The Greening Of Oakmont

  b_coursecare20100525
Oakmont superintendent John Zimmers (center) said the first step to greening the course was the removal of trees. (John Mummert/USGA)

By Mike Dudurich

In a great bit of irony, the “greening” of Oakmont Country Club really got under way when one of the greatest “ungreenings” of a golf course ever took place.

“Believe it or not, removing those trees was the first step of us going green,” said John Zimmers, Oakmont’s superintendent. “A lot of people won’t understand that. But when you look at our golf course, the trees were such a negative thing. They took more fertilizer, took more water, did not create a good environment for the turf in terms of sunlight and shade. That led to problems, which led to more chemicals.”

The controversial tree removal – with between 5,000 and 8,000 trees being taken – had a domino effect in the greening evolution.

For the most part, the areas that had trees have become fescue-covered, not only improving the visual appearance of the historic club, but changing the maintenance efforts in those areas as well.

“We have 70 to 80 acres of fescue where the trees were,” Zimmers said. “And that’s low-maintenance grass, comparatively speaking. It gets mowed once a year. There’s basically no fertilizing and water consumption is nearly zero, except for what nature provides.”

Those who have played Oakmont have likely had encounters with the dreaded “ditches” that wind through the course. And while they are merely a knee-high nuisance for those who find their ball in them, the ditches play a big role in the 260-acre course’s eco-system.

“They are a big part of the integrity of the drainage system here,” Zimmers said. “They are drainage areas for the course. They’ve been capped with a sand filtering system, and returned to fescue. So before anything leaves the property, it goes through that system.”

A year after Zimmers assumed his position at Oakmont, the irrigation system was replaced. With the old system, the club traditionally used  roughly 25 million gallons of water per year (water, by the way, that they pay for).

Since 2000, when the system was changed, Oakmont has saved 31 percent in water usage annually, about 7 million gallons a year. What makes the savings even more remarkable? The course has grown by 40 or 50 acres since Zimmers’ arrival.

“I think you’ll see in the future, that water will become such a commodity that you’ll only water what absolutely needs to be watered,” Zimmers said. “We do not water the golf course a lot.”

Zimmers said he’s sure people wonder why, despite a state-of-the-art irrigation system, they still see members of the grounds crew out watering with hoses.

“The ability to put water exactly where you need it is a big thing for us. Water management is crucial,” he said.

Zimmers is constantly comparing 10-year periods and, like the decrease in water usage, he has seen a decrease in the amount of fertilizer and chemicals used.

“Golfers hate the word ‘aerify’ but when we do that and take soil samples (in the spring and fall), that’s a $1,500-$2,000 expense,” Zimmers said. “But it tells us exactly what we need in our soil, so we’re not just blindly applying things. And we use organic fertilizers. All of our fertilizers and chemicals are 100 percent contained. They’re in a dike, they can’t run off. We feel like all those things are very important. It’s a responsibility we have.”

Zimmers and his staff are not only concerned about what goes into the ground, but also with the equipment that works above ground. The hydraulic fluid trails that marred courses for years don’t occur at Oakmont. Why? Because the hydraulic aspect of mowers, rollers and other grounds equipment no longer includes anything hydraulic.

“Our fairway mowers are all hybrid technology,” Zimmers said. “They’re gas-driven, but the hydraulics have been replaced with electricity, which makes the blades go around. We’re using less fuel and reducing the potential for leaks considerably. We have a greens roller that’s electric and half of our fleet of carts is electric.”

Zimmers thinks that golf courses, which have for years been criticized for not being good stewards of the environment, will continue to be at the forefront of the “greening” effort.

“I believe we’re innovators in a lot of ways,” said the man who oversees the meanest and fastest set of championship greens anywhere. “I truly believe we’re doing a pretty good job, better than we’ve ever done.”

Mike Dudurich, whose work has previously appeared on usga.org, is a freelance writer based in the Pittsburgh area.

Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
Chevron
   

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.


Chevron image
Rolex
   

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.



Rolex image
IBM
   

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

AmEx image
Lexus
   

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit http://www.lexus.com/

AmEx image
American Express
   

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit www.americanexpress.com/entertainment


AmEx image