Celebrating sustainability: Bear Trace, Jacobsen host Earth Day event

By |  May 12, 2014

Earth Day is an ideal opportunity for the industry to showcase it environmental initiatives, and in that spirit, Jacobsen is thinking about holding an annual Earth Day event.

The Bear Trace, which is part of Harrison Bay State Park and the Tennessee Golf Trail, has implemented many sustainability initiatives, from plant and animal habitat projects to maintenance equipment emission reductions. Projects include the installation of 45 nesting houses, creating a large plant bed comprised of 218 plants native to Tennessee and renovating the chemical storage facility. Additionally, Carter, director of agronomy, naturalized more than 50 acres of the course to minimize maintenance and changed the turfgrass on the greens from bentgrass to Champion ultradwarf bermudagrass, helping to reduce the course’s annual chemical use and budget from $39,000 to $8,000.

In March of 2013, Carter purchased a fleet of all‐electric turf maintenance equipment (except diesel fairway and rough mowers), including bunker rakes, utility vehicles and green rollers. Since then, the course has saved more than 9,000 gallons of fuel and posted more than 175 days of emission‐free operation. Carter and his crew also have saved about $30,000 in maintenance costs as a result of not having as many gas engines.

“On normal days, especially the weekends, the only machinery used on the golf course is completely electric,” Carter says.

The idea of an electric fleet came from Lori Munkeboe, director of sustainable practices for the TDEC. She told Mike Nixon, director of golf course operations, about a neighbor who cuts his grass every Saturday morning at 7 a.m., but doesn’t wake her up because he uses an electric mower. So, she asked Nixon why Bear Trace didn’t use electric mowers. Nixon went to find out why.

One of Carter’s ultimate goals is to install solar panels on the maintenance and golf car buildings so the crew can generate as much, if not more, power than they use to charge the equipment at night.

“I’d love to be completely off the grid at some point,” he says.

Carter began talks with TDEC about using propane or biodiesel in his fairway and rough mowers, which cannot run on electricity. He also began discussions in Tennessee between a group of superintendents and the Office of Sustainable Practices about creating a best management practices guideline for the state.

“Other states have them and our industry in Tennessee would benefit greatly from them,” he says. “We’ll be working on it this year and hope to hammer it out in the off season at the end of the year.”

The TDEC — which manages the state’s parks system, of which Bear Trace is a part — believes developing land and conserving it, aren’t mutually exclusive. The department views every day at Bear Trace Earth Day because course managers balance recreational opportunities and the preservation of natural resources.

Jim Brosnan, Ph.D., head of the turfgrass weed science research and extension program at the University of Tennessee, also emphasized that sustainability is central to everything the department does when speaking at the Earth Day event.

“We’re training the next generation of turfgrass managers,” Brosnan says. “Students are leaving school knowing how to make sustainability a reality.”

Golf is good for many things, including flora and fauna, people who make a living in it and people who use it recreationally, says Ron Wright, CGCS, field staff — Southeastern regional representative for the GCSAA.

“Biodiversity is in golf, and we need to tell this story,” Wright says. “Much of the world doesn’t know all the benefits of golf, especially the environmental ones.”

Furthermore, the industry needs to live up to high environmental standards by improving continuously, says David Withers, Jacobsen’s president, also in attendance. To help achieve those goals, the company has partnered, for 10 years now, with the European Golf Environment Organization (GEO), which can provide a library of environmental information for superintendents who want to improve sustainability. The GEO, an international non-profit, is dedicated entirely to providing a credible and accessible system of sustainability standards, support programs, recognition and capacity building for the industry. Presently, there are 1,000 golf courses in the “one course” phase, which means they are working toward certification. Withers would like to see the day when a GEO designation — similar to Audubon here in the U.S., but less expensive — is a deciding factor when a golfer selects a course to play.

Providing the correct environmental stewardship information to the right people gives the industry a better opportunity to deliver its message to the public.

“Most people aren’t going to ask what we’re doing, they’re just going to assume whatever they hear is fact. If the industry doesn’t continue to inform people about the water we’re saving, the wildlife habitat we’re creating and protecting, the waterways we’re protecting and the fertilizers we’re NOT contaminating the soil and water with, no one else will. Most people like facts and numbers. If we provide them with those statistics, they won’t have anything to argue with,” says Carter.

Comments are closed.