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Brown isn’t typically the color a golfer would use to describe his ideal fairway but at public and private courses around the state it’s becoming quite in fashion as clubs have pushed for formalized conservation programs.
“Brown is the new green,” said Kirk Whiting, superintendent of the Sakonnet Golf Club in Little Compton. “Members have been nothing but receptive. It makes everybody happy at the club.”
Sakonnet is one of five golf venues in Rhode Island that recently were recognized for greening efforts under the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s Rhode Island Golf Course Green Certification program.
Implemented in 2010, the self-certification program was developed in collaboration with the RI Golf Course Superintendents Association and the Coastal Resources Management Council.
Along with Sakonnet, Meadow Brook Golf Course in Richmond, Alpine Country Club in Cranston, Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Charlestown, and Point Judith Country Club in Narragansett were the first courses to receive green certification.
“There are different perceptions [about golf courses but] it’s always been part of our thing to be green,” said John McClair, superintendent of the Warwick Country Club and past president of the Rhode Island Golf Superintendents Association. “It seems more [important] with the way things are today and it’s been talked about more.”
Brown – or more accurately, browner – grass can result from efforts to limit course watering, a policy that Whiting and others have instituted not only for environmental protection but also fiscal responsibility.
“It changes the conditions of the golf course,” said Whiting. “It makes it a little more old-style play, fast and firm. Everything we checked off [on the DEM program] was already happening [at Sakonnet].”
The DEM certification, still considered in its infancy, works, for now, on an honor-code system.
Golf courses request a Green Golf Course Self-Certification Workbook and superintendents check off initiatives that qualify for green points.
Completed workbooks are sent in to the DEM, where scores are reviewed. The DEM then sends an official letter to the course that could include “low-cost” recommendations, according to DEM’s website.
Courses need 300 points to be certified. A recertification two years later would require 350 points.
The DEM could schedule verification appointments, though Ronald Gagnon, chief of DEM’s Office of Customer and Technology Assistance, said that hasn’t yet been necessary due to the department’s close relationship with course superintendents.
“We haven’t done a formal review [because] we’ve been out to all five anyway,” he said. “The superintendents fill out the workbook and they are the ones initiating any projects [so] we do have a good confidence level.”
When Scott Gabrielson, superintendent at Alpine Country Club, went to the department for a permit he needed for irrigation-pond expansion he found the process could go faster if he filled out the workbook.
There is a permitting group within Gagnon’s group created from a stimulus program that helps the DEM expedite minor permits – for noninvasive projects – that could provide economic incentives, including jobs.
“Everybody is involved in trying to get savings on energy and whatnot,” said Gabrielson. “[Our irrigation-pond] expansion also makes it a bigger environment for the wildlife around here.”
A new percentage of the golf course providing wildlife habitat is one of the bigger point earners under the DEM’s program, as is the use of hybrid mowers, solar panels and wind turbines, but even smaller efforts such as recycling laser-toner cartridges are counted.
Water conservation and limited use of pesticides – for grass growing and pest control – seem to be on the minds of club superintendents.
“We’ve adopted a pretty aggressive hand-watering program, instead of turning a sprinkler on,” said Brett Johnson, course superintendent at Point Judith. “You’re going [that way] to have a little browner look that most people see on television but our members are completely behind it. It’s actually healthier for the turf and you get better playing conditions when it’s firmer and dryer.”
Johnson has led his club to install buffer zones around its irrigation pond to increase wildlife habitat, as well as an environmental wash system and elimination of blanket mosquito treatments.
He also helped the clubhouse move toward a healthier menu that leans toward locally sourced foods.
Alpine recently purchased 30 acres it plans to leave undeveloped and has partnered with the Rhode Island Audubon Society to construct bird houses and plant native fescue grasses.
McClair, who is in the process of filling out his certification workbook, said Warwick’s clubhouse limits the use of paper products and cooks with reusable oil.
“With our profession, it’s the pure fact of resources,” said McClair. “Working with state agencies goes a long way to letting the public know that we are responsible advocates for the environment.”
Green-certified courses can display the award and decals at their property, a logo to use for marketing purposes, and are listed on the association’s website as environmentally preferable – a bonus in that is not unnoticed by superintendents who know their members, like everyone else, are conscious of preserving environmental resources.
“I think the club knows that’s it good PR for us and our members,” said Johnson. “Members want the club to be around in the future for their children.” •