National Environmental Study to Measure Golf Course Characteristics, Resource Allocation and Performance

Despite a growing database of information available to aid the golf industry in its decision-making, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) is aiming to fill a significant void in the data by embarking on a project this spring that will evaluate golf course environmental performance.

The Golf Course Environmental Profile, a multi-year project conducted by GCSAA, has as its mission the collection of information that will ultimately allow golf course superintendents and other facility personnel to become better managers, help facilities operate more efficiently and lead to GCSAA developing more valuable programs and services. Such information will include details about playing surfaces, natural resources, environmental stewardship efforts and maintenance practices. It is being funded by The Environmental Institute for Golf, thanks in large part to a grant from The Toro Foundation.

“Organizations such as the USGA Green Section, GCSAA, universities and private industry have funded and administered research that has been invaluable for the game. We know that golf courses are compatible with the environment,” said Tim O’Neill, GCSAA president, CGCS. “But we also know there are gaps in the data, especially in the collection of aggregate golf course information. We believe the data will be helpful on many fronts."

The most glaring absence comes in collective golf course performance data. Existing data is limited and not complete, uniform or centralized. GCSAA officials contend that this multi-year initiative will not only benefit superintendents and golf facilities, but communities and golfers as well.

“Golf courses are community assets from an environmental, economic and recreational perspective,” says Clark Throssell, Ph. D., GCSAA director of research. “The data and case studies clearly point that out. Years ago, we never thought golf courses would be used as habitat to restore species of wildlife, become part of a community’s water purification process or be employed as an element of a city’s green space program. Yet, that is happening today. I think we will find that in the future golf courses will have even greater value to communities. I believe this survey project will help guide the industry in attaining that.”

The project is actually several cycles of surveys that will be conducted over many years, with each individual survey cycle being conducted for multiple years. Each individual survey cycle will collect information of the physical features found on a golf course, water use, water quality, wildlife and habitat management, energy use and nutrient and pesticide use. The first cycle of surveys will establish a baseline of information from which environmental progress can be measured. The second cycle of surveys will begin five years after the start of first cycle of surveys and will be used to document environmental change and environmental progress on golf courses.

The entire data set needed will be collected over a multi-year period, following the same five-year “replication” cycle as the first survey. The categories to be included are water quality, habitat and wildlife, energy consumption and inputs of nutrients and pesticides.

Beginning this March, GCSAA and non-member superintendents will receive questionnaires regarding their facilities and golf course management activities. Data to be collected in the first survey consists of a profile of physical features of the golf course (including acreage and grass species on greens, tees, fairways, rough and natural areas); the facility grounds (including area devoted to the clubhouse, parking lots, maintenance facility and recreational amenities); and water use. The second stage will be to replicate the exact survey in five years to document environmental change and determine progress on golf courses.

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