data collected from the first three phases is being analyzed, and results from the first phase will appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal later this year.

“We have been pleased by the response rate,” GCSAA Director of Research Clark Throssell, Ph.D., said. “It is vital that we get data from all types of facilities. The information will help GCSAA to better serve them in managing their facilities.”

Not only will the initial results serve as baseline information for the project, but they will be used to help superintendents and facility personnel to become better managers, help them operate more efficiently and lead to GCSAA developing more valuable programs and services. Such information will include details about playing surfaces, natural resources, environmental stewardship efforts and maintenance practices on golf courses.

For more information about the Environmental Profile Project, visit

EDGE:  The Online Resource 

GCSAA and The Environmental Institute for Golf established a comprehensive, online environmental resource on golf and the environment. EDGE is a Web-based tool intended for a variety of audiences, including superintendents, the environmental community, lawmakers, golf course owners, golfers and nongolfers.

EDGE, supported in part by a grant from The Toro Foundation, features relevant best management practice documents, case studies, and links to environmental resources. Like The Institute, the primary focus areas for EDGE are water management, integrated plant management, wildlife management, golf course siting, design and construction, and energy and waste management.

Users of EDGE can find it by visiting and clicking on the “The EDGE” section. Once there, readers can do a general search, or search by topical area, item type (case study, best management practices, technical information, etc.), title, author or geographical location.

To highlight what is available on EDGE, the homepage features Green Links, “Highlights from the EDGE.” Green Links is a column hosted by GCSAA Class-A superintendent David Phipps, of Stone Creek Golf Course in Oregon City, Ore., who presents a new case study summary from EDGE each month. The featured case studies can be found in their entirety on EDGE,.

“EDGE is a growing resource with a variety of environmental topics. It’s a wonderful resource for all of us to use. It’s a great place for superintendents to get ideas that they can apply to their own courses,” Phipps said.

Superintendents can submit their own case studies and add to the growing amount of information on EDGE by simply filling out a ready-to-use online template. Submissions will help superintendents, GCSAA and The Institute further serve the golf course management profession and enhance golf’s compatibility with the environment. To access EDGE, visit