Golf course sustainability

Golf Courses, and the communities and resorts that surround them, share a heritage of conserving natural resources, protecting wildlife habitats, and preserving the environment. A coalition of leading golf organizations, We Are Golf[1], has been communicating the game’s environmental benefits since 2009. They express a golf industry goal: “to offer a sustainable asset to the community that is managed with a focus on water conservation, water quality protection, energy conservation and pollution prevention[2].”

Among the many and varied initiatives, the PGA TOUR’s Waste Management Phoenix Open has diverted 100% of all tournament waste from landfills, achieving zero waste every year since 2013[3] — even when attendance soared above 700,000[4]. In the January, 2020 tournament, the use of recyclable aluminum beverage cups was implemented[5].

We wanted to know more about golf sustainability, but from a golf community perspective. Diane Morey — who facilitates Golf Environmental Organization (GEO) and Audubon Society Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) certifications at Moss Creek on Hilton Head Island — had the answers for us.

Q: What does it take to bring sustainability to a golf course?

This native red-tailed hawk has found the perfect perch for observing tee shots.

It’s an ongoing commitment. Both 18-hole courses at Moss Creek are Audubon certified and GEO compliant, but that wasn’t a one-time decision. People choose to play golf here and be part of our community because they value Hilton Head Island’s natural beauty. Management and staff see that same beauty every day, and so preserving it is a value we’ve shared for years. You can read about sustainability programs in our operating procedures, but more importantly you can see their results everywhere in the courses and the community.

The programs had been implemented long before any certification. To earn and maintain GEO and Audubon certifications, we provided forms and photographs that documented existing sustainability best practices, then updated them as needed.

Q: Beyond the intangibles… from a budget perspective, do sustainability investments return value?

Yes, in many ways. Environmentally friendly choices increase property values. Then there are line items like utilities, which are significant for a golf course. Water retention and conservation initiatives have helped us keep the grounds in pristine condition while keeping costs under control. Even with reduced water usage, greens are no less green! Moss Creek management also sees positive results in the efficient use of consumable turf product treatments.

Q: How can environmental best practices be brought beyond the golf courses?

This sign, strategically posted near a cart path, avoids surprise encounters when a shot strays out of bounds.

In our community, golf and non-golfing members all have access to environmental seminars. Even those who don’t choose to participate see our commitment day-to-day. They may find information on a sign or enjoy the scenery of either onsite nature preserve.

Community members initiated their own Nature Club, and many participate in environmental events like the annual Audubon bird count. They and the efforts of our staff are reducing our community’s carbon footprint, using sustainable best practices that have long been standards in golf.

Q: What makes a sustainable, environmentally-friendly course a better place to play golf?

Course Superintendents Wesley Trawick and Cole Waller are seen at a solitary bee habitat. The habitats have been installed on both Moss Creek courses.

A relaxing, healthy, and unique course is a valuable part of the golf experience, so the native plants and wildlife habitats along both courses are environmental resources. They contribute to the relaxing and healthy recreation that golf should provide.

Golfers often let us know that they enjoyed the course. When a foursome comes in, we hear about sightings of mink, foxes, and bald eagles — either along the course or in a conservation area. Both of our conservation areas have ponds that are seasonal stopovers for migratory birds. A great variety of South Carolina species visit them year-round.

Q: Have you found practical ways to recycle at a golf course?

The recycling done at our clubhouse, including retail and food service locations, is just the beginning. As a person looks around the more than 1,000 acres of our community, they’ll find tennis balls being recycled at the tennis center. Over at the equestrian center, waste is being composted and all organic matter from residents becomes mulch. What a person won’t find is Styrofoam or a straw at any food service location.

Diane Morey

Diane Morey is Assistant to the Director of Golf and Grounds Maintenance at Moss Creek – Hilton Head. Her work there includes teaching, photography, and multimedia displays — all promoting environmental awareness and sustainable permaculture. Twice certified as a Master Naturalist, and a Certified Permaculture Design Consultant, Diane advocates recycling, composting, and organic gardening as small efforts that yield huge rewards.

[1] These are several of the organizations in the WE ARE GOLF coalition:

  • Golf Course Superintendents Association
  • National Golf Course Owners Association
  • Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America
  • PGA Tour
  • United States Golf Association
  • U.S. Golf Manufacturers Council
  • World Golf Foundation

[2] — The WE ARE GOLF coalition website

Alexa Stone
LEED AP, Sustainable Facility Professional, Envision Sustainability Professional - - Alexa has more than 25 years of experience in sustainable and Smart Cities development. Her strategic planning work has served local, state, and federal government, higher education, and private industry. Alexa founded ecoPreserve in 2009 as a team of 3 and has grown the company to over a dozen of the brightest sustainability and project management professionals in the industry.
Alexa Stone


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