Being an environmental steward doesn’t have to mean a complicated program, expensive maintenance practices or grandiose initiatives. What helps is being conscientious about what you can do with your budget; understanding where small improvements lead to environmental gains; and actively improving the mindset of your staff and those who play your course. Ban single-use, disposable water bottles. Add brush piles to increase your wildlife carrying capacity. Grow up native areas to reduce maintained turf. Pollinator plots are fragrant and gorgeous, you can’t lose. Think creatively and be sure to share the good news about your environmental effort. Wildlife — and this great earth — will thank you.
Kennett Square Golf & Country Club
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Honey is so heavy!
A five-gallon bucket full of honey weighs approximately 55 pounds. At Kennett Square Golf & Country Club, they have four hives just off the 14th fairway that collectively produce around 25 gallons annually. Plenty of honey is left in the hive for the bees to make it through winter.
In 2012, a stream and riparian buffer project were completed at the course and in 2014, three-quarters of an acre was established as a meadow. Two nucleus colonies were used to start the hives in 2015, which were implemented to help the plight of bees, foster pollinator habitat and to help the meadow and riparian buffer continue to thrive. No honey was harvested in the first year as the hive became established. Two more hives were added in 2016 and 2017.
Superintendent Paul Stead, who has a strong interest and talent for beekeeping, maintains the hives for an hour or two each week in season to “check the hive for eggs, brood and a queen, which indicates the hive is functioning as it should. Any disease would show in poor quality brood. We have not had any issues with disease, but a lack of eggs tells you there may not be a queen or that the queen is getting ready to swarm” — leave the hive with half the bees to start a new colony. “Should that happen, we check for swarm cells and try to prevent swarming until after the main nectar flow in May and June.”
The honey is harvested each July and put into nine-ounce jars under the label of KSGCC Apiary. “The honey is a great public relations tool,” Stead says. Honey is given to students after environmental tours on course. “Everyone leaves with a jar of honey to remind them that golf courses are multi-functional open spaces that provide recreation for members and food and habitat for pollinators,” Stead says. Jars of honey are available in the pro shop and a small donation is requested. The money collected is reinvested in maintaining the hives. The honey is also used in the restaurant to create seasonal dishes. Mites can be a challenge, so the hives are treated entering winter and they are doing so well that Stead is able to provide others with nucleus colonies. It’s a sweet situation and really good for the environment.
Deerpath Golf Course
Lake Forest, Illinois
This busy, 18-hole public facility that accepts daily fees and welcomes seasonal passholders will be opening The Lawn this spring so it’s about to be even busier!
The Lawn is a free-to-use greenspace offering a bentgrass putting and chipping experience that covers more than 30,000 square feet. The Deerpath property, managed by KemperSports, is maintained to high standards by superintendent Nick Yackle and his team, and one of their environmental practices is to burn approximately 12 acres of native areas every other year. The prescribed burn “eradicates trees and shrubs that shade the prairie, removes old vegetation to make room for new growth, shifts soil nutrients to a state more favorable to prairie species, and helps reduce the spread of invasive species,” Yackle says.
To execute the burn, Yackle obtains permits from the city and notifies neighbors who are in close proximity via mail. The communication describes when, where and why the burn will take place. The controlled burn takes about 72 hours to complete. Factors such as wind strength and direction, humidity, temperature and potential precipitation are closely monitored prior to and throughout the burn to ensure the fire will not get out of control and the burn is successful. It’s not necessary to close the course during the activity but players are notified by the shop staff about what they will encounter during their round. “The players normally have a few questions regarding the process and the reasoning is explained to them,” Yackle says.
Depending on the weather, new growth is visible within a week. Nature is amazing!
The Moorings at Hawk’s Nest
Vero Beach, Florida
Jim Fazio’s Hawk’s Nest Course and Pete Dye’s Moorings Course, near the Indian River Lagoon, are only part of what makes this community special. W. Craig Weyandt, a devoted master naturalist, is more than happy to educate members and the public about Florida’s flora and fauna and he does so easily and often. He tweets regularly about course activities but he also posts photos and interesting facts about the environment. Twitter posts are linked to the club’s website.
“A bird or plant ID with a few facts can help engage the member to learn more and reinforce how we must all live together,” Weyandt says. “The Wildlife Tours take it a step farther by inspiring the members to look at the golf course differently. We stop and smell the flowers.”
The Wildlife Tours consist of morning and evening walks when crepuscular wildlife is easily viewed and play is not affected. “Wildlife Tours have between 10 and 20 participants, there is no cost and we all get to share a love of nature,” Weyandt says. “During the tours, members will often ask questions about golf course maintenance practices. Explanations in person are so much better than a letter or note on the bulletin board.” For example, “Why aren’t the palm trees trimmed?” The answer: “Sabal palms are self-pruning and the staff will pick up branches when they fall. A boot (the part of the palm frond that wraps around the trunk) can provide a nesting site for a mourning dove or other birds,” Weyandt says.
The chance to educate members who will then go and educate others ignites deeper cognizance for everyone. During the start of the pandemic, Weyandt and his staff also created a hiking trail at Hawk’s Nest on an undeveloped 20-acre section of the property. Members felt safe getting outside to experience the many health benefits associated with hiking and connecting with nature. “The best part is tours can now be done at any time of the day and members can explore nature when they want without affecting other activities,” Weyandt says. Thankfully, as Weyandt leads the maintenance team and continues with environmental community building, the online community can also enjoy his stunning photos and master naturalist expertise.
Cog Hill Golf & Country Club
Palos Park, Illinois
Partially funded by a grant from The FairWays Foundation, director of grounds operations Chris Flick and his team followed a strict order of operations to install a bioswale at Cog Hill in 2021. The goal was for the bioswale to help filter and clean the rinsate from the equipment washing station near the maintenance facility.
The installation went well. Several inches of heavy clay and organic soil were removed from the intended site and it was replaced with a blended mix of torpedo sand and composted biosolids (compliments of the Chicago Metropolitan Wastewater District). A variety of sedges, rushes and forbs were planted in the bioswale, as well as shrubs and trees, like swamp white oak.
The plants are performing well and require little maintenance as they receive ample water and nutrition as they filter the rinsate. The bioswale works as intended. It is able to biologically and physically filter out all of the things Cog Hill hoped it would — grass clippings, fuel, grease, chemicals and more. It does require some maintenance (though less than pre-bioswale) to keep the swale clean and flowing to allow the rinse water to reach the plants. Bioswales aren’t difficult to implement.
At Cog Hill, where they have 72 holes, it was a fairly large swale due to the size of the wash pad and the surrounding topography. That also meant large equipment could be used to help complete it. The cost was significant but nearly all of it was in concrete and plant material. “If we didn’t choose to channelize the flow coming from the pad, the project would have improved a 10,000-square-foot area for less than $1,000 in material,” says Flick, adding that players have commented on and appreciate the improved aesthetics. “Bioswales are a great, cost-effective way for anyone to achieve a goal that is similar to ours.”