Turf & Rec

Features Profiles
Environmental programs that make economic sense

May 14, 2010  By  Mike Jiggens

By Dean Piller, superintendent
Cordova Bay Golf Course
Victoria, B.C.

Cordova Bay Golf Course has been certified as an Audubon Sanctuary
since the year 2005. Since this time we have continued to expand our
environmental programs, resulting in tremendous benefits for the golf
course, including improved course aesthetics, course conditions and
budget savings that I feel can be of benefit to all courses that are
trying to deal with today’s tight budget restrictions.

thumb_cordovawebThe common denominator or key to the success of these programs is through a reduction in the consumption of resources, including water, fertilizer, fuel and materials and, when programs are implemented to recycle maintenance by-products and organic materials produced through the growing season, there are several economic benefits experienced. Simply put, maintenance programs developed with a clear understanding of the cost implications or cost recovery potential can have a profound effect on the health of your facility’s financial picture.

The importance of testing and consulting


It took me a long time to understand the important role an agronomist or consultant can play in the management of a golf course facility. For starters, I believe an overall turf management plan is best established with the technical expertise of an agronomist and soils lab for both the chemical and physical properties on your property.

We take soil tests to check out our chemistry three times per year on tees, greens and fairways in the spring, summer and fall, and soil physical property tests twice per year in the spring and fall. I refer to the information provided by the agronomists from these tests as our report cards that evaluate how we are doing. It measures the success of our fertility and cultural programs over the past four months and provides us with the necessary information to fine tune our programs moving into the next four-to-six-month period.   


An irrigation water test should also be done as the water you’re applying to your turf may have more of an impact on the health of your turf than any other substance you are applying. We have found through our experience that the benefits realized through the expenditure of $3,000 per year for our agronomist and soils labs is well worth the money spent and, in fact, has improved golf course conditions by ensuring that each dollar spent on fertility and cultural programs is required to improve the soil conditions of these primary turf surfaces.

Irrigation system auditing and design modifications: another important area to consider consultants

Another basic starting point in developing a sound environmental management plan is having an irrigation system maintenance and upgrade program in place. First and foremost, before you can properly design a system maintenance schedule and replacement program, you need to know the present state of your existing system. 

This should begin with an evaluation of your pump house,  piping network, control system and sprinklers. Hire a professional irrigation consultant to evaluate each of these components and prioritize in order of importance a replacement program to bring your system up to a standard that will help you apply water efficiently and uniformly. In our case, we found that we were able to dramatically improve the hydraulics of our system with the addition of some additional mainlines and loops. This effectively reduced the speed of the water through the pipes, resulting in less friction loss, reduced water hammer and overall better performance of the sprinklers. 

Irrigation system upgrades: critical and worth every penny

When a golf course is first built, two of the largest expenses incurred are the installation of an irrigation system and the purchase of all the mowing and maintenance equipment to maintain the property.

For illustration purposes, I am going to use a number of $1 million for the irrigation system and $750,000 for the maintenance equipment   Many courses have a solid three-to-seven-year equipment replacement program in place for their fleet of equipment. However, many of these same courses are still trying to properly maintain their facility with an irrigation system that has 10-to-20-year-old irrigation components in them. The irrigation industry has done a masterful job of bringing more efficient irrigation system components to the market that will improve the way we can irrigate our property, and yet many property managers are still struggling with older systems that lack this new technology. 

Building a five-to-10-year replacement program for your pump station, irrigation controllers, software and golf course sprinklers makes sense. An 18-hole golf course with 600 sprinklers can replace all their heads on the course for approximately $100,000 and, in our case, we sold the old sprinklers for $50 per head, resulting in a net overall cost of $70,000 to upgrade our original sprinkler heads. This roughly equates to the price of two new triplex greens mowers!   

A carefully developed five-to-10-year plan can change sprinklers out over a four-year period followed by new software and system controllers over the next three to four years. I think a reduction in labour for your irrigation technicians and dramatically improved irrigation coverage will more than offset any expense this approach might incur.

Developing sustainable recycling and composting programs for your facility

An easy and basic starting point when evaluating your facility for its overall contribution and impact to the environment is through the development of a compost and recycling program. A couple of years ago we formed a “green committee” made up of staff members from each operating arm of our golf course. This committee was assigned the task of evaluating our overall recycling programs and to recommend modifications or improvements to the systems we had in place at the time. This process was extremely productive, and I might suggest that industry should reconsider the role a greens committee plays in the golf course. 

Some of the immediate ideas that were implemented as a result of this committee have made a large impact.

• More than 150 disposable batteries were exchanged for rechargeable batteries to operate all soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers throughout the facility’s washrooms. In many cases these batteries were being recycled more than once per month.

• All staff members are now required to supply their own cups when receiving free beverages from the kiosk during their breaks and are required to pay for their beverage if they do not.

• Our customers now receive a discount on their beverages when supplying their own cups at the kiosk during their round.

• 18 recycle centres were built for our clientele to dispose of their waste during their round. These centres are comprised of three compartments, including one for organics and compostable, recyclable cans, bottles and plastics, and garbage. 
Through these efforts I would estimate that there has been a reduction of at least 80 per cent of materials that used to find their way to the regional landfill.
These initiatives have been very successful in improving the recycling programs that were already in place.

• Recycle bins for used oil containers and filters.

• Recycle bin for all used steel, including bedknives, reels, rebar, screws, aeration tines, shovel heads, bent rims, etc. Once or twice per year these bins are sold to a salvage yard.

• Recycle bin for all fluorescent and incandescent lights.

• Cardboard and paper recycling bin.

Composting program

Each year through the collection of aeration cores, grass clippings, garden waste and leaves, there is a tremendous accumulation of organic biomass produced from maintenance activities. Prior to the establishment of a composting program, this biomass was left to accumulate and take up valuable space. 

Approximately 16 years ago, we conscientiously began composting these materials and have developed a compost recipe that includes the addition of approximately 30 per cent fir bark mulch to this organic material which helps improve the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, producing a good organic compost. This process takes approximately four to six months to produce a product that is used in all our gardens, commercial landscape developments and course tree wells. 

In fact, we are now producing more than we can use, and this excess material is sold as an outstanding compost, enabling us to recover  our production costs. If you begin a similar program, it is highly recommended that before you use this compost, I would have it tested for pH, salinity and nutrient analysis because in some cases the pH of this compost can be extremely low to the point it can be detrimental to the plants it is used around. 

Just this year we have expanded our composting program to include all compostables that used to go to the landfill. These items, such as food waste, coffee filters, all paper products including cups, napkins and paper towels are now sorted and stored in recycle bins that are collected by an outside agency for grinding and composting. We are finding that each week, through the implementation of this program, that approximately three cubic metres of compostables are being taken away for composting rather than ending up in the landfill.

Take action and spread the word

Through the development and involvement of our environmental programs at Cordova Bay, it has become evident that golf courses have a very favourable and positive impact on the environment, on property and in the surrounding community. I believe that golf courses in general are leaders in developing sound management programs to benefit the environment, and it is our responsibility to tell this story to each of our communities and the public at large. Even though these programs have a price tag attached to them, our experience is showing that in all cases there are both economic and social benefits to going down this road.

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