Golfing Goes “Green” at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America

Golf courses and country clubs are often criticized for adversely affecting the environment. Grass maintenance, the use of pesticides, and waste management are a few of the ecological challenges faced by course superintendents today. With over 200,000 registered members of golfing associations in Wisconsin alone, the governing bodies of the sport have made minimizing the environmental impact of golf a priority. Golf course wastes that can be recycled include used motor oil, tires, batteries, cardboard, pesticide rinsate, grass and tree clippings, solvents and, in some states, pesticide containers. By adopting strict environmental guidelines, seven golf courses in Wisconsin have been certified by Audubon International as ecologically-approved Certified Cooperative Sanctuaries.

Strategies - Whenever possible, superintendents recycle grass clippings. Grass clippings can be recycled by spreading them along the rough and around trees. Composting the clippings is also an option. Compost is an excellent growing medium that promotes fast germination and can reduce fertilizer use. Recycling grass clippings provides valuable nutrients that improve the soil.

Whenever possible, superintendents recycle pesticide rinsate. An alternative to disposal of pesticide waste is recycling pesticide rinsate in the field. According to an EPA research workshop, pesticide rinsate recycling is "economical, technically uncomplicated, provides total containment, may be adapted to specific site situations and minimizes the amount of wastewater that must be treated and disposed of." Superintendents who utilize this practice are encouraged to build a catchment and storage system for pesticide rinsate intended for reuse. This facility should be in compliance with state and local regulations.

Used tires and motor oil from golf course maintenance equipment and golf cars can also be recycled. Tire and oil distributors and local recycling companies should have information regarding recognized tire and motor oil recycling centers.

Benefits - Benefits of properly managed, ecologically friendly courses range from improved air quality to the provision of sanctuaries for sensitive species of plants and animals. Studies have shown that turfgrass absorbs ozone, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen fluoride. Course vegetation (shrubs, trees, etc.) produces oxygen as part of the plants' natural processes and removes pollutants from the air, rainfall, and irrigation water. The vegetation absorbs noise, helps recharge groundwater supplies by slowing runoff, prevents soil erosion, and provides a habitat for wildlife.

It is estimated that up to 20% of landfill space is taken up by grass clippings and other yard waste. Golf courses especially can go a long way to helping reduce this statistic by maintaining effective grass-clipping recycling and composting programs.

Challenges - The dropping of leaves in the fall presents challenging management options for their removal. One option is to mulch the leaves with mowers directly on the turf. Similar to grass clippings, leaves provide nutrients and organic matter for the soil. Also similar to clipping return, mulching leaves is limited to fairways and roughs because of playability constraints. Mulching mowers can expedite the exercise of grinding the leaves into fine particles.

Recycling of grass clippings can be limited by the aesthetics and playability demanded on certain areas of the golf course, such as tees and greens. And under the right conditions, clipping return may encourage the spread of turf diseases at certain times of the season. For these reasons, returning clippings to the turf may be limited to roughs and fairways and the time of season. Mowing frequently to keep clippings short is a method of enhancing the appearance of the turf because it encourages rapid clipping degradation on the playing surface.

To learn how to set up a program, check out these resources:
Solid Waste Association of North America:
Keep America Beautiful:

Audubon Certified Golf Courses in Wisconsin:
Baraboo Country Club, Baraboo: 1-800-657-4981     http://www/
Fire Ridge Golf Club, Grafton: 262-375-2252
Ozaukee Country Club, Mequon: 262-242-2450

Sources: Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, Wisconsin Golf Course Superintendents Association, Audubon International.

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