Green Golf

The Long Grass is Always Greener
By Patrick S. Knelly GCS
Sugarloaf Golf Club

Green! We hear if everyday in America, it is at the forefront of our political debate, it is the source of much debate among environmentalists, and it is on the front burner of every golf course Superintendents mind. Trust me, “green” is a large part of my daily thought process, and it is becoming one of the largest influences on the way we maintain our beloved golf course here at Sugarloaf Golf Club. I’m am going to begin a short series of blogs today about “green golf” and how we are moving towards a more sustainable future of turfgrass management. You may not realize it, but this movement has already started at Sugarloaf Golf Club, and I’m going to give you a step by step tour of our progress and future plans!

Fescue, Fescue Everywhere! The most obvious change we have made to Sugarloaf in the past decade has undoubtably been the addition of native fescue swards of turf. In the original planting plans designed by Mr. Cornish, were large expansive areas described as “rough, rough”. These areas were seeded with native Tall Fescue, and Fine Fescue types of turfgrass when the course was planted in 1967. At the time, Mr. Cornish chose these areas beacuse they are out of play areas that did not receive any irrigation coverage. These types of turf are well adapted to low input (water, fertilizer, weed control) uses, so they were the logical choice. For years these areas were simply mown at 2-3″ and fertilized with the rest of the “normal rough”, despite the reccomendation of Mr. Cornish

What changed? In the begining part of this decade, some variables changed that spawned a new train of thought, and we re-evaluated the ways in which we maintain our golf course. The first and most obvious change was the begining of the modern “green” movement. With rising fuel costs and rising awareness surrounding the production of pollutants from the combustion of fossil fuels, it became more advantageous to limit the amounts of fuel used on the course. Along with these changes was a movement towards more sustainable designs in modern golf course construction. Most modern courses attempt to keep maintained turf to a minimum and limit the huge amount of inputs that are neccesary to provide expansive acreage of perfectly manicured turfgrass. We saw this as a huge opprotunity! The course was orginally designed to have “rough, rough” so we took advantage of Mr. Cornish’s orginal seeding plan and got to work establishing the fescue islands that now frame our generous rolling fairways.

We feel that these areas have made a striking visual impact on our beautiful course. The areas perfectly frame each hole, and separate the holes without causing any major infrigments onto the intended line of play. While we do occasionally see balls entering these areas, they were designed by our architecht to be far enough from the intended line of the hole that if a ball were to enter the tall grass, the player would be deserving of the penalty assiciated with the fescue. We also hope that you understand, the course is the same for everyone, and although it may be frustrating to try and recover from a shot entering the fescue grass, golf is a game that is designed to penalize a bad shot from time to time.

To date, we have roughly 12 acres of Fescue “rough, rough” established, with plans for some small expansions in the coming seasons. We estimate that this saves us in the neighborhood of 200 gallons of diesel fuel per season and nearly 150 labor hours per season. We also do not need to apply any refined fertilization to these areas and there is a very limited need to apply pesticides or herbicides due to the natural apprearance we desire. We have seen a large increase in bird populations on the course since we established these areas, and the birds seem to appreciate the cover they provide. We feel this has been a huge leap towards sustainablity, and a major success! We hope the future of golf can be as “green” as possible, and we think this project has been a step towards that future.

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