Putting the “Green” Back in Golf

The term “putting green” has taken on new more ecologically friendly meaning at two New Jersey golf courses run by alumni of Rutgers’ Golf Turf Management School. Heron Glen Golf Course in Ringoes and Quail Brook Golf Course in Somerset are setting benchmarks for ecological stewardship.

“I’ve always been frustrated with the popular misconception that golf courses are not environmentally friendly,” said Jason Pierce, Heron Glen superintendent who graduated from Rutgers Turf School in 2000. “I am committed to dispelling this false stereotype.”

Heron Glen recently became certified as “River-Friendly” by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA). The certification program focuses on enhancing water quality management and conservation techniques, wildlife and habitat preservation and growth, and education and outreach. “When we got involved, we were pleased to see that Heron Glen already was doing a lot of things right,” Pierce said.

To achieve the River-Friendly certification, Heron Glen increased the amount of acreage dedicated to natural habitat, installed bird boxes throughout the property and incorporated a naturalized wastewater treatment system. The course has incorporated organic products into its fertilizer program since it opened in 2002, and also uses liquid bio-stimulant products (which naturally increase nutrient efficiency and decrease disease and the need for fertilizer) in treating its turf. Heron Glen, which is owned by Hunterdon County and operated by KemperSports, has also hosted a series of county-organized bird

In Somerset County, Thomas Grigal and Rich Evans are responsible for Quail Brook becoming the very first River-Friendly course in 2005, and the first to be re-certified in 2011. Quail Brook is one of five courses operated by the Somerset County Park Commission, all of which are River-Friendly certified or undergoing certification.

“This program is not just about getting certified and re-certified,” explained Grigal, Quail Brook’s superintendent and a 1980 Rutgers Turf School graduate. “It involves ongoing, everyday processes that help the environment. And in addition to the rewards of being good stewards, golf courses with sustainable practices save money on machinery and fuel because they are mowing less property, on water because they are conserving it, and on fertilizer and other chemicals because they are using them minimally.”

For Grigal and Evans, their “green” aesthetic began developing in school. As Grigal noted, “even going back to my time at Rutgers, so much of the class focus and material related to being environmentally friendly. I can’t give the teachers enough credit. The knowledge you gain there is fantastic.”

Each year, more and more wildlife … from nesting hawks to deer and their fawns … can be found in the no-mow areas at Quail Brook, an indication that the course’s green efforts are working. “We are doing something right,” said Evans, assistant superintendent at Quail Brook who graduated from the Rutgers Turf School in 2009. “Just to look at the golf course and see the way it’s changing over the years is fantastic. This is a long process and a lot of work, but it gives such a good feeling.”

Kathy Hale, a principal watershed protection specialist with NJWSA, noted that the River-Friendly certification program advances the understanding that environmentally sound courses are quality courses. “The certification also provides an outstanding opportunity for courses to educate their clients,” she said. “New Jersey’s golf courses can really be leaders in environmental stewardship by showing the public how they are making an effort to protect water quality and reduce their environmental impact.”

As the public becomes more environmentally conscious, golf course superintendents are being required to demonstrate their knowledge of land and resource management, noted Fran Koppell, senior program coordinator with the Rutgers Golf Turf Management School. “They need to be proactive, and the instructors in our program are helping to support that,” she said.

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