What Does Golf’s Green Future Mean for You?

As environmental consciousness continues to rise across the world, GGA Partner and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Audubon International, Henry DeLozier, identifies the three starting points for clubs looking to make the shift towards a greener future.

Americans are more concerned about climate change than ever before. According to a recent Pew Research Center Survey, “About two-thirds of U.S. adults (67%) say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change, and similar shares say the same about government efforts to protect air (67%) and water quality (68%)…”

The study also found that concern over the state of the environment is more than a national interest or partisan issue, with the majority indicating that climate change is affecting their daily lives, “Most Americans today (62%) say that climate change is affecting their local community either a great deal or some.”

Does the same sentiment exist in golf?  Since 2017, managers have reported to GGA that their clubs are under the microscope in some areas, receiving provocation from local municipalities and increased pressure to comply with local rules and environmental regulations.  These pressures have led to the need for clubs to increase their ‘green’ efforts in education, labor and training inputs, as well as governmental reporting.

Whether it’s a case of compliance or the desire to develop a greater sense of environmental stewardship and eco-friendly operations, it can often be difficult to know how and where to start. To ease this process, here are three starting points for clubs looking to make the shift towards a greener future.

1. Assess current levels of resource utilization

Understanding how much your club is using, in what areas, from which sources, and at what price is an essential first step.

This will allow you to develop a baseline for evaluation, and measure these against performance goals.

In need of a helping hand to get started? A number of associations and organizations have developed intuitive and informed tools to enable clubs to conduct these evaluations in-house.

  • GCSAA’s BMP Planning Guide and Template is an online resource that provides for the development of golf course BMP programs at the state level. Based on a high-potential impact on operation of your facility and its bottom line, GCSAA recommends attention to performance goals in four distinct areas: water conservation, water quality protection, pollution prevention, and energy conservation.
  • Audubon International, which promotes sustainability for businesses, recreational properties and communities, has developed Standard Environmental Management Practices that are generally applicable to all golf courses. These standards form the basis for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for golf certification guidelines which include habitat planning and management guidance, while increasing the understanding of best management practices for pesticide use.

2. Develop an environmental policy.

“Putting your golf course, community or resort on the path to sustainability may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be,” Audubon International CEO Christine Kane says. “We suggest starting by establishing an environmental policy that will guide your operations. This will bring your employees and members onboard and pave the way for incorporating topics such as water conservation, IPM or wildlife management into your budget, marketing and maintenance processes.”

3. Seek a certification program and pursue recognition.

Establishing a reputation for environmental stewardship in the public eye – that is, from the viewpoint of your current and potential future members – is a valuable business marketing tool for clubs to wield.  Pursuing formal recognition and certification for the club’s commitment to “green” operating practices can grow its market share and build loyalty among the power-spending generations of the future.

If your club is looking to bolster its environmental credentials, here are some awards and programs to consider:

  • Audubon launched its Water & Sustainability Innovation Award this year to recognize landscape companies, organizations, and municipalities for sustainable, water-efficient projects. Corica Park South Course of Alameda, California, and its management firm, Greenway Golf, was the first recipient.
  • ACSP for Golf provides a tangible form of recognition for clubs and courses committed to protecting the environment and preserving the natural heritage of the game.
  • Monarchs in the Rough is a program that partners with golf courses to combat the population decline of the monarch butterfly and to restore pollinator habitat in out-of-play areas.
  • The Green Restaurant Association is an international nonprofit organization encouraging restaurants to ‘green’ their operations using science-based certification standards in order to become more sustainable in energy, water, waste, food, chemicals, disposables, and building.

Golf facilities and clubs also benefit from sustainability’s halo effect.  Many members today expect greater levels of environmental stewardship from businesses and other organizations with which they are associated.  In addition to its environmental impacts, sound resource management and recognition through certification has taken on a good-for-business shine as well.

Research points out that sound environmental stewardship matters to women and millennials especially.  While sentiments diverge along lines of on geographic location and political affiliation, it is apparent in the Pew Research study that women and young adults (e.g. Millennials and Generation Z) exhibit a higher propensity to regard climate change as a serious issue which affects them personally.

The bottom line is that that these groups represent the next generation of members and they are both concerned about sound environmental practices and are receptive to learning how club managers are caring for Mother Earth. Clubs and courses seeking to attract younger members would do well to take a responsible approach to environmentalism.

Grasshoppers, Water, and the Golf Business

Beginning in June 1874, a swarm of grasshoppers dense enough to block the sun’s rays – so copious that you could scoop them up with shovels – descended on the drought-ravaged Great Plains. They mowed down crops and brought economic devastation to entire communities. In a scene eerily familiar, the chewing herbivorous insects, a close cousin of the locust, did it again in 1931 in regions suffering from prolonged periods of below normal rainfall.

No one is predicting a return of the grasshopper, although that seems a haunting title for an apocalyptic movie. But history does warn us of the dangers of extreme drought, when grasshoppers can flourish and when turfgrasses are most vulnerable. As we move into the summer months, when rainfall is scarce in many parts of the United States, golf courses and sports facilities are reminded that they must manage water usage and consumption diligently.

Audubon International, which promotes sustainability for businesses, recreational properties and communities, is committed to bringing solutions to golf and sports facilities. “Putting your golf course, community or resort on the path to sustainability may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be,” Audubon International CEO Christine Kane says. “We suggest starting by establishing an environmental policy that will guide your operations. This will bring your employees and members onboard and pave the way for incorporating topics such as water conservation, IPM or wildlife management into your budget, marketing and maintenance processes.”

Golf facilities and clubs also benefit from sustainability’s halo effect. Many members today expect greater levels of environmental stewardship from businesses and other organizations with which they are associated. In addition to its environmental impacts, sound water management has taken on a good-for-business shine as well.

Research points out that sound environmental stewardship matters to women and millennials especially.

Eighty-three percent of U.S. women believe that climate change is a serious problem, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study. Nearly 70 percent of the women polled worry that such changes will affect them personally. The bottom line is that women are concerned about sound environmental practices and are receptive to learning how golf course managers are caring for Mother Earth.

Pew further reports that drought is among the top four climate-related concerns. “Fully half of Americans name drought as their chief climate change concern, and this is especially true in drought-plagued Western states compared with other regions of the country,” according to the research.

Clubs and courses seeking to attract younger members would do well to take a responsible approach to environmentalism. “Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share, but build loyalty among the power-spending millennials of tomorrow,” says Grace Farraj, an executive with Nielsen Environmentalism.

Audubon International launched its Water & Sustainability Innovation Award this year to recognize landscape companies, organizations and municipalities for sustainable, water-efficient projects. Corica Park South Course of Alameda, California, and its management firm, Greenway Golf, was the first recipient.

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf provides a tangible form of recognition for clubs and courses committed to protecting the environment and preserving the natural heritage of the game. By helping people enhance the valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats that golf courses provide, improve efficiency and minimize potentially harmful impacts of golf course operations, the program serves an important environmental role worldwide.

Audubon International also has developed Standard Environmental Management Practices that are generally applicable to all golf courses. These standards form the basis for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf certification guidelines. Points of focus from the ACSP for golf facilities include habitat planning and management guidance, which educates club members and other golfers while increasing the understanding of best management practices for pesticide use.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry Magazine

Small Measures, Big Results

 

Happiness, like a butterfly, can be elusive for golf course owners and operators challenged by the shifting tides of economics, demographics and lifestyles. But a new program from Audubon International, where I am honored to serve as chairman of the board of directors, promises some happier days for those with the patience to await the butterflies.

Over the past 20 years, populations of the iconic monarch butterfly have declined by 90 percent. A key reason for the decline is a lack of habitat, especially a lack of milkweed. As it turns out, golf courses represent a wonderful opportunity to plant milkweed and other wildflowers that provide sustenance and habitat for monarchs.

Marcus Gray, the director of Audubon’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf, says: “Golf courses have been identified as having great potential for the development of monarch habitat. We estimate that there are at least 100,000 acres of available space on golf courses to help butterflies.”

No one is arguing that monarchs are the answer to golf’s challenges. But helping to save the king of the butterflies will have tangible benefits. When courses create monarch habitat in out-of-play areas, they increase the beauty of their course. They also make a statement about their commitment to sustainability. According to a 2017 survey by Pew Research, 75 percent of Americans are concerned about the environment and 1-in-5 acts on their concern. A separate Pew study found that women – by 17 percent more than men – are acutely concerned about the environment.

Millennials put their money behind environmentally concerned companies. According to Nielsen global research, nearly three-fourths of millennials support companies committed to positive social and environmental actions and programming.

“Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share, but build loyalty among the power-spending millennials of tomorrow, too,” says Grace Farraj, who leads Public Development & Sustainability at Nielsen.

Any courses out there not interested in appealing to women and millennials?

Audubon is making it easy to do well by doing good. Its “Monarchs in The Rough” program guides land managers through pesticide reduction, site preparation, planting and long-term maintenance of habitat for pollinators. “Our goal is to create at least one acre of new vegetation installed specifically to bolster monarch numbers on every golf course,” Audubon International CEO Christine Kane says. “Many courses have existing gardens and larger plots dedicated to wildlife already.”

The program is open to any golf course in Canada, Mexico or the United States. Superintendents can plan, install and manage monarch habitat on their courses by following guidelines published by Audubon. The program provides superintendents and staff with the information and technical support they need to incorporate monarch habitat into the unique layout of each course. Guidelines include how to plant and establish milkweed and other nectar-producing plants; track progress and manage the habitat; and procure native and ecologically appropriate plant materials, such as milkweed seed. In addition, superintendents can connect with the Audubon network of participating courses and communicate with their customers about the plight of the monarch and how they can help.

Monarchs in the Rough has the potential to provide up to 20 million milkweed plants toward a goal of 1 billion to 1.5 billion stems of milkweed available for monarchs. This amount of plants is what is required to maintain a robust population of butterflies at overwintering sites in Mexico.

Unfortunately, monarchs won’t add to membership rolls or fill tee sheets. But for the small effort required to save one of nature’s greatest wonders, they will certainly bring no small measure of beauty and appreciation. Happiness is, indeed, a butterfly.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry.

Telling and Earthly Story

The People’s Climate March – organized to coincide with Earth Day in April – drew tens of thousands of environmental activists to cities across the nation. Their mission: call attention to the dangers of climate change. It’s not a stretch to say that golf course superintendents and club and course managers conduct their own march to show their support of environmental sustainability every day.

Broken Sound Club in Boca Raton, Fla., where more than a million honey bees are thriving in the club’s apiary, is just one example. From more than 1,000 pounds of honey the bees produce each year, club members receive jars of honey to enjoy and the spa features Broken Sound honey in its treatments.

Club manager John Crean and his team at Broken Sound are doing more than providing a sweet and distinctive member amenity. They’re part of a movement to bring awareness to the plight of declining adult honey bee populations.

The environmental program at Broken Sound started with small steps, including eliminating Styrofoam cups, reducing the use of plastic bottles and recycling cans, plastic and cardboard. Its initial success encouraged the club to be more ambitious. An industrial composter is now reducing the amount of waste the club adds to the local landfill, solar panels are heating swimming pools and a charging station is recharging members’ electric vehicles.

Christine Kane, the CEO at Audubon International in Troy, N.Y., recognizes the leadership of the club, which is a part of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, an education and certification program that helps protect the environment while preserving the traditions of the game.

“Broken Sound is leading the way in recognizing that projects like this can be a great way to educate and involve your community in your environmental stewardship efforts, demonstrating that you are using your greenspace wisely and strengthening your ecological footprint,” she says.

Broken Sound may be an exemplary example of sustainability, but it’s also proof of how one club can make a difference.

Herb Pirk, the forward-thinking executive of the Oakdale Golf & Country Club in Oakdale, Ontario, and his superintendent, Michael Dermott, are advocates of teaming up with environmental experts. Their partnership with Global Organic Partners has reduced the application of chemicals and pesticides while improving course conditions.

“The changes (Global Organic Partners) recommended have reduced the environmental impact of pesticides and chemicals by almost 90 percent, and course conditions and member satisfaction have never been better,” Dermott says.

Ted Horton, an Audubon director and widely admired golf course superintendent for his stints at Winged Foot in New York and Pebble Beach in California, advises clubs to take a proactive approach. “Assume the mindset that we can be part of the solution, not part of the problem and make it happen,” he says.

Following are four ways clubs can be part of the solution to environmental challenges in their communities:

  • Decide to launch a program that’s right for your facility. Gather input from a cross section of members and the people who use your facility. And don’t overlook the young people, many of whom are especially attuned to sustainability issues.
  • Take advantage of available resources. The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program can guide courses through projects in environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use, water conservation, and water quality management.
  • Start small and grow. One of the first steps is to engage your members and golfers in your efforts. Let them know what you’re doing and why. Then keep taking the next step toward a deeper commitment.
  • Tell your success stories to your members and customers and encourage them to be ambassadors for your program in the community.

Golf courses have been the focus of criticism from environmentalists over the years for their use of water, fertilizers and pesticides. The truth of the matter is that many clubs and facilities are doing commendable work to support the health and well-being of our planet. Their stories need to be told – and more clubs need to follow their lead.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry.

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