In golf, the most important perspective for many years has been that of the customer- the golfers themselves. While this is true to some extent, the men and women who manage the livelihood of the golf course and playability are certainly just as important. Golf course superintendents are vital to the sustainable future of golf. As a golfer, I wasn’t always aware of the important role superintendents played, like many golfers and non golfers- I was naive. I had the opportunity to interview, Head Golf Course Superintendent Tim Heirs of Old Collier Golf Club in Naples, Florida. Tim guided me on a tour of the facility to learn what he and his grounds crew are doing to take measurable strides toward their environmental impact.
What does sustainability in golf mean from a Superintendent’s perspective?
Repurpose anything and everything you can. Golf itself when broken down to its most simple form can be the most productive and the same can be said regarding the design and maintenance of the golf course and its natural habitat and wildlife. Every golf course is different and must be managed as such. An example of repurposing is taking a dead tree and looking at ways its usefulness can be extended. Instead of throwing the tree away, it can be broken down into a wood pile, which creates wildlife habitat and food sources for insects, while saving money that can go toward the bottom line. A little effort and creativity goes a long way.
Can Superintendents and Golf Club Managers work together in a more productive way to help the sustainability of the golf operations?
Absolutely. Necessity will be the driving force for long term success and growth in the golf industry. Each golf course is unique and the free enterprise mentality will start to change and evolve into more of a working partnership toward helping the bottom line. The economy and environmental changes are causing a chain reaction within the industry which will result in the survival of the fittest. If golf courses do not change and adapt, they will suffer.
Are golf course chemicals as harmful to people and the environment as the public perceives?
There is much scientific research that goes into the distribution of chemicals on a golf course. Much like household chemicals, they can be harmful if abused or used in an improper dosage. The chemicals used on a golf course are controlled and when appropriately applied, are successful in creating healthy turf and wildlife sanctuaries. Most superintendents do their due diligence to make sure their turf management practices are environmentally sustainable. It is important for the golf industry to educate the public of the positive steps that are currently being taken to ensure a more sustainable future in golf.
Why does it seem like the majority of people in golf don’t care about sustainability?
Simple. Change is slow to occur. People don’t adjust to change well nor do they want to work harder toward something they are not aware is important. It’s easier to keep the industry the way it is, with the good ol’ boy system, and slow the pace of progress toward environmental stewardship. Turning a blind eye means not having to address the issues. Close to 90% of the population doesn’t play golf, making it easy to operate with the mindset of “business as usual.” Small steps toward sustainable practices will make a world of difference.