by Bart Potter
IT’S THE ONLY mnemonic device I’ve ever remembered.
In case you’ve forgotten, a mnemonic* device is a trick to help you remember. One of the most famous (unless I’ve forgotten) is ROY G BIV. The great Roy G. Biv. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet … in that order.
Of all the colors of the rainbow that might announce themselves on a golf course, Roy’s middle initial is the one that will always be first and foremost.
Green trees. Green grass. Green fairways. The green.
Golf is green. But is it “green”?
This column isn’t long enough to be a comprehensive exploration of the environmental health and responsibility of golf courses. Scientists, weigh in if you feel like it. What seems clear is that golf courses are aware of the wonderful natural resources they can be.
And, far from having their heads in the bunker, they are tuned to the public mood that says they ought to be “green” as well as just green.
David Wienecke, superintendent at Chambers Bay, and Chris Goodman, superintendent and manager at Meadow Park Golf Course inTacoma, were part of a recent presentation to a gathering of golf media at ChambersBay. The theme was golf and the environment.
Wienecke and Goodman both say much the same thing: Because their grass is green and their courses look great and inviting and groomed, they hear from a sector of the (usually non-golf) population that they surely must be dumping tons of fertilizer and pesticides on their courses and wasting gallons of precious water.
“If it wasn’t so frustrating, it would almost be comical,” says Chuck Denney, director of parks and recreation for the city of Tumwater, which operates Tumwater Valley Golf Course.
Much closer to the truth is that golf courses do far less damage to the environment than the aggregate of the homeowner who can buy as much fertilizer as he wants for his 1,200-square-foot lawn and apply as much of it as he wants as often as he wants – and water it and water it and water it.
His lawn looks great, it’s all legal, and it’s leaching into the groundwater.
Wienecke cited a statistic that says golf courses represent 5 percent of water use. The other 95 percent isn’t all homeowners, obviously, but it’s the biggest chunk.
Goodman, whose theme at his course is “Bringing the meadows back to Meadow Park,” is embarked on a program that has added 20 acres of non-play, non-maintained land – more than double the previous acreage. Similarly, Tumwater has taken nearly 20 acres of mowed areas out of active maintenance and planted native trees and shrubs to enhance wildlife habitat.
On any given day at Tumwater, Denney says, you might see deer, ducks, Canada geese, red-tail hawks, blue herons, coyotes, rabbits, beaver, river otters, owls and a variety of other wildlife that live on or around the course.
Wienecke says among the 35 species of birds at Chambers Bay are hawks, owls and bald eagles.
“You don’t see that in an unhealthy ecosystem,” he says.
Wienecke says he goes three to 10 days between watering. And the water, he says, is cleaner when it leaves the course than when it arrives.
Goodman is watering less, fertilizing less, mowing less – and living with the different textures. Esthetically, Goodman likes most – not necessarily all – of the results.
“In some cases, it takes a slight change of perception,” he says. “Things can be a little rough around the edges, and maybe it’s slightly better for the environment.
“It can make the canvas a little more interesting.”
The Western Washington Golf Course Superintendents Association, of which Wienecke and Goodman are members, has an active environmental program. Organizations like The National Audubon Society, First Green and Salmon Safe (each worthy of a golf-related column in its own right) are partnering with the golf industry to further environmental aims.
There are other sides to this story. There is room for plenty more dialogue (right here in this space) about what golf courses are doing – and not doing – to be green around the greens.
As for Roy G., he had a cup of coffee on the Sherwin-Williams tour. Sprayed it all over the spectrum. Didn’t stick.
* Derived from Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory.