Three Keys to Creating Golf Course Sustainability February 2, 2015 By Joey Flyntz, USGA

Bird feeders are installed at the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay. (The Bear Trace)

Led by superintendent Paul Carter, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, a public golf facility near Chattanooga, Tenn., stands as proof that when it comes to golf course sustainability, more can be done with less.

Carter and his full-time staff of six have successfully implemented numerous environmental initiatives within the constraints of its budget as part of the state of Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation’s park system.

Among other things, Carter and his staff have:
• Built mallard nesting tubes, wood duck boxes, bluebird feeders and wild turkey gravity feeders;
• Saved $30,000 per year on chemical expenses by converting the greens from bentgrass to Champion ultradwarf bermudagrass;
• Naturalized 50 acres of highly maintained turf, reducing water usage by 7.4 million gallons, or 20 percent annually;
• Renovated the irrigation system to water only the greens and not the surrounds, saving another 1 million gallons of water per year;
• Switched to all electric maintenance equipment (minus fairway mowers and backpack blowers) two years ago, saving 9,000 gallons of fuel annually while producing more than 450 zero-emission days and decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 182,000 pounds

These accomplishments have earned Carter, 45, numerous environmental awards, including the prestigious President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship by the board of directors of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, which he will receive on Feb. 25 at the Golf Industry Show in San Antonio, Texas.

While courses in different regions with varying budgets present their own challenges, Carter believes there are three important keys to creating a sustainable environment: pace, patience and participation.

The first step is not to think too grand too fast.

“A key is starting with small projects, like we did with our bluebird feeders,” said Carter. “Accomplish some small tasks, show some progress and that will all build into bigger and better things.”

An important part of completing small tasks is having patience. Resource management doesn’t happen overnight. Small projects such as naturalizing an area of turf can take a year or two to be fully realized.

Perhaps the most important element in the resource-management process is gaining the support of your staff. Carter does not limit that to the maintenance staff. It’s important to get everyone on board. If the golf shop employees are educated and supportive, that will trickle out to the players, which will trickle out to prominent members of the community and keep spreading. Carter likes to play the course with its professionals to update them on the projects he’s working on and receive feedback from a player’s perspective.

Carter believes those three tenets can be universally adopted at any golf facility and believes everyone needs to do their part for the good of the game.

“I don’t see how golf can survive if we don’t start looking at these areas,” Carter said. “I think over the years, people have started realizing that. ‘Why are we fertilizing everything? Why are we mowing all this area?’ Maintenance staffs have been slashed, but there is still all this property that needs to be maintained. You have to start looking at areas you can cut out. Not everything has to be beautiful, lush green. Some places can be a little brown and dry.”

Carter’s methodology especially holds true at courses with limited staffs and budgets, such as The Bear Trace.

“Paul’s methods are definitely applicable at other courses,” said Jim Moore, the USGA Green Section’s director of education. “He has led The Bear Trace to be an early adopter of electric and hybrid maintenance equipment in addition to his naturalization work. He also convinced the course to plant turfgrasses that require less water and chemicals, which is smart both environmentally and economically. He manages the course with a small crew, which helps prove his techniques are within the grasp of those courses that do not have huge budgets.”

Building a top-notch golf facility doesn’t require a ballooning budget, unlimited water supply or an emerald green landscape. A little bit of pace, patience and participation can go a long way in creating a memorable golf experience designed for future generations to enjoy.


Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at