But golf courses also have great opportunities to make a positive impact. They can provide wildlife sanctuaries, preserve natural areas in urban environments, support native plants and wildlife, protect water resources, rehabilitate degraded landscapes and promote environmentally-positive management to the public.
In a best case scenario, the golf course superintendent works hand-in-hand with nature to protect the ecological systems on the golf course and is committed to raising awareness of environmental conservation and preservation.
Whether building a new golf course or maintaining an existing one, the golf course superintendent must understand the natural site conditions and use practices that reduce the need for pesticides and ensure the smallest environmental impact possible.
Habitats can be established when birdhouses are built to attract birds, which provide a natural defense against certain insects. Ponds are stocked with fish that help to control algae, and bat boxes are built to control mosquitoes. When the golf course superintendent considers and tends to everything on the course -- every tree, every piece of grass -- in an environmentally sound way, native plants and wildlife will thrive.
Optimal watering times vary depending on the type and condition of the sprinklers, the types of plants used, exposure of the area being watered, the efficiency of the irrigation system and other factors such as temperature and wind. Water conservation is achieved through aggressive water usage plans and equipment, like low-pressure irrigation systems, that reduce overall water waste.
Although technology allows for irrigation systems that are more complex and sophisticated than ever before, they are no replacement for an experienced superintendent who recognizes and treats signs of drought stress but also ensures water conservation.
Sprinklers, controllers, valves, etc., often have small tolerances and will malfunction when the water contains silt or other impediments. If dirty water is a problem, filtration devices can be installed to screen out the pollutants. For the health of plants, additives can be injected into the irrigation water.
Because of water scarcity, in recent years more golf courses have started to use effluent, which is treated wastewater from community or industry sewage. It is cleansed of major pollutants, but still contains enough trace amounts of salt, heavy metals such as zinc and cadmium and bacteria to render it undrinkable.
Dense, well-managed turfgrass areas are among the best filtration systems available for polluted water. The thatch layer in turf, which consists of dead and decaying organic material, traps and holds particulate pollutants in the water and allows them to degrade naturally. The effluent water that goes on the course as irrigation is actually cleansed by the turf and plants before it is returned to lakes, streams and groundwater supplies.
Golf course superintendents are aware of suitable soils, climatic conditions, groundwater hydrology and other factors that can influence the feasibility of water reuse. Although the use of effluent water on golf courses poses challenges for superintendents who must cope with high salinity (salt) and other pollutants, golfers should not notice any differences on the course.
Rutgers Turf School alumnus, Shawn Reynolds, is the superintendent at Blue Heron Pines Golf Club, near Atlantic City, New Jersey. Blue Heron is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, thanks to the planning and hard work of Reynolds and his crew. Read more about Blue Heron and Shawn Reynolds here.
The Rutgers Turf Management School gives you the training and experience you need and a respected credential that opens doors and helps you advance your career.