Golf and the Environment

We do many things to promote the environment at Stone Creek Golf Club but I feel this article written in July, 2009 by Eric Mortenson really sums it up. We were thrilled to see golf get this kind of press. This is exactly the message we are conveying when it comes to "Golf and the Environment".
Below Eric's story is an article that was published in Club and Resort Business in November 2010, by Betsy Gilliland. She talks about the OGCSA Guidelines and the online IPM generator build by Tom Calabrese from GreenGolfUSA.



Driven by cost and conscience, Oregon's golf courses are going green

By Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian

July 17, 2009, 7:00AM
Wildlife corridors border the fairways at Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City, recently named among the nation's top 10 environmentally friendly golf courses.
It may be that golf's swing mantra -- keep your head down -- keeps players focused on birdies, not birds. But whether golfers notice or not, when the gallery along the ninth fairway at Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City includes a dive-bombing kestrel and a redtail hawk, it's apparent that change is making the turn. Specifically, golf is getting greener. Across the United States, but especially in the Pacific Northwest and particularly in the Portland area, golf courses are adopting environmentally sustainable practices. They are using far less water, fertilizer and weed-killer than before and employing grass varieties that can thrive without meticulous care.
Superintendent David Phipps adjusts the sprinkler controls at Stone Creek. The 1,200 sprinkler heads can be individually manipulated, allowing crews to irrigate only where water is needed.
It's become par for the course for golf superintendents to leave dead trees for habitat, encourage native pollinators and maintain wildlife corridors. The courses themselves, often veined with creeks and wetlands, have taken on new roles as community protectors by receiving, storing and controlling storm water. Water hazards -- where wayward shots go to drown -- double as homes for ducks, geese, turtles and frogs. Reasons for the change include money and apprehension about being targeted for lawsuits or government regulation. But many golf course superintendents also say sustainability is an ethos that has taken root in settings once known for entitlement, exclusion and manipulation of the environment.
The turnabout hasn't escaped the notice of environmental groups, which welcome a partnership with properties that often are the largest expanse of green space in urban areas -- and properties that were once a primary target of environmentalists' ire.
Nineteen Oregon golf courses are certified as sanctuaries by Audubon International, based in New York state.The certification process examines wildlife management and habitat, water conservation and quality practices, chemical use and community outreach, among other tests.
"If it's a certified sanctuary, you're looking at a place that has looked at its environmental footprint, made a plan, taken action and documented their results," says program manager Joellen Lampman.
The Portland group Salmon-Safe is developing its own checklist of measurable standards for golf courses. Meeting them would allow a course to boast that it's been certified as a place where the course management practices don't harm fish.
"From the work we've done so far, we've seen some extraordinary stewardship in place," director Dan Kent says.

A killdeer runs across the course at Stone Creek, looking for a meal. The golf course is one of 19 in Oregon that are certified as sanctuaries by Audubon International. Certification requires a review of a course's water and chemical use, wildlife habitat management and community outreach.
Cost a big motivator
It wasn't always that way. Golf courses, often 150 acres or larger, are known for prodigious water use. Even the most environmentally conscious courses can use 300,000 gallons a night during the summer. In the past, some courses put blue dye in ponds and lakes to make them look more appealing and poured on the fertilizer and pesticide to create lush, weed-free, uniform playing surfaces.
But management practices have gradually changed over the past 20 years.
"You can see the writing on the wall," says Jesse Goodling, superintendent at Portland's city-owned Heron Lakes Golf Course. "You do need to be proactive and have all your ducks in a row -- and do the right thing, too."
Cost is a big motivator. Water, fertilizer and pesticides are expensive and require labor; reducing their use saves money. Better irrigation technology and less toxic products have helped as well. Heron Lakes has reduced its pesticide use by one-third to one-half over the past five years, Goodling says, and is transitioning to using a blend of bentgrass on its putting surfaces instead of poa annua, which needs more care.
Course workers have planted trees, let the rough grow longer to shelter wildlife, reduced watering on non-playing areas and established buffers around ponds. Nearly 60 heron nests have been counted, and herons literally walk the fairways at the facility's two courses. Osprey, bald eagles, river otters, deer, coyotes, raccoons and other animals co-exist with plaid-panted duffers, Goodling says.
Golf organizations began researching environmental practices in the late 1980s, says Greg Lyman, environmental programs manager with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, based in Lawrence, Kan. The work reflected society's increased questioning of the impact of products we use in our homes, yards and workplaces.
"Where do all the inputs go, how are they managed and what's the best way to handle them in a responsible fashion?" he asks. "It's the same evolution we're seeing in society in general.
"Golf courses understand that being proactive environmentally and pushing the envelope on sustainability is directly linked to the success of the industry and the game," Lyman says. "It's a game played on a plant. We have to do it responsibly, otherwise this is a shrinking business."

On the green
Unless you're talking about putting, using "green" and "golf" in the same sentence may be counter-intuitive -- like when the club pro says "swing easy" to hit the ball far. And although golf hasn't been known as especially enlightened when it comes to sustainable practices, that's changing. Course superintendents and environmental groups list ways that courses can become better stewards:
Avoid wasting water by using computer-controlled sprinklers, which allow selective watering of spots that need it rather than drenching the entire course.
Maintain no-spray, no-mow buffer zones around water hazards to help birds, frogs and turtles survive. 

Use grass seed blends and native plants that require less fertilizer and pesticide to thrive.
Encourage birds to take up residence by leaving dead trees standing. 

Develop unmanaged wildlife corridors between holes and along streams.
Educate golfers with signs that point out habitat and explain management practices.

--Eric Mortenson
A national model
At Stone Creek, the redtail hawk allows course superintendent David Phipps to approach within 40 feet on a golf cart and snap a few pictures before flapping off for another perch.
Owned by Clackamas County, the course has emerged as an environmental model for courses across the country. Under Phipps, the course won Environmental Leaders in Golf merit and regional awards from Golf Digest magazine from 2004-07, and in 2008 was named the nation's best public course in the same award category.
Stone Creek was named 2004-05 "Cooperator of the Year" by the Clackamas County Soil & Water Conservation District, and is one of Audubon International's certified sanctuaries. In June, Links magazine named Stone Creek to the eighth spot of its top 10 environmentally friendly courses, finishing one spot ahead of California's famed Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Links magazine cited Stone Creek's wildlife corridors, integrated pest management program, limited pesticide use, irrigation practices, pond buffer zones and its twice-annual water testing program. All the work is done voluntarily, Phipps says.
Driving the cart, Phipps points out some of the course's sustainable highlights. To save water, Stone Creek is using fine fescue grass seed blends on its fairways. Its 1,200 sprinkler heads can be individually programmed to put water only where it's needed.
"I think courses can be over-watered pretty easily," Phipps says. Reducing irrigation "makes the roots search for water, they go deeper, and the deeper they go the more drought-resistant they are."
Bubbling aerators, not chemicals, control algae bloom in ponds. Dead trees are left standing to attract insects, which in turn attract birds. On a bare hillside, Phipps points out holes that serve as underground nests for six species of native bees. A nearby sign explains the significance to passing golfers. Each year, Phipps and volunteer experts lead sixth-graders on a birding tour of the course.
When burrowing voles posed a problem, Phipps' crew erected a hawk perch in tall grass. The predators control the rodents. Bass in the ponds control mosquitoes and serve as osprey food. Twenty-two bird boxes are scattered about the course. Wildlife corridors of brush and trees allow larger animals to pass through the course undisturbed.
As if on cue, a doe and fawn rise from tall grass near the fourth-hole tee. The doe trots off warily, but the fawn steps within a few feet of Phipps before realizing he's not family and bounding away.
Phipps is an avid golfer and counts a hole-in-one on Stone Creek's second hole as a personal highlight. But days like this, when golfers share space with hawks and deer, are a bonus.
"I think this is half the beauty of the golf course," he says. "This is the fun part of the job."
--Eric Mortenson;

The Best-Laid Plans

by Betsy Gilliland (
November 2010
Club Profile

Club Name: Stone Creek Golf Club
Club Website:
Superintendent Blog:
Holes: 18
Designers: Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy
Type: Public; owned by Clackamas County and managed by Total Golf Management Services
Annual Rounds: 60,000
Year Opened: 2002
Golf Season: Year-round
Fairways: Mix perennial ryegrass, fine fescue and Poa annua
Greens: Creeping bentgrass. A-1/A-4 and Penn Links

Honors and Awards:
2008 Oregon Golf Association, Golf Course Superintendent of the Year
2008 National Public Winner, “Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Award”
2008 Bayer Environmental, Purple Cow Award
2007 Richard W. Malpass Distinguished Service Award
2007, 2006, 2005 Chapter Public Winner, “Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Award”
2004 Merit Public Winner, “Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Award”
2004-05 Cooperator of the Year, Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District
2000 Richard W. Malpass Distinguished Service Award, Oregon Golf Course Superintendents Association
2005 Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary

The Stone Creek IPM plan is available at GreenGolfUSA-IPMPlan-scgolfclub-20100526T121424-1644257299.pdf and at
Oregon Golf Course Superintendent David Phipps has helped develop a detailed online IPM plan template that can be customized to fit the maintenance needs of any golf course property.

Sometimes the best things in life really are free. And what self-respecting golf course superintendent would want to pass up a chance to use a maintenance tool that is available at no charge?

David Phipps, Golf Course Superintendent at Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City, Ore., has helped to develop a free, comprehensive Integrated Pest Management system template that allows fellow superintendents to create a customized IPM plan for their own site specifications.
Calling an IPM plan the cornerstone of environmental stewardship, Phipps believes an effective plan maximizes the use of natural methods to control pests. The template covers topics including turfgrass cultural practices, composting, pest population definition, action thresholds and pesticide specifications.

The IPM plan template has been available for a year, and to date, more than 200 superintendents have registered to take advantage of the service at the website,
Phipps, with an assist from Tom Calabrese, owner of EnviroLogic Resources, Inc., about the ability to provide the template at no charge, recently spoke to us about the development of the IPM plan template.

Q: Why did you decide to develop a comprehensive IPM template?

A: As a part of the Oregon GCSA Environmental Stewardship Guidelines, an IPM plan was a key component of its development. In our first publication, the IPM was just a sample that was not customized for a specific property. We realized that in order to get more superintendents to "buy in" to the program we needed to make it as easy as possible. As we began to plan for the Second Edition, we knew that we needed to utilize current technology to assist us in creating an individual and customized plan.

Dr. Michael Hindahl was the force behind the First Edition, and it was his vision to utilize the technology to make this happen. Shortly after he completed the proposal for the Second Edition we lost Michael to cancer. We were very fortunate when Tom Calabrese of EnviroLogic Resources, Inc., purchased Michael's company from his widow, Peggy. With Tom's expertise and vision, he took the Second Edition to a new level.

We asked Tom to develop a Word document that we could fill in the blanks, but what he came up with was a website that enabled superintendents to log in and create their own custom IPM plans. The website is called The beauty of this tool is that it can be updated at any time so the IPM would always reflect current cultural practices. In the spirit of the Guidelines, Tom provided this service for free to any golf course in Oregon and Washington and around the world. Currently there are over 200 users taking advantage of this service, and the number is growing.

Q: What kind of research and planning went into its development?

A: EnviroLogic Resources conducted two major pieces of research in order to make GreenGolfUSA happen - technical research and software research. First, they needed to evaluate, update, and distill the IPM approach that was taken in the First Edition of the Oregon GCSA Environmental Stewardship Guidelines. They added elements to the IPM program, then condensed it down to separate the essential elements from the variables. It's these variables that allow a golf course superintendent to customize the IPM plan output to his facility. Second, EnviroLogic Resources needed to define the software/server requirements to house an online tool that could allow access through a browser while managing the user database, custom elements, and still produce a PDF document, which is the kind of output we were after. GreenGolfUSA is very customizable to a particular facility, easy to use, and can be updated with only a few keystrokes.

Q: What are the turf benefits of an IPM plan?

A: Turf management practices outlined in the IPM plan include aerification, proper mowing techniques, and water management. Also included are pest management practices, which can include biological, mechanical, genetic and chemical control. By implementing all of these practices, we are providing optimum growing conditions for the turf and are providing the best playing conditions possible. With that said, we are aware of the three Ps: people, planet and profit. We outline our program while being aware of these three elements. We establish thresholds that determine when we will act upon a certain condition. Based upon our own limits, which we can determine within the online IPM generator, we will know at a specific point when we need to act. By doing this we are conserving resources by not treating the turf every time we see an insect or a spot of disease.
Q: What are the economic benefits?

A: The ultimate goal of a program such as this is the reduction of resources. At Stone Creek we have reduced herbicide applications by doing only spot spraying. We have established thresholds that allow a bit more disease than normal, which in turn reduces fungicide applications on surfaces such as tee boxes and fairways. We have reduced water use by allowing areas of the course to become dry by not irrigating wall-to-wall. We also allow the fairways to stress a bit more than normal, which also provides firmer conditions and increases ball roll. By using mainly slow-release products such as methylene ureas on our fairways, we have reduced the number of applications necessary to maintain vigorous turf. The money that we save goes right to the bottom line.

Q: How do you make the plan available to other superintendents?

A: The IPM generator is freely available at The Oregon Stewardship Guidelines are available at the Oregon GCSA website, Two downloads are available. One for downloading to view on your PC and the other for taking to a printer to have it printed and bound. This was our way of saving resources, plus the document can be easily updated.

Q: An IPM plan not only is good for the environment and the bottom line. What kind of PR benefits does such a plan offer, and how do you let the non-golfing community know what you're doing?

A: The Oregon Stewardship Guidelines encourage properties to become involved in programs such as the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. The Guidelines are an eight-step program that includes documenting your environmental setting, establishing best management practices, constructing an IPM program, water quality monitoring, well head protection, water management and conservation, wildlife habitat enhancement and community outreach. Essentially, if you documented your environmental program through the Oregon Guidelines, you would become Audubon certified.

Q: How are you able to provide the site for free?

A: (Quoted from Tom Calabrese) "First and foremost, GreenGolfUSA was intended to support the Environmental Stewardship Guidelines. Integrated Pest Management and documentation of Best Management Practices are the foundation of any environmental stewardship program. We felt providing the foundation elements at no charge would encourage golf course superintendents in the Pacific Northwest to begin to develop their overall environmental stewardship program. EnviroLogic Resources provides consulting services related to these overall environmental stewardship programs. In addition, we felt following a Google model would provide sufficient revenue to support the website development and maintenance. We provide advertising exposure for suppliers to a much-targeted market. And because we have registered users all over the world, we can provide broad exposure as well.
Our experience and success with GreenGolfUSA provided the impetus to expand our reach, and we now provide similar tools for the parks and recreation industry, with sports fields, schools, and landscape industries to follow. These websites, under the banner of GreenCloudUSA, are fee-for-service websites."

Q: Have any practices or attitudes changed about IPM since you first started the project?

A: Personally, I have found the new IPM tool to be very useful in having done two revisions so far. I have received favorable comments from other superintendents around the country.

The attitudes are going to change, but I have a feeling it will be a slow process. This is something that superintendents must buy into on their own. I only hope that the majority will find this useful before it becomes mandatory as part of a permit process. You can never tell, especially with the way they are talking about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System rules. I wouldn't be surprised to see a mandatory IPM plan required some day.

GCSAA has been working hard in providing many tools in which superintendents can document their environmental programs. This is only one of many that are in the "tool box." We have all been given the tools that we need. Now it is just a matter of just doing it! The key is going to be in the numbers. The more properties that we can cite having an IPM program in place, the less likely we will see more governmental regulation.

Q: What aspects of turfgrass maintenance does the IPM plan cover?

A: The IPM plan covers all aspects from all regions of the country.

Q: How can superintendents customize the plan for their courses?

A: GreenGolfUSA uses a combination of drop-down menus, radio buttons, and text boxes that allow a golf course superintendent to provide site-specific information to incorporate into the IPM plan output. The databases of diseases, weeds, and other pests are relatively exhaustive but expandable where needed. The ability to set pest action thresholds in each area of the golf course for each pest means that a golf course superintendent can be precise in describing how he manages the property.

Q: Has the plan enabled you to affect legislation about pesticide or fungicide use at all?

A: To this point we have not had to deal with any direct legislation action against pesticides. But what is important is that our strength will come in numbers. The more properties that utilize a comprehensive IPM Plan such as this, the more the legislators will stop and listen to what we say. I often refer to the Georgia Chapter and their work with water conservation BMPs. They managed to receive over 90 percent buy-in from golf courses around the state, and their Legislature listened. The Georgia superintendents are now looked up to as the experts and are often consulted on their water-saving measures. This is the impression that I would like legislatures to have regarding our industry and pesticide use. We are trained and licensed professionals. Now we just need to stand up and let the rest of the world know that.
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