Sustainability is the talk of GCSAA conference

A sprawling outdoor area featuring tee boxes, turfs and interactive greens highlights the various measures being taken to address the hot topic

PHOENIX, Arizona — With a return to the Southwest for the first time in 37 years, it’s not surprising that sustainability is generating plenty of thought at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) annual Conference and Trade Show. The multi-day event is being held at the Phoenix Convention Center, in the heart of a region where water issues are front and center for superintendents and the golf industry as a whole.

An outdoor Sustainability Showcase has been built to highlight a number of related measures, including tee boxes featuring both subsurface drip and hydroponic irrigation, an interactive green featuring multiple types of turf demonstrating the science of water reducing turf, another interactive green showing the technology of moisture meters with demonstrations on increasing soils’ ability to retain water, and a pond retention area.

Sustainabillity Showcase
The Sustainability Showcase features multiple types of turf, interactive greens and tee boxes that highlight various sustainability issues.

“We want to tell the story of how golf sustainability is a real thing and that really, working together with the United States Golf Association, Golf Course Builders Association of America, the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and the PGA of America, we are collaborating to make that happen,” says Ed Several, GCSAA chief marketing officer. “At last year’s conference we did something that provided more of a surface-level look, with a tee box, fairway, and green used together as stage. This year the Showcase has evolved into different sections of greens and turf that can serve as mini-classrooms.”

On hand for the opening of the Sustainability Showcase was Matt Pringle, managing director of the USGA Green Section, who pointed out there are already useful tools available to superintendents when it comes to that topic.

“The most exciting things are known technologies, like drip irrigation, using GPS trackers to take turf out of play where it’s not being used, or using soil moisture sensors to make irrigation timing decisions rather than just, ‘Well it’s Tuesday evening, so let’s run the irrigation heads for 10 minutes,’” Pringle says. “Most of our focus is really not on new technology as much as it is on getting existing technology to be utilized more. In some cases that requires investment, which does take time. But eventually irrigation systems do need to be replaced, so let’s get one in place that is more precise and delivers water to where it’s really needed. As new superintendents come into the industry they are adapting new technologies more and more. I do think, whether it’s in the next year or over the next 20 years, this industry will become much more data driven which will be more efficient.”

“Best use of resources has really shifted our industry,” Several says. “Everything now has a technological element to it, including the approach our GCSAA members take which is science-based and using best management practices, all based on data.”

That’s what Matt Muhlenbruch, director of agronomy, has done at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles since a 2019 course renovation project by Kyle Phillips.

“There’s been a slow progression in the golf industry for anyone who has been working on sustainability with their clubs or companies,” he says. “But in recent years there’s been a flood of technology, and all of these different tools that can give you useful data. What we have done at Hillcrest over the past five years is integrate a lot of those tools and make a meaningful change from a golf operation perspective. In return we save natural resources.”

But the issues superintendents face can differ vastly by geography, according to Muhlenbruch.

“In golf there’s a lot of discussion about sustainability but I always thought it was painted with one brush,” he says. “You’re looking at big, national solutions and for all of us with boots on the ground and dealing with these things, we do not all have the same problems. When you’re talking about West of the Mississippi, the bottleneck to the success of a course operation is water. Now for those managing courses East of the Mississippi, they have much different issues pertaining to water. The tools we all can use might be universal, but the path to sustainability at every golf course will not be the same.”

> In the GCSAA’s National Golf Championships, Seth Strickland shot 6-under par at Camelback Golf Club to win his sixth title. Doing so ties him with Emil “Mashie” Masciocchi, who captured six titles between 1940 and 1950. Strickland, the GCSAA director of agronomy superintendent at Miami Beach Golf Club, also won in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2021 and 2022. Ed Martinez won the senior title for the second straight year. He is the GCSAA director of agronomy at The Hills of Lakeway — Yaupon in Texas.  

> Two-time major winner and current CBS broadcaster Dottie Pepper will receive the GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award in a ceremony on Wednesday. The Old Tom Morris Award is presented to an individual who, through a continuing lifetime commitment to the game of golf, has helped to mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris. She is the seventh woman to win the Old Tom Morris Award.

> Wayne Mills, golf course superintendent at La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara, California, will receive the GCSAA’s President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship. The award is based on exceptional environmental contributions to the game of golf that exemplify the superintendent’s image as a steward of the land.