July 3, 2012

How green is golf?

Two Rivers Country Club Board members at the greens renovation groundbreaking
The court of public opinion has been tough on golf courses even though they offer about 1.7 million acres of open green spaces in the U.S. The stereotype of golf courses being water and chemical guzzlers is no longer true for many courses these days. Golf course superintendents now take many positive actions for the environment, and save on irrigation costs as well. Many are reducing nitrogen fertilizer applications in the rough and asking members to give up a little of that "wall to wall green."

The average American golf course requires up to 50 million gallons of water per year, as well as 18 pounds of pesticides per acre. Compare that to 2.7 pounds of pesticides per acre, per year for agriculture. Then there is all that fertilizer!

According to World Watch magazine, the world’s golf courses use an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of water a day for irrigation. Audubon International estimates that courses with improved irrigation methods save almost 2 million gallons of water each per year.

Golfers who want to help boost the demand for eco-friendly courses and become better stewards of the links can sign the “Green Golfer Challenge”. It is supported jointly by the USGA, Professional Golfers’ Association and Audubon International.

It is not easy being green—either the color or the environmental impact—for golf course greens, especially in 100 degrees of heat stress. Many courses have renovated their greens in recent years and Two Rivers Country Club at Governor’s Land in James City County, Virginia just began their greens and bunkers renovation. Temporary greens will allow members to continue playing while the top 15 inches are removed to install a better-draining subsurface under the new root zone.

Greens comprise a mere three percent of most golf courses. But half of golfers’ strokes occur on the greens. So it’s a big deal to rebuild them to USGA specifications.

Par for the course — The years have taken a toll on the greens on this Tom Fazio designed Two Rivers golf course. Other area courses even had to close during late summer of 2011 as their greens “failed.” Newer grass varieties that are deep rooted and drought resistant can hold up to hotter summers and require less irrigation and fertilization.

Reminiscent of James Bond, “007 creeping bentgrass” is a promising grass variety that many golf courses with conditions similar to our area are now using on their greens.

Two Rivers Golf Course Maintenance Director Brent Graham is assessing it to discover how it reacts to our intense heat, high humidity and water quality before making a final decision.  The greens have been here since the course opened in 1992, and Brent has been here for 8 years.

See Virginia Tech’s recommended cool and warm season grasses for homeowners in 2012 and other turf guidelines .