Adjusting to the times

We are adjusting. It’s what we do. After a recession we modify the way we do things, use resources more efficiently, turn a scarce resource into a cheaper one using new technologies, or find a new one altogether. We’ve always done it.

But as we emerge from this, and possibly another recession, you can’t spin the fact that we face new realities of corporate responsibility, government accountability and real environmental degradation. There is no shortage of uncertainty out there.

Golfer numbers in the US have fallen by 3.6 percent in the past three years and we are expected to lose anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 courses to adjust to market saturation in the next ten years .

Even more skepticism is raised by those facing unprecedented droughts, high energy and fuel costs without the means to purchase the more efficient technologies and government restrictions on the application of water, nutrients and pest control products.

The old linear system that got us here (see Figure 1) is coming to an end. No more can we burn through resources and expect to have the same access to them as we did previously. We can’t operate as if the results of our actions don’t matter, they are catching up to us now and we must adjust by taking complete control by investing in the way that nature works, in cycles.

Sustainability Vs. Environmentalism

Sustainability is not on the left or right side of the political spectrum. It is a method of doing things so that we can sustain our life on earth, and that doesn’t have a political affiliation. Environmentalism is often accused of ignoring economic realities. Sustainability is the one and only economic reality, without it, there is none. We don’t really have a choice about that.

“Environmentalism” is to sustainability as what a band aid is to the cure. A single focus solution is a temporary response to a problem and is based on a system of cheap and easily accessible fuels, materials and labor. This is the difference between “sustainability” and single focused methods of making something “green”.

A “green” product like biodegradable cups have a true environmental benefit to them, they are not plastic! However these cups are often thrown in the trash and cannot biodegrade because of limited oxygen and moisture (vital to the biodegrading process) when they’re buried 40 feet deep or burned in an incinerator. Yes using grown material to fabricate products is part of the transition from non-renewable to renewable resources, but they still follow the same linear system of start and end when our system is not set up to process this material. Now, if those cups were composted (they seldom are) and employed as carbon in the soil, well now we have a cycle. Recyclable materials found in cups are also part of a cycle, albeit an energy intensive one.

– Linear Vs Cyclical –

Sustainability is a cycle of creation, of use and re-use (or recycle, refurbish, renovate, reclaim, etc), of trial and error and trying again. It’s employing natural functions of our landscapes to help support our needs. It’s moving from a linear decision making process of ending up in the same problem, to a process where we use the natural system for help. The Cyclical decision making model helps visually demonstrate this process.

– Principles Vs Values –

A Principle is external, it’s natural law and undeniable, like gravity. A Value is internal, subjective and created by social and ethical systems, like “green”. This reigns true not only when dealing with land management, but in all areas of our lives. Steven Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote “values govern people’s behavior, but principles ultimately determine the consequences”. Distinguishing between the two is important because as illustrated earlier, some environmental values are highly subjective and do not necessarily serve to solve or correct a problem. If the solutions you’re using are not working with these principles or natural laws, there’s little you can do but loose.

There are a lot of natural laws or principles that relate to sustainable golf course management (Slow and Local, Catch and Store Energy, Diversity Produces No Waste, Observe and Interact, Obtain a Yield) but I really only have enough room to discuss two, so I’ve chosen the principles of Edge Effect and Interdependence as I feel they have a strong place in golf course management, are easy to understand, implement and have correlated cost savings.

The edge effect principle

Golf courses are full of edges. The very nature of our sport calls for long edges. From our property lines, borders with rivers, lakes and oceans, “in” and “out” of play zones alongside fairways and even the various heights of vegetation, each has its own intersection to the next level. But monocultures don’t have very productive edges and diversity on the playing surface is seen as inconsistent and disruptive to the game. It is at the transition between rough and meadow (or tall grass, forest, wetland, etc.) where you begin to see something happen. The numbers of insects, birds and mammals increases and then does again at the next vegetation community intersection. This is the edge effect, and it is the interface that supports productive, diverse and valuable elements that can serve the function of balancing an ecosystem, reducing maintenance requirements and framing the hole.

One of the most valuable lessons of the “edge effect” principle is to decrease the strength of one community, you must reduce its surface area (actual edge), to increase the strength you must increase its edge and to secure the strength of both you must increase the surface area of each (that doesn’t mean a straight line: imagine the surface area of Velcro). By taking advantage of this principle you can greatly reduce resource intensive control strategies. Here are some examples of where you can use this principle to better understand what is happening on your site, or to create what you want to happen on your site.

– Forest edge effect –

Usually the term “forest edge effect” refers to the intersection of forest and recently cut forest, a common trait of Woodland Courses whose fairways are carved out of the trees. This creates an open boundary where there’s no natural transition from the cut to the uncut causing for very different conditions to occur that are uncharacteristic of this type of plant community (level of sunlight, temperature, wind exposure, seed exposure) thus allowing for opportunistic plants to move in and gain ground. This is where many courses would spray herbicides, chainsaw or even dig out weedy shrubs. This energy-intensive approach is justified in removing some invasive materials originally. However, now that you understand the “edge effect” principle, you know how to cooperate with nature instead of compete, because if you compete, you will lose, and if you’re spraying and hacking down invasive vegetation every year in the same spot you are definitely loosing.

– Controlled forest edge effect –

In some cases, due to original layout of the hole, it may seem impossible to decrease the edge of the plant community you want to control. To create an abrupt edge for a forest edge we must mimic the natural transition from grass to woodland in a condensed form. To do this, you must employ plants as tools. Evaluate the native plants growing in these areas already, and plants that grow in communities that could be seen as transitional between meadow/scrub to forest. You need plants that will create a virtual vegetative wall to shade out competing plants and broadcast a shadow effect that will mimic that of a closed canopy woodland.

– Successional edge effect –

As in natural plant community intersections, edge effects also apply to succession. Vegetation spreading outward or inward can be helped by increasing its transitional edge exposure and reducing the distance between a common (like) community. This concept is best demonstrated by divot patterns on a driving range. Figure 2 shows two methods, the straight line method and the random method. Also missing from the image is the hideous sand box/crater method of hitting from one centered point outward. In this case you accelerate the healing time by reducing the distance between edges and total edge distance.

Keep in mind when implementing this method in large plant communities that edges on the north will often receive less sun than edges on the south, and therefore slightly different growth patterns will exist.

The principle of interdependence
Recognizing relationships between subjects in our environment exposes tremendous opportunity to exploit naturally occurring phenomenon. These natural side effects, often natural laws, are usually obvious, but it’s the integration of these things, putting the right things in the right place, that allows you to get more from doing less. It’s the concept of integrating vs. segregating and it’s essential to good design. Otherwise you have single function features which are expensive, work against naturally occurring phenomenon and, well, are boring.

– Heat islands –

Bunkers (3 percent), parking lots (3 percent) and buildings (4 percent) make up 12 percent of an average U.S. 18-hole golf course which also happen to be the hottest surfaces. When these hot surfaces are located near turfgrass and gardens, they can affect plant health causing an increase of resource allocation (water, labor, fuels). When these surfaces direct drainage rainwater they can cause runoff to warm up leading to quicker evaporation and put sensitive aquatic life at risk. It means your staff is going to fight against these temperatures by applying irrigation, laying sod in dead spots and using extra fossil fuels.

Why put so much extra energy into something that can be deterred by putting the right things in the right place. Here are a few examples of how golf courses are integrating multiple features to produce cooling and water conservation functions around bunkers, parking lots and buildings.

Bunker sand can reach up to 40 degrees F hotter than the turfgrass canopy just 10 feet away. This increases ambient air temperatures and adds a significant stress to the surrounding turfgrass. There are quite a few tricks people have used to combat this effect, including:
● Lowering the grade of the bunker walls: “when grade is low, water moves slowly, when grade is high, it’s going to dry!”
● Using topsoils that retain moisture: high in organic matter and clay based
● Choosing species that are more tolerant of the dry conditions like Fescues and Yarrow
● Strategically place trees with narrow lateral roots that cast a light shade on the sand surface (place 10-20 feet south/southwest from bunker so shade is cast during 12-4pm) and strategically placed to control high wind exposure
● Allow for higher mowing heights: PVC to raise flymower or string trimmer,
● Allow for grasses to grow longer during hottest months
● And the use of glass sand products (recycled/re-purposed sand) have shown to be more reflective than natural sands producing lower surface and ambient temperatures.

By locating the above features in relation to your hottest and driest bunkers, the natural side effects will conserve soil moisture, reduce solar radiation, moderate temperatures, and even reduce wind: all of which are major causes of transpirational water loss of turfgrass and the evaporational loss from soil.

In general, parking lots account for contributing to over 30 percent toward the total urban heat island effect. They are huge heat conductors, increasing the radiating ambient air temperature of up to 45 degrees F. Because of their vast size and general nature, there are a few “soft” strategies that can have a significant impact. Figures 3 and 4 show a familiar scene at golf course parking lots where the black asphalt adjacent to the course is an exhausting 135 degrees F while the grass is 85 to 90 degrees F . Notice how hot even the mulch gets just from being located so close to the asphalt in figure 4 where infrared imagery displays hot surface temperatures in white and cooler surfaces in blue.

Much of this can be counteracted along perimeters with shade trees or by creating islands to have some shade within the interior. Trees in Davis, Calif., parking lots reduced surface asphalt temperatures by as much as 36 degrees F, vehicle cabin temperatures by over 47 degrees F, and fuel tank temperatures by nearly 7 degrees F . Mulches are essential to trees surviving within these urban desserts; drip irrigation is not a bad idea for extreme circumstances.

A trend increasing in popularity is changing the surface color to something more reflective. White and grey solar reflective covers can reduce the surface temperatures significantly. Concrete has been shown to reduce surface temperatures by 30 degrees F compared to black asphalt.

Buildings too can have reflective coatings and strategically placed shade trees to help reduce the heat island effect. Reflective paints or covers costs vary greatly according to your local circumstances, but in general cool roof coatings can cost between $.75-$1.50 per square foot, while single-ply cool roof membrane costs vary from $1.50…$3.00 per square foot. These are about $.05-.20 above the cost of asphalt roofs; however you are expected to save up to $.50 per square foot per year in cooling costs .

Trees can be an effective way of decreasing unwanted solar radiation from striking buildings and reducing its cooling-energy costs . The use of deciduous trees is important if you’re wanting to increase solar exposure during winter months to passively heat your building. Green roofs are a much larger budget item (using the concept of mass/thermal resistance value) but if this is in the cards you can expect a reduction in summer cooling needs by 26 percent and a reduction in winter heat losses of 26 percent. In addition, green roofs have been shown to have a prolonged lifespan of 2 to 3 times .

Another area where surface temperatures have shown to be even hotter than bunkers, parking lots and buildings, is the driving range. Synthetic turf has been shown to be 37 degrees F higher than asphalt, and 86.5 degrees F hotter than natural turf. Furthermore, the heat generated from synthetic turf has been shown to penetrate below the surface, making it 28.5 degrees F hotter at 2 inches below the surface than natural turf at the surface .

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