Sustainability…ugh…not just another buzz word

Recently, I was at a turf maintenance seminar about “sustainability” as it applies to golf course and turf maintenance. It would seem that the word “sustainability” has eclipsed “green” as the buzz word of choice in our industry. Sustainability, as defined by the Golf Course Superintendent’s Association of America, is “the integration of environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic viability as a critical and never-ending goal.” We are focusing not just on doing what is right for the planet and human health, but also keeping the golf and turf industry as a whole profitable and relevant.

In our corner of Ohio, the current state of the golf industry is no mystery. The amount of money spent on rounds of golf and club memberships has declined steadily and dramatically over the last several years. Along with that, the idea of golf courses as water-guzzling, pesticide-laden, environment-wrecking atrocities is still very prevalent. The algae blooms in Lake Erie, drought in 38 percent of the U.S., phosphorus issues all over the great lakes and eastern seaboard, and a lingering negative perception by non-golfers all make for a public relations nightmare. I doubt a government bailout would ever be extended in our direction.

The other side of this is people like us in the grounds department that depend on the industry not for recreation but for a livelihood. In a recent survey by the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation, the turf industry in Ohio alone accounts for $4.6 billion annually in economic impact and 42,000 jobs between golf courses, lawn care, municipalities, and public entities.

From an environmental perspective, the maintenance of Ohio’s 4 million acres in turf also contributes greatly to the health of the planet. While trees tend to get all of the press, turfgrass is also excellent at sequestering carbon. An average home lawn can sequester 300 pounds of carbon per year, and a single fairway can grab almost 1,500 pounds due to the increased density. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a 50-year-old hardwood tree only grabs around 127 pounds!

The trick on our end is to manage things carefully so we aren’t putting more carbon into the turf maintenance in the forms of fuel, fertilizer, shipping, etc., than we are getting out of the atmosphere. Watching carbon closely benefits the club in controlling costs. Here at Highland, new hybrid fairway mowers, filling unnecessary bunkers, unmaintained rough areas, reduced creek maintenance, more efficient watering techniques, use of more efficient chemicals and fertilizers, and many other small things have combined to get us started in the right direction. New and exciting research, chemicals, fertilizers, sprinklers, techniques, and fuel-efficient machines are becoming available constantly. We strive each year to stay up-to-date with all of these and use what we can to move our facility forward environmentally while hopefully loosening up the bottom line and keeping the golf course in great shape.

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