Natural & Cultural Stewardship

Green isn't always good

Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:27:00 CDT  — by: Lee McElroy, C ’16

golf_fairwayA look inside Sewanee’s sustainable golf course

As the redesigned golf course at Sewanee celebrates its first year post-renovation, it is important to see a side of golf many people overlook: sustainability. Gil Hanse designed the course to fit naturally within the Domain’s ecosystem, rather than the lush, artificial look of traditional golf courses. Sewanee golf superintendent Steve Ventola and his crew work to keep the course and its surrounding environment safe and healthy through the implementation of several sustainable management practices.

There are various aspects of golf courses that possess the potential to cause harm to the environment. The maintenance crew and the University address these aspects, including: nutrient management, irrigation, pesticide/herbicide management, stormwater runoff, and wildlife management.

The maintenance team uses the “spoon-feeding” technique in applying nitrogen and potassium to solely the greens, fairways, and tee boxes. Spoon-feeding means that slow release fertilizer is only applied to specific areas in precise quantities. This allows little to no excess nutrients to enter runoff systems. The natural areas and buffer zones on the course receive no direct or purposeful nutrient treatment.  

golf_bunkerWhile the renovation increased the amount of irrigation coverage on the course, it also augmented the efficiency and effectiveness of water delivery. State-of-the-art computers and individual sprinkler head controls precisely manage the irrigation system. Less than 50% of the course is irrigated.

Integrated pest management is an environmentally sensitive approach used when applying herbicide and pesticide. Ventola says, “The key is knowing what the pest is, setting an economic threshold, and accurately targeting and applying the chemical.” Proper storage and disposal of chemicals is also integral to IPM. In the past year, pesticide was used only once to target a cutworm outbreak on a few greens. Accurate prevention methods employed by the golf course are responsible for this low number of pest outbreaks.

Stormwater runoff must be addressed because runoff carries pollutants to lower elevations of the Domain, like Shakerag Hallow. With the renovation, eight stormwater filtration systems were placed throughout the course. These bioswales prevent sediment and other chemical pollutants from entering sensitive areas. The course’s proper stormwater management system effectively self-contains runoff.

golf_stormwaterThe Domain possesses a vast number of wildlife and plant species, many of which use the golf course as their habitat. Due to this, habitat connectivity is necessary to allow wildlife to move freely. Outside of the roughs, there are natural areas planted with native species and designed with habitat connectivity in mind. In addition, bird boxes and bat houses are installed in the course’s natural areas.

Since the course confronts all of these possible problem areas, community involvement and education are imperative. Involvement opportunities are presented to both students and golfers alike. Ventola states that the course can be used as a valuable classroom for students at all levels. Presently, a newt collection is being conducted in Lake Torian by the Biology Department. Golfers, too, can learn something from the informational signs posted around wetland areas. Moving forward, expect to see more community integration around campus.

golf_birdhouseIn recent years, golf courses across the country have moved to greener, cleaner management operations that are becoming an industry standard. Courses are steering away from the perfectly manicured, verdant appearance because of the high degrees of money, labor, and environmental effects needed to keep them maintained. The PGA showcased the redesigned sustainable Pinehurst No. 2 course with its “rougher look” at this year’s US Open. This showcasing brought widespread public attention to a newly reformed era of golf course management and design.  Green, the color, isn’t always greener. Like Pinehurst No. 2, the course at Sewanee sets its sights on environmentally sustainable initiatives.

The course is now seeking approval of its sustainable management plan for Audubon International’s Classic Program. Looking forward, the University and the course are working out plans to implement biodiesel-powered mowers using McClurg Dining Hall’s waste fry oil. Ventola says, “Our goal is to use the architect’s vision with the University’s aim to develop and sustain a golf course that is pleasurable to play and meets everyone’s needs.” Throughout the past year, Sewanee golfers have not only experienced an enhanced field of play, but have participated in a new era of sustainable golf where green isn’t always good.


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