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Golf Course Superintendents Drive Environmental Accountability

Left to right: Cuco Campos, Foreman North Course, Superintendent Jeff Sutherland, GCSAA, and Jose Campos, Foreman South Course.
Left to right: Cuco Campos, Foreman North Course, Superintendent Jeff Sutherland, GCSAA, and Jose Campos, Foreman South Course.

The city of Rohnert Park, situated in the heart of California wine country, is known as The Friendly City. Thanks to the diligence and commitment of golf course superintendent Jeffery (Jeff) Sutherland and his crew, the definition of friendly now officially includes the two environmentally friendly golf courses at Foxtail Golf Club. This past August, Foxtail Golf Club was awarded certification as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. The accomplishments at Foxtail included increasing native acreage, reducing irrigated areas, establishing buffers around water bodies, providing excellent wildlife habitat, and committing to ongoing water quality testing.

Accountability, however, for environmental responsibility at the facility didn’t begin with Jeff, a Class A Superintendent and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) member for more than two decades, who only took over the role of course superintendent in late 2020. As the course’s General Manager Christopher Gay explained, “Since the first day in business, CourseCo (golf management company) and Foxtail Golf Club have taken the responsibility to the environment very seriously. We owe it to the community, the next generation, and ourselves to ensure the golf course is managed the best way possible for the environment.”

Golf Course Superintendents Drive Environmental Accountability
Golf Course Superintendents Drive Environmental Accountability

Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Certification Doesn’t Happen Overnight (and that’s okay!)

The North and South golf courses at Foxtail Golf Club, a municipal property, are, as Jeff described them, “a central hub of Sonoma County.” In an area where many other golf courses are private clubs, Foxtail is a popular facility that was seeing more than 60,000 rounds of golf annually even before the pandemic spurred golfers back to the game in near-record numbers and drove annual rounds of golf to between 70 and 80,000 at Foxtail.

“We are a special facility,” explained Jeff. “We feel it’s really important to show the community that we care about the golf courses and how we protect the birds and the plants and everything that’s living around us. We have a unique property where we have several different creeks that run through both golf courses. It’s definitely important for us to make sure the community understands that we are doing everything that we can to protect those waterways that run through our golf course. And the water is cleaner when it exits the property than when it comes on.”

Hard working crew - North Course & South Course.
Hard-working crew – North Course & South Course.

The process of achieving certification didn’t happen quickly at Foxtail. Changes in key personnel and then delays resultant from the COVID-19 pandemic meant it took a little longer than usual for the course to earn its certification. But the support staff at Audubon International would be quick to reassure superintendents and facility managers that, although most courses need two to three years to achieve their goals, there is no right or wrong timeline. To be clear, the process does not involve two to three years of labor. The estimate of two to three years covers time for superintendents to plan, implement and document their results. And with every step, the Audubon International team works in partnership with the superintendent, assisting him or her in taking stock of the facility’s environmental resources and any potential liabilities and in developing a plan that fits the course’s unique setting, goals, staff, budget and time availability.

“When I came to this property, and they were already involved in doing the certification process,” said Jeff, “I felt like it was a prestigious honor. I get goosebumps talking about it because it’s really such an accomplishment. I looked it up, they’re only about 45 other golf courses in California that are ACSP certified. That honestly shook me to the bone.

“I am so proud that we are getting the message out that we’re doing something different than everybody else. We’re open about our practices and letting people know that we’re not just throwing out herbicides that can wind up in the rivers or the creeks. Our certification tells the community that we make a sanctuary for all the animals, that we’re paying attention to what and where we’re spraying, and how we keep our habitats. We’re doing the right things, and we are being accountable and transparent about our processes.”

Foxtail Golf Club Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program Certificate
Foxtail Golf Club Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program Certificate

Key Components that Help Drive Results at Foxtail Golf Club

Jeff may not have initiated the Audubon International Certification program at Foxtail, but he’s embracing the commitment of sustaining it, which involves recertification every three years to maintain the facility’s Certified Sanctuary designation.

He’s also quick to point out two factors he considers great advantages. First, Foxtail Golf Club uses only reclaimed water for irrigation and as a result, never experiences the water restrictions that challenge many golf courses in California and other drought-prone areas.

Second, Jeff benefits from the strength of his staff. He paid tribute to his key workers, saying, “I don’t have an assistant, but I have a foreman on each side, and they have both been at this property for over 30 years. The high-quality playing conditions here are really a credit to them, their dedication, and their firsthand experience with this property. Every single day, they come in with a new passion to make the golf course better.

“Jose Campos, foreman on the South Course has been here 32 years. And his brother, Cuco Campos, foreman on the North course has been here for over 30 years. They make my job so much easier because they know the courses so well, and they love coming to this property.”

Golf Course Superintendents Environmental
Golf Course Superintendents Environmental

Wouldn’t an ACSP Certificate Look Great Hanging in Your Proshop?

There’s a special place in the Foxtail proshop for the official certification that proclaims, “Foxtail Golf Club has met the criteria set forth by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses and has achieved Certification for accomplishments in sustainable natural resource management and environmental stewardship.”

Jeff, his crew, the management team, and a lot of friendly people in Rohnert Park, California, are rightfully beyond proud that Foxtail Golf Club has earned this prestigious recognition. The golf course has taken and continues to take, responsible steps to nurture native plants, trees, vegetation, animals, and insects and to keep the air and water cleaner through reduced and more strategic use of chemicals. As a result of their efforts, money is conserved, labor demands are reduced, chemical use is reduced, animal habitats are created and preserved, the community is confident and the courses are more beautiful than ever.

If you’d like to learn more about how your golf course could take similar steps and potentially receive its own ACSP certification, contact Frank LaVardera at 518-874-4666 or frank@auduboninternational.org . The process is easier and more affordable than you think, will likely save your facility money over time, and is infinitely more rewarding for superintendents and their crews than you can possibly imagine until you experience it firsthand.

Linda Parker has been writing professionally since the 1980s. With clients in finance, sports, technology, change enablement, resorts, and nonprofit global initiatives, Linda helps organizations communicate their stories in meaningful ways to the people they most want to reach. She has authored, ghostwritten, or contributed to more than a dozen nonfiction books. Linda is a member of the Authors Guild and the Golf Writers Association of America. You can connect with her at linda@glindacreative.com

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