By Mike Jiggens
A Canadian golf course superintendent has been named the international “environmental leader in golf” award recipient for 2013 by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
Andrew Hardy, superintendent at Sharon, Ont.’s Pheasant Run Golf Club, was one of four major award winners formally honoured by the GCSAA at its Golf Industry Show in February in Orlando, Fla.
This marks the third time Hardy has been recognized for his environmental efforts by the association. He won chapter awards in both 2011 and 2012.
“It’s like you have to graduate through their process,” he said. “You can’t just apply and win. It takes a few years.”
Paul Carter, superintendent at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay in Harrison, Tenn., was the top overall award recipient. He previously won chapter and merit awards for five straight years.
Hardy, in his sixth year as superintendent at Pheasant Run, said it was his goal to earn such recognition for his environmental efforts which included certification for the golf course in 2010 as an Audubon cooperative sanctuary.
He said he only began his quest for Audubon certification a year earlier, making his achievement one of the fastest certifications ever. His efforts were bolstered by the cooperation of his club owner, general manager, golf professional, head gardener and a consultant who worked together as a team.
“It really made it easy.”
Hardy’s environmental efforts on the golf course were also formally recognized in 2012 by the East Gwillimbury Chamber of Commerce which presented the golf course with its environmental business of the year award. Pheasant Run also won the Town of East Gwillimbury award for environmental excellence.
Hardy has been practising integrated pest management at the golf course well before it became law.
One of his biggest accomplishments, he said, is his significant water savings on the golf course which he attributed to two factors. One was successfully convincing the club owner that a little bit of brown on the course wasn’t a major setback and wouldn’t negatively affect play. The other reason has been his use of Civitas.
“It has absolutely changed the way we maintain the golf course.”
His use of Civitas has been a major part of his fairway program for the past three seasons and has been instrumental in his amount of water reduction. Hardy said he hasn’t needed to fertilize his fairways for two years, and they were sprayed only once last year for dollar spot.
“Do we have some dollar spot breakthrough? Sure. Is it enough to be alarmed over? No.”
In 2013, Pheasant Run experienced a wet year, and the rough was watered only a few times. It was fertilized a couple of times to keep things “alive.” On his fairways, Hardy recalled completing only one full irrigation cycle last year.
He said his philosophy regarding water use is to let go of the fact that things need to be sopping wet and lush all the time. He said golfers haven’t even notice his reduced water use and are enjoying the firmer conditions of their fairways.
In 2012, Hardy was able to reduce his water volume by 23 per cent and knocked it back a further 21 per cent in 2013.
Last season, he used a TDR soil moisture meter for the first time and acknowledged it will prove to be a valuable tool in determining his water needs.
“The first year is really a lost year with that product until you figure out what the numbers actually are.”
Every green has a different number, he said, and there have been two different construction methods for the putting surfaces. The original 18 holes opened in 1981 and are native pushup greens. An addition nine holes opened in 1997 and were built to a Hutcheson mix.
The sandy property also features several elevation changes throughout the 27-hole layout.
Hardy said the biggest challenge he faces on his greens is the amount of poa annua which has become the dominant cover. A rebuild of the greens is out of the question because the club cannot afford to sacrifice the potential revenue for a lengthy shutdown.
“We’re trying to push bentgrass as much as we can now.”
As of early February, there was ice cover on a couple of greens which is typical almost every year. His plan was to clear the greens upon his return from the GCSAA conference.
Hardy said bad ice damage occurred in 2010. He managed to clear most of the greens that year and get black sand down. The surfaces he couldn’t get to because of snow depth actually fared better than those he cleared.
“There’s just no exact science to it. That would be way too easy.”
Because it’s a sandy property, ants tend to be an issue at Pheasant Run and can often get out of control.
“We’ve loosened our stance on ants. There’s no real product that provides a long-term solution. The products that are available are among the most toxic products on the market right now.”
Ant problems are usually addressed by dragging a few of the bad fairways or spot treating on a rainy day when golfers aren’t on the course.
Pheasant Run is a public course with about 400 members. Hardy said golfers are largely unaware of the club’s significant water reduction or the fact that it no longer sprays for ants every 14 days as it once did. He added his use of a moisture meter has gone unnoticed by golfers, nor has anyone paid heed to the hand watering done on greens during a season’s hot spells.
“It’s gone unnoticed.”
Hardy writes a blog for the club’s website, noting in one that signage had been erected to denote a number of environmentally-sensitive areas. A comment was posted to imply that’s all the club has done in its environmental efforts.
“To me, I take that as a compliment because they don’t even notice the things that we’ve done. All they’ve noticed is that we’ve put a few signs out in some wetland areas.”
In 2009, 47 acres of the golf course property were taken out of play, “and now it’s like it has always been there.”
Areas taken out of play were sections Hardy said were “literally out of play.”
Measures have been taken to make the game a little easier for golfers such as the elimination of some bunkers and cutting the rough shorter.
Hardy said golfers rarely see the sprayer on the course anymore, but, when they do, they realize it’s there for a reason.
Unlike many Ontario golf courses, which conduct their provincially-mandated IPMâ€ˆpublic meetings toward the end of the season, Pheasant Run holds its meetings in early April.
“We want to get it out of the way and focus on the golf season.”
At its inaugural meeting, a few people turned out and asked a handful of questions.
“We have nothing to hide,” Hardy said, adding Pheasant Run was the second course in Ontario to conduct the required public meeting.
Only one person, a neighbour of the golf course property, attended the 2013 meeting.
“People just aren’t interested.”
Attendance numbers seem to be consistent throughout the province. Hardy said it’s a shame that attendance doesn’t reflect the cost to advertise the meeting—about $1,000—and the effort to stage it.
Some turf loss was experienced for about four weeks at Pheasant Run last season, and it didn’t go unnoticed on the Toronto Golf Nuts website which lambasted the golf course.
Hardy noted those who follow the website aren’t even Pheasant Run’s core customers, but acknowledged that the trying period last summer was “a learning and growing experience, personally and professionally.”
He said the 2014 season will begin with a few loose ends to tie up from some tree removal done in the fall and then “our focus is 100 per cent on greens health this year. We’re hoping to avoid a disaster.”
This year marks Hardy’s 10th season at Pheasant Run. A graduate of Fairview College in Alberta, he had previously worked at a couple of golf courses in British Columbia.
For the past three seasons, he has operated without an assistant superintendent, but was reviewing resumes in early February to potentially fill the void. He said that unless he found an applicant “who knocks my socks off,” he would venture on for another season without an assistant.
Hardy said that between his requirements for maintaining his IPMâ€ˆaccreditation, managing staff and having to spray when necessary, “my days are pretty full.”
One of the benefits to going without an assistant, he said, is that it frees up enough of his budget to hire three more people during the season, but, he added, “even the talent pool for general labour is getting shallower and shallower.”