Architects, Contractors & Professionals

Golf Courses are sustainable …we just need to increase it

Pioneer Pointe #7

With global climate change as a hot topic these days both politically and realistically, moving forward with sustainable practices seems most logical for our society in the United States and across the globe.

Historically, golf courses have been slandered for a perceived notion of damaging the environment and not being sustainable. The author of this article has been to several seminars and public meetings where golf courses have been ridiculed for their perceived abuse of the environment. however, golf courses have been providing sustainable attributes for well over a hundred years here in the U.S. Golf courses have the ability to increase their sustainability and win over some of the historical negative perceptions.

First, each golf course is a massive green open space and contains anywhere from 80 to 95 acres of managed turfgrass. Potentially with an additional 40 to 100 acres of other non-impervious naturalized areas, golf courses are a great generator of one crucial element for everyone’s survival: oxygen. According to the Lawn Institute, 625 square feet of turfgrass provides enough oxygen for one person a day. so one golf course can easily sustain 6,000 to 10,000.00 people per day depending on their actual parcel size. Other attributes are:

  • Allergy control. Turf controls dust, in addition to pollen from plants that can cause serious health problems for some individuals.
  • Pollutant absorption. Turfgrasses absorb gaseous pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, converting them to oxygen.
  • Particulate entrapment. Turfgrasses trap an estimated 12 million tons of dust and dirt released annually into the atmosphere.
  • Fire retardation. Grass around buildings helps retard the spread of fire.
  • Water quality. Reducing runoff, turfgrass filters the water that helps to recharge groundwater supplies.

Golf courses are also places where the natural environment has been preserved for wildlife and for future generations to come. Golf courses are some of the most scenic and beautiful places on earth, such as Cypress Point and Pebble Beach Golf Clubs. Golf courses are also places that have been used as stormwater management and sewage effluent destinations to facilitate land development projects such as housing subdivisions and hotel resorts. Another major sustainable attribute that the golf course industry doesn’t sell itself enough on is exercise or sustainability for human bodies. With obesity reaching record levels here in the U.S., the game of golf and golf courses provide this simple action that contains obvious long-lasting health benefits. If more obese people started playing golf, our industry would benefit rather than the diet and physical fitness industries.

Related: Superintendent Profile: Chris Dalhamer, CGCS Pebble Beach Golf Links

Even though a vast majority of every golf course facility is naturalized with existing topography, vegetation, and planted turfgrass, there are still design-related areas to be considered for increasing the sustainability and ‘greenness’ of a golf course facility.

Use Minimalism for the golf course design process

Whether it be for a golf course renovation project or a brand new golf course, this is the best design philosophy period especially to be considered as “sustainable”. This method uses the natural topography as much as possible without excessive earthwork and removal of existing vegetation. This philosophy is the most sustainable because it creates the least amount of construction activity. The more construction activity there is on a project the more fuel is consumed, the more air pollution is produced, and the more natural earth is disturbed. Artificial elements such as large mounding and drainage inlet systems are also avoided in this scheme. The days of moving 500,000 to 1,000,000 cubic yards of soil on a new golf course project and installing artificial items like railroad tie retaining walls are a thing of the past.

Reduce the need for artificial ponds or lakes

The idea of designing an artificial pond beside a green location just for aesthetic reasons and for the sake of having a pond should be avoided. Most ponds in this scenario wind up not looking natural at all and are a waste of everybody’s time and money. Other larger ponds such as irrigation ponds can be excavated up to 25 feet deep which creates the need to move a lot of earth. Historically ponds and lakes have been created to just generate soil to create golf course features on flat and uninteresting parcels of land.

Leave native vegetation adjacent to golf holes

In the spirit of the great golf courses of the British Isles and Australia, golf courses have the ability to bring the existing environment closer to the fairway to provide the golf holes with a more rustic natural feel to them. On these great courses like Royal Melbourne, the native vegetation is two to five yards off the fairway in some locations. This characteristic would create fewer areas of turfgrass to maintain and fertilize.

Leave native vegetation adjacent to creeks and streams

By leaving the natural vegetation adjacent to streams, the stream morphology is preserved and benefited by having the riparian buffer vegetation remain. The vegetation filters out contaminants remaining from stormwater runoff. Wildlife is not disturbed within this corridor and future cutbacks along the stream or creek on the golf course are avoided.

Related: The Sustainable Golf Superintendent

Reduce the need for cart paths

One of the most intrusive parts of designing a golf course and the least sustainable is the design of the cart path itself. The ideal golf course doesn’t have any cart paths. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil due to topography relief and the desire of American golfers to ride rather than walk. Whether it be asphalt or concrete, cart paths can add an additional acre of impervious areas( areas that do not allow water infiltration) to a golf course site, thus creating a need for additional stormwater management. Especially on hilly sites, the proposed cart path can create copious amounts of site grading and drainage structures that can deduct from the overall attractiveness of the course and scar the landscape. The cart path can add a substantial construction line item to the overall project budget along with the construction of associated cart storage and added electricity use as well. The initial construction costs and hassle of a cart path system can be saved if caddie programs come back to golf courses and the idea of walking courses prevails. A golf course without a cart path is a more attractive piece of nature.

Use recycled materials in cart paths

If cart paths have to be installed golf courses can rely on multiple methods that can be considered sustainable: the use of recycled asphalt, recycled concrete with gravel paver blocks, and the use of alternative materials such as crushed clam shells.

Minimize the footprint of the golf course clubhouse

The entire clubhouse structure is considered impervious coverage and creates the need for additional stormwater management. The smaller the clubhouse, the more sustainable it can be considered. Architects should utilize every square foot and create efficient designs. Also, construction materials for clubhouses and other structures can be generated from existing materials on-site such as cleared trees and field stones.

Reduce the size of the parking lot

Some existing golf courses were originally designed with little or no thought to their site entrance ways and parking lots. Civil engineers back in the day just laid out asphalt from the front entrance of the clubhouse all the way out to the nearby street thus creating an “asphalt jungle” effect, severe stormwater runoff, and increased localized temperatures. Golf courses should look at their actual parking requirements for the facility and reference any municipal codes. There may be opportunities to take out some parking spaces or extra areas of asphalt and ‘green’ up their parking facilities. These areas can be brought back to natural form with turfgrass, planting beds, and planting islands with tree canopies. An alternative method that reduces impervious areas and stormwater runoff is the use of a grass paver system. This system incorporates recycled rigid synthetic material, soil mix, and turfgrass to allow vehicles to drive over while keeping everything green.

Install green roofs

One of the newest trends for golf courses in the installation of green roofs on maintenance facility buildings and clubhouses. Installing a green roof has many benefits and is the greatest way a golf course can green up its facility. They reduce impervious areas of structures and reduce stormwater runoff by 60% to 70% of the building’s surface area. Heating and cooling costs are greatly reduced by the insulating effect of the green roof, and the life of the roof is extended.

John graduated from Cornell University with a degree in landscape architecture and was trained by golf course architect Tom Doak while at Cornell. He Previously worked at Nicklaus Design performing golf course design. He has been involved with 31 golf course projects both domestically and internationally. John’s contact info Hierarchy Golf Design

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