Self promotion is sometimes looked upon as “bragging” but the public needs to hear the good things that you, and our industry, are doing for the game of golf and the environment. For years the golf course maintenance industry has been labeled as “environmental polluters.” We have long been accused of applying excessive amounts of chemicals and fertilizers without a care to the environment and using excessive amounts of water to keep our golf courses green. Many highly influential persons with very large audiences have made these claims, sometimes giving evidence and sometimes not. In some cases the poor image of golf courses has changed recently, but it is our responsibility to promote our industry and the good things we are doing for it and the environment.
The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay is an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course near Chattanooga, Tenn., and we take every opportunity we can to relay to the general public the steps that we are taking to protect and improve the environment on and around the golf course and the accolades that our course has received over the years. My golf course is operated by the Department of Environment and Conservation of the State of Tennessee. The golf course is on public land, surrounded by public waters, and every tax payer in Tennessee is basically a shareholder. My responsibility to be a good steward of the land that we manage as well as the funds that are given to us is magnified tremendously. By promoting the environmental stewardship efforts that we are practicing at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, I am able to show that we are protecting and improving the environment and being good stewards of the resources entrusted to us.
We are proud to be a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary as designated by Audubon International and the first site in Tennessee to be designated as a Groundwater Guardian Green Site by The Groundwater Foundation. Involvement with organizations such as these has led to a greater understanding of how golf courses impact the environment and how we can promote our environmental stewardship programs to the public.
Our involvement with Audubon International is very important to us, so much so that we have included their emblem on our golf course flags, our company letterheads and business cards, and we provide easy links to their website from our company website. We dedicated a significant amount of time and resources to becoming a Cooperative Sanctuary and want people to know what we are trying to accomplish at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay.
It was a great honor for The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay to work with The Groundwater Foundation to become the first site in Tennessee to earn the designation of Groundwater Guardian Green Site. Our golf course is positioned on a peninsula which extends into the Tennessee River with eleven holes coming in direct contact with the surrounding waterway. Efforts to protect the surface water and groundwater sources have included the construction of a contained equipment wash pad to prevent rinsate from daily equipment cleaning from directly entering the water supply, creation of vegetative buffer strips along shorelines to prevent fertilizer, pesticide or soil contaminants from directly entering the water supply and reducing the amount of highly maintained turfgrass by over 45 acres allowing these areas to return to a natural state, thus reducing water input from irrigation and, in turn, reducing costs of fuel, fertilizer, and manpower. As with other accomplishments, our status as a Groundwater Guardian Green Site is proudly displayed at our clubhouse to hopefully encourage others to become interested and involved with The Groundwater Foundation, and to show what we are doing to improve the environment.
I believe in taking every opportunity presented to discuss the environmental stewardship programs that we have undertaken at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay. Media interviews, written articles, community and civic organizations, grade schools and university classes are a great way to get the word out to the public and to get your name in front of persons which could help you down the road. Positive promotion of the golf course and yourself is somewhat solely in your hands. You are probably the best and most believable source of information about your course and can answer questions that a marketing firm or other manager cannot. Don’t be afraid to get out and tell everyone that will listen what you are doing at your course. It is my suggestion that each person have a list of local and regional media contacts including print, radio, and television. Be in contact with these individuals from time to time and have a good working relationship with them. When something happens at your course, either good or bad, you will have an ally in the industry which can hopefully get the whole story out and not just the dramatic side. Media personnel are always looking for articles and stories to write about. Allow these individuals to help you in getting a positive word out to the public.
Public speaking can be difficult for some people but it is a great way to promote your golf course and yourself. Local community and civic organizations are always looking for speakers for their regular meetings. The 10 to 15 minutes that you are scheduled to speak will fly by and you can present your golf course to people in the light that you want it to be presented. Speaking to university classes or hosting a grade school field trip to the golf course is a great way to introduce yourself and the environmental side of golf course maintenance to a possible new audience.
Our environmental stewardship programs, such as our work with Audubon International and The Groundwater Foundation, has led to The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay being awarded several environmental awards, both regionally and nationally, over the past years. We were very fortunate to be awarded the 2009 Governors’ Environmental Stewardship Award from the State of Tennessee, becoming the first golf course in the award’s 24 year history to win the award. We were also fortunate to be awarded a Chapter Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s Environmental Leaders in Golf awards program the same year. These awards have been a great “jumping off point” to continue to tell the public of our programs. We use press releases and interviews to inform the public of what we have accomplished and what we are planning next.
Involvement in local and state industry organizations are another way to promote yourself and the industry. Serving on a committee or board of directors for these organizations will provide you with the benefit of meeting new people, learning what other golf courses are doing, and becoming a leader in your industry.
In most cases your success as a golf course superintendent goes hand in hand with the success and accomplishments of your golf course. As your golf course improves so should you and your reputation. Personal promotion can be vital to your future success. Some ways to improve your personal promotion could involve becoming a Certified Golf Course Superintendent through the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, becoming a member of Audubon International’s Audubon Steward Network, serving on a committee or advisory board at a state or national level, or providing a small home lawn and landscape advice column in a local paper.
Websites and blogs are a great way to use the technology of today for your advantage. The days of a monthly newsletter and having only a small area to describe what you are doing on the golf course are long gone. We now have the opportunity to have daily discussions with our members and the public as to what is being accomplished on our golf courses, provide pictures of wildlife and course improvements, and have greater direct and indirect contact with interested parties. Persons that you may never think of having an interest in what you are doing on the golf course can readily gain information about your activities and it is important that they receive the correct information and not the local gossip or hear say.
The bottom line is this … the golf course down the road is probably not going to tell people how great your greens are or how environmentally-conscious you are being, and your supervisors, whether they be owners, a green committee, or corporation officials, are not going to know how much money, water, time and resources you have saved unless you tell them. Promoting your golf course, yourself, and the industry is your responsibility and can only bring about good things for all. So go ahead let the public know what you are doing and toot your own horn.