Ask the Superintendent – Happy Earth Day

Ask the Superintendent – Happy Earth Day

Welcome, avid golfers, to the April installment of Ask the Superintendent. If you have followed our column for any length of time you are aware of the many environmental strengths that golf courses have, especially in urban settings. April has always been a special month for golfers, but since 1970, it is even more special as we have celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd every year. It is a time to reflect on how we can all become better environmental stewards and sustainability champions, golfers and non-golfers alike. 

Caring for the planet is one thing that brings people of all walks of life together. Which brings me to this month’s Ask the Superintendent question. Can a great golf course also be a great green space? The answer is absolutely yes, and now let me explain some of the terms, data and organizations that help keep golf green and maximize the symbiotic relationships between great green spaces and great golf courses.

Golf is Green (always has been, always will be)

Since the earliest days of golf, the game has thrived in harmony with the green space upon which it is played. When golf transitioned into a business opportunity, it became even more linked to limited inputs and using resources wisely. There sometimes is an old stereotype of golf not embracing the mantle of environmental stewardship, but if you look deeper into the science and the data, the ability of golf to co-exist within a wonderful green space is apparent. 

Golf also brings economic viability, especially in urban settings. Places like Pebble Beach and Pinehurst, for example, are some of the best greenspaces in the world, that just happen to be amazing golf courses that host some of the most memorable events in the game. This is no accident; it is the result of tireless planning, execution and teamwork. 

In my new role as a Regional Agronomist with Invited Clubs, I have touched over 50 clubs in my first year on the job, and they each have a unique green story to tell. Every Invited Club is a member of the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Courses, and many have achieved Certified status and have been recognized for environmental excellence by many of the leading golf and environmental organizations. Our clubs provide vital urban green space and habitat for plants and wildlife. In fact, members and guests can see on average 140 documented varieties of plants and wildlife at our Texas clubs alone. The species range from Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) to Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpintina) and from Blue Bells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) to Vitex or Texas Lilac (Vitex angus castus). How many plants and wildlife call your golf course home and are integrated into the natural process of the property? 

Your golf course superintendent not only is the keeper of golf’s green traditions, but they are highly trained environmental and financial stewards who conduct the natural orchestra of the property. During my career as a golf course superintendent, I have won many environmental accolades including two world championships in the GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf contest and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s (GCSAA) highest environmental honor: the President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship. Today, golf course superintendents continue to raise the bar for environmental performance. 

Your golf course superintendent is charged with protecting the delicate balances of Mother Nature, but he/she has the support of some amazing organizations. Let’s take a look at some of the green partners and evaluators available to your course and superintendent.

 The Guardians of Environmental Stewardship in Golf  

There are many organizations that support and encourage environmental stewardship in golf courses. Some of the most influential of these third-party green guardians include Audubon International, Golf Environmental Organization (GEO) and the Groundwater Foundation. These organizations are beyond the traditional organizations of golf, such as the PGA, LPGA, USGA, CMAA, GCSAA, etc., which all have programs to promote environmental stewardship within their own organizations. These green-minded organizations work with golf courses (and other green spaces) to craft environmental plans, record and analyze data, share case studies and relevant information and, in some cases, earn various certifications and awards for verified exceptional environmental stewardship. They help keep the green industry green! Here is a quick overview.

Audubon International 

Founded in 1987 and supported by the United States Golf Association (the USGA has donated over $2,000,000 to support the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses). AI has enrolled over 4,000 properties in their golf, recreation and hospitality certification programs. For more details about programs and the requirements and levels of certification, go to 

Golf Environment Organization

Headquartered in North Berwick, United Kingdom, and is an international environmental non-profit working to improve the level of sustainability of golf courses. They have a variety of services and programs, most noted is their OnCourse computer program that provides a base to track all your environmental efforts. The OnCourse program helps a course ultimately earn GEO certification. More information can be found at Beyond the GEO certification program GEO provides tools and resources covering operations, golf events and course development. 

The Groundwater Foundation

Groundwater Foundation provides public recognition for stewardship and protection of groundwater and the environment for highly managed green spaces such as golf courses, ball fields, parks and campuses. The Groundwater Foundation’s Ground Water Guardian Green Site program is available to golf courses. Through the program, golf courses will measure and document groundwater-friendly practices. To be designated as a Groundwater Guardian Green Site, you must apply and earn at least 70 percent of total points based on current best management practices related to pesticide and fertilizer use, water use, managing sources of pollution, protecting water quality and environmental stewardship. More information is available at 

The main takeaway here is that there are many organizations that can help your golf course become better environmental stewards and be recognized nationally and internationally for their efforts. Ask your superintendent for details of the environmental programs and certification held on your course. 

What all this means to you 

Golf is a game tied directly to the green space that it is played upon, and it takes all of us working together to keep the green space and the game thriving. If you love the game and your course, get involved in the support of the environmental programs at your club as soon as you can. Your golf course superintendent could use the help! They oversee all the environmental and agronomic programs for the course, and they can find a way for you to contribute. It is easier for your superintendent to raise the level of stewardship if they have the support of the membership and/or other stakeholders. 

This Earth Day, decide to make your game a little greener this year and support the environmental efforts of your course (what a great Earth Day present). Here are the three best ways to accomplish this. 

Contact your course superintendent and ask about current and planned environmental programs and activities. 

Tell all your golf buddies (and anyone else, for that matter) about the great environmental work that is going on at your course. 

Volunteer some time for a green cause, either on the course or in the community. 

Happy Earth Day, avid golfers, from all of us who keep our beloved game green.