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Greener golf: Lawrence managers review energy impact at clubs

Golfers at Lawrence Country Club.

Golfers at Lawrence Country Club.

June 14, 2010

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The increased awareness of environmental sustainability has spread throughout nearly every aspect of life and business, including one of the most impactful environmental and economic areas of many communities: golf courses.

Locally, Lawrence Country Club has taken several steps to improve their environmental impact while also lowering costs.

Bill Irving, golf course superintendent of Lawrence Country Club, says when the course was renovated in 2005-06, the course management took many steps toward environmental sustainability.

“We look at environmental sustainability and the environmental impact we have — especially in a town like Lawrence where it’s very progressive and environmentally conscious — that we are very conscious of what we do and how we impact everything, especially the environment,” he says.

He says he picked specific types of grasses that would require less chemical treatment and water and also built a 3 1/2 acre retention pond that catches runoff from surrounding areas. This water can then be used in the irrigation system to water the course.

Irving has also changed input techniques over the past several years to save costs and promote sustainability. He has set guidelines of when to use water and chemical treatments.

“We have some set thresholds, and we won’t spray until we feel like we’ve exceeded those thresholds,” he says.

Irving said he has only used the irrigation system twice that he can remember this year and watering only accounted for just more than 2 percent of the budget last year.

While the drop-off in watering affects the appearance of the course, Irving says the course is in better shape and plays better for the members.

“I really think that by watching how we use water and not over-watering by actually under-watering most of our in-play areas, we have a better golf course from the player’s perspective and for me that counts for everything,” he says.

Irving also said he and the staff at LCC have taken several steps forward in the area of energy conservation. The course uses all electric golf carts, which are charged during non-peak hours to lessen their strain on the system. Irving also says he is investigating the prospects of using solar panels to power the golf carts.

Irving says he and the staff are also making minor adjustments

to their energy habits, including keeping the temperature a few degrees higher during the summer and turning of lights when not needed.

“In my maintenance facility we used to leave all the lights on all the time, “ he says. Now we’re turning toward the mentality, ‘Hey shut the lights off; we don’t need it.’”

Irving is also a member of Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, which supports the Environmental Institute of Golf — a philanthropic organization to better the environmental effects of golf courses.

Though the organization is centered Lawrence, it partners with courses and other organizations all across the country and world, including the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA).

Greg Lyman, director of environmental programs for Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, says the principles of sustainability and golf courses go hand in hand.

“We feel that sustainability addresses three primary elements: people planet and profit — and while that is the basic concept of sustainability, we also feel the values of golf are lined in the same way,” Lyman says.

The institute focuses on three areas of sustainability: water conservation, water quality protection and energy conservation.

Lyman says better technology, better predictive procedures in watering systems and use of recycled water have all contributed to more effective water conservation. Water quality has improved greatly also because of the use of more robust plants that require less chemicals and water and the prudence of superintendents like Irving all across the country.

While energy conservation has been less of a concern for golf courses in the past, Lyman says courses are beginning the make numerous steps in the right direction. From switching to electric maintenance equipment and carts, evaluating mowing paths to reduce fuel usage, and even using solar panels, hydrogen fuel cells and propane to power equipment instead of gasoline.

“Where I think that we will see growth in the future on golf courses is not only in energy conservation but also in the area of energy generation on golf courses because these can be valuable green spaces within urban areas.”

Lyman says many of the energy conservation technologies mentioned above may emerge on golf courses more quickly because golf courses have a central place to fuel carts and equipment, measurable distances by which carts are traveling and access to potentially large water, solar and wind supplies.

“We think that golf has a good story to tell, and we feel that golf courses are environmental, economic and recreational or social assets to their communities and we look forward to progress being made each and every day on golf courses,” Lyman says.

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