Is Your Course Environmentally and Economically Sound? February 28, 2015

Econ Sustain

The game of golf faces two difficult issues affecting every course in the country – environmental and economic sustainability – and both require attention. Environmental sustainability is impacted by water and wildlife issues.  Economically, the cost of maintenance and shrinking free time for golfers presents challenges. A common obstacle is unrealistic expectations about course conditioning. Fortunately, there is plenty of room to adjust expectations without damaging the integrity of the game.

To help these efforts, the USGA staff has assembled a list of questions that every facility should consider regarding best management practices (BMPs) for sustainability.  The goal is to help courses assess their own situation and develop actions to improve. There never will be an end point; the journey is one of continual progress and improvement. 

Click each question to reveal a collection of resources generated by the USGA Green Section staff and USGA-funded research.

Does your facility have a written set of maintenance standards?

Let's face it; golf courses are businesses that serve thousands of customers each year. Golf course superintendents are given a budget, equipment, and staff, and are asked to meet or exceed customer expectations. Other successful businesses have standard operating procedures and long-range plans to improve daily operations and customer satisfaction. Likewise, golf courses should have a set of written maintenance standards that outline the goals and procedures for day-to-day operations.

Golf course maintenance standards are guidelines that detail the manner in which a golf course is maintained on a daily basis. They are not instruction manuals for each cultural practice, or a list of job descriptions for employees, although these can be included. They are, however, formal documents that outline golf course maintenance goals and the necessary practices for meeting these goals. These plans can be very helpful in addressing budgetary concerns and customer expectations.


Information to help implement this strategy at your course:


Setting standards: Creating effective written maintenance standards is easier than you think

What are maintenance standards guidelines

The role of the green chairman: Lessons learned while being on the green committee for more than 30 years

Form vs. function: The "WOW" factor can be costly

Building and maintaining the truly affordable golf course

Perfection is not attainable!: However, setting reasonable goals can allow for an objective evaluation of course conditions

Pacific standard time: A simple method to create continuity for your maintenance operation

Is the course maintained in a manner consistent with the available budget and labor?

Should the predictions prove true that the economic challenges already facing the golf industry will continue to grow, most courses will have to implement steps to reduce labor costs. Careful purchasing decisions for fertilizer and pesticide products can save some money and are worth consideration, but the "800-pound gorilla" in every maintenance budget is labor. Facilities that have to make major reductions in expenses are almost certainly going to reduce the number of hours spent taking care of the golf course. The obvious step is to look for areas where labor hours can be reduced and adjusting expectations while still maximizing the playing quality and long-term agronomic health of the course.


Information to help you implement this strategy at your course:


Form vs. function: The "WOW" factor can be costly

Dollars and sense: Making it in a tough economy: In these hard times, superintendents have to be extra creative

Plan your work, work your plan: Know what it costs

Nothing comes for free: Any maintenance practice that provides long-term improvement will require money and short-term acceptance of reduced playability, inconvenience, or both

Less turf + less water = less cost: Preparing a turf assessment plan can help find ways to save

It's about time: A comprehensive time/labor study can help prioritize limited resources

All aboard! Part 1: Working together has never been more essential

All aboard! Part 2: Working together has never been more essential

Golf course maintenance budget survey: How does your course compare?

Bunkers: Can your golf course afford them?: Due to the high cost of maintaining them, bunkers are an obvious place to look for ways to save money

Precision Turfgrass Management: A new concept for efficient application of inputs

Does the facility have a written environmental plan?

Environmental stewardship covers a wide variety of topics, from water conservation and water quality management, to management practices that keep playing surfaces healthy, problems in check, and wildlife habitats thriving. Conducting an environmental assessment and preparing a good environmental plan articulates the vision of the course and provides direction: they define goals, identify methods and establish personnel responsibilities and timelines.

Turfgrass areas should be managed with the primary goal of optimizing the health of the turfgrass and improving playability while reducing inputs. An environmental management plan identifies environmental assets on the golf course, defines the goals for maximizing these areas and outlines implementation strategies. Components of this important analysis encompass many topics, such as:  

  • Water use
  • Water quality
  • Energy use
  • Pesticide and fertilizer use
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Maintenance standards

The plan itself may be relatively simple or complex, but it should be comprehensive.  


Information to help implement this strategy at your course:


Environmental Stewardship Requires a Successful Plan: Can the Turfgrass Industry State One?  

Environmental Management Systems: A New Standard For Environmental Management Is Coming

The Devil Is In The Details: Environmental Management Systems (EMS) And Golf Courses

How is the golf maintenance facility minimizing risks to the environment?

Whenever superintendents gather for an educational meeting, it’s a sure bet that environmental issues will be discussed. Although most superintendents are aware of the need to improve the environmental aspects of their courses, it is often an uphill battle to convince their employers that associated costs justify the actions that should be taken. The hesitation on the part of the course leadership to address environmental issues is often due to a lack of understanding of the problems, a belief that their course is not a potential threat to the environment, and a concern that any action might invite closer scrutiny from outsiders. By taking a proactive approach at the maintenance facility and the clubhouse and choosing projects that cut costs and reduce risk, potential problems can be minimized and avoided, and the golf course can serve as an environmental model.  


Information to help you implement this strategy at your course:


Environmental common sense - A sample "in-house" audit

Evolving equipment washing technology and what's in that water: The environmental and technological aspects of cleaning golf course maintenance equipment

Getting it right: A success story from Lake Merced Golf Club

A guided tour: The evolving maintenance facility

Washing your cares away: Gaining an equipment wash rack upgrade as part of the turf management center master plan

Turf care centers: The heartbeat of golf turf conditioning!: Like a stone thrown into a pond, course maintenance activities originate and ripple out from the maintenance facility

Pesticide storage: One step ahead

Webcast:  Designing, Constructing, and Operating a Sustainable Maintenance Facility

How are golf course water features protected?

Maintaining good water quality is a priority for golfers, wildlife and the environment. Golf courses are diverse landscapes that need to be managed carefully to protect both the land and the water features. Many best management practices routinely recommend that golf course superintendents maintain a vegetated buffer around water features to help filter the water and protect the water feature, as well as provide habitat for wildlife.   


Information to help you implement this strategy at your course:

Best management practices to reduce pesticide runoff from turf  

Using golf courses to bolster amphibian communities: University of Missouri scientists provide amphibian management guidelines for ecologically minded superintendents

Nutrient loss in runoff from turf: Effect on surface water quality

Getting through the winter: Helping frogs and salamanders survive 

What goes up must come down: Innovation benefitting water and wildlife at The Villages of Sumter

Using buffer zones to promote amphibian populations

Golf course wetlands as refuges for turtles

Optimizing vegetative filter strips to treat runoff from turf

Protecting water quality on and off the golf course: Design features for filtering fertilizer nutrients

Buffer strips, runoff, and leachate: Research compares nutrient loading in runoff and leachate when buffer strips are used alongside golf course fairways

Mowing roughs to minimize runoff: Scientists at Oklahoma State University demonstrate the environmental protection value of multiple-height roughs

What is a buffer?


Is your golf course an active member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program?

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses (ACSP) is an award-winning education and certification program that helps golf courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf.  The program helps golf officials enhance valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats that golf courses provide, improve efficiency and minimize potentially harmful impacts of golf operations.

Another component of the program is the Audubon Signature Program, designed to provide environmental planning assistance to new developments. The program assists landowners, including golf courses and developers, design for the environment so that both economic and environmental objectives are realized. Once construction is complete, involvement in the ACSP ensures that managers apply sustainable resource management practices for the long-term stewardship of the property.


Information to help implement this strategy at your course:


The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses by Ron Dodson

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses by Josh Conway

Take the pledge for greener golf: It's time for golfers to dedicate themselves to making nature an integral part of their game

Display your way to success: Informational displays help achieve goals in the Audubon Green Golfer Challenge

Half full or half empty?: The state of golf's environmental game

ACSP - What your peers think: Word from the field is that the ACSP is the way to go

Seeing is believing: Certification verification yields public relations benefits

The benefits of Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Certification: The certification process provides environmental, educational, financial, and personal benefits

Golf's environmental message: Old news or new?: Now is not the time to be complacent with golf's environmental issues

Does your course make effective use of naturalized areas?

Naturalized areas have been an integral part of golf courses since the game was first played on the Scottish linksland. Rough areas consisting of native grasses and gorse provided soil stabilization and a low-cost natural hazard. It is easy to understand how these areas influenced early golf course design in North America. Donald Ross noted the virtues of natural areas in his book Golf Has Never Failed Me: “ In British courses, heather, whims, and bentgrass are in many cases left growing in a diagonal formation, producing a remarkably interesting hazard.”


Information to help you implement this strategy at your course:


Naturalized areas: Beauty and the beast: Developing naturalized areas brings many benefits to the golf course, but beware, maintenance-free they are not!

Natural areas: Wild or wonderful?

Impact of prairie and turf buffer strips on golf course fairway runoff and leachate

Southwestern golf courses offer needed riparian habitat for birds: A comparison of golf courses with natural areas underscores the importance of golf courses as bird habitat

Unnatural expectations: Proper establishment and maintenance of naturalized areas can increase acceptance by golfers

A natural approach: Reducing soil erosion and nutrient runoff by using natural plant material

Makin' hay: The use of common farm implements to manage natural roughs

Natural areas

Have you completed a tree inventory assessment?

Trees are a significant component of most American golf course landscapes. Good quality tree species, planted in the proper locations, can be spectacular and functional golf course features for decades. On the other hand, poor-quality or ill-advised tree plantings can be a nightmare for the golf course and those who manage it. It is always disappointing to see new tree plantings that are destined to fail because too little thought was given to species selection and placement. Taking a casual attitude toward planting and maintaining trees without considering the long-range implications and expenses is a waste of both time and money. It takes a specialized knowledge of trees, golf course architecture, and sun angles to properly locate and arrange tree plantings, and it can be a challenging task, even for experienced professionals.


Information to help you implement this strategy at your course:


A guide for selecting and planting golf course trees: A basic knowledge of trees, golf course architecture, and a defined planting objective are critical to selecting new trees on the golf course

Harvesting a valuable resource: Making the decision to undertake a large-scale tree management program is only half the battle. How to pay for it can be a daunting hurdle

Say no to "backup tree plantings": Sometimes taking precautions is more trouble than it's worth

Man's friend or golf's enemy?: Trees have long been known to hinder healthy turfgrass growth, but solving tree problems can be a difficult and touchy issue

Trees vs. turf: Manage the trees on the golf course to provide healthier turf

Pinus plastica: A simple tool for proper tree placement: Use of a temporary "tree" can help avoid problems in the future

Using new technology to solve an old problem: Trees: A computer program pinpoints the location of sunlight and helps with tree management

Developing a tree care program