© photo courtesy of bandon dunes

At Bandon Dunes, we think about environmental sustainability every day. From the very beginning, our founder, Mike Keiser, made it his mission to preserve the natural glory and ruggedness of the land and to create a connection between nature and anyone who walks our fairways. So, it’s easy to see why KemperSports’ Green to a Tee program – which serves as the company’s blueprint for sustainability across all of its properties – started here.

Green to a Tee, which has four levels of certification, encompasses environmentally-focused initiatives within several core areas of our facility operations, including: golf course maintenance, habitat management, water conservation, energy usage, recycling, green vendor utilization, and staff education and training. Last year, more than 80 percent of KemperSports properties reached significant milestones in their Green to a Tee adoption – a new record for the program.

I was fortunate enough to work with Jim Seeley, the visionary behind Green to a Tee, in the program’s early days and to help Bandon Dunes become the first KemperSports property to achieve level four Green to a Tee status. Today, Bandon Dunes’ environmental efforts include the preservation of the natural plant life (including silvery phacelia – the hallmark of our 13-hole par-3 course Bandon Preserve logo), extremely light fertilizer use, a recycling program for grass clippings, renewable energy through the addition of solar arrays, the conversion of a vacant shed into a bat habitat and more.

We also donate the net proceeds from play at Bandon Preserve to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, which focuses on innovative ecological initiatives that drive economic opportunity on the south coast of Oregon. And we have forged key partnerships, like becoming a part of the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program and becoming a Waste Wise Partner with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Along this sustainability journey, I’ve learned a few key lessons that can apply to any golf property hoping to improve its commitment to sustainability:

  • The little things matter. The first phase of Green to a Tee focuses on implementing some foundational environmentally-friendly practices – from creating a good IPM program to minimizing the use of fertilizer to establishing no-mow areas. These “little” things have the power to make a big impact on the environment and, at our property, also enhance the fast and firm conditions our guests want.
  • Question every one of your inputs. Turf managers are a highly motivated group; they want to work hard and produce the best results. But sometimes that motivation leads to adding too much to the natural environment – like excessive fertilizers. Through implementing Green to a Tee, we’ve seen that there are so many areas where we can reduce inputs and make our operations as lean as possible without trading on quality.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. You don’t become a sustainable property overnight. That’s why Green to a Tee is such an effective program – it helps properties move through the sustainability journey in a logical, impactful manner that’s manageable for the team. While level one and two include simpler tactics that don’t greatly impact the budget, levels three and four are more intensive and require a property to make capital investments. For example, part of Bandon Dunes’ level four Green to a Tee certification, we moved to LED lights and looked at alternative power sources. Each phase builds on your foundation to make maximum impact.
  • Sustainability has to become “business as usual.” Your commitment to the environment can’t be limited to an event on Earth Day. These programs can only succeed when sustainability becomes a habit, a part of your day to day routine. At Bandon Dunes, our team takes a disciplined approach to our environmental practices and now they are simply how we do business for every single person on our staff.
  • There’s always something more you can do. Sustainability and how we practice it has evolved tremendously since I started in this industry more than 20 years ago. And it will continue to evolve. For example, a few years ago we didn’t fully understand what pyrolysis was or how it could benefit our property. Today we’re looking at it as a solution for eliminating noxious weeds and enriching the soil. As stewards of the land, we need to stay up-to-date on developments in environmental science and think about how they might make a positive impact on our property.

If you’re looking to start a sustainability program or want to really boost a program you already have in place, there are so many resources available to help – from the great toolkits offered by the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America to the PGA of America’s latest social responsibility report. The key is to just get started and keep going – even the smallest steps in your program can have a positive impact on your surroundings.

Ken Nice is the director of agronomy at KemperSports-managed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore.