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Golf course conditioning can co-exist with environmental stewardship: superintendent

March 24, 2009  By  Mike Jiggens

thumb_beebeCAN outstanding golf course conditions and environmental stewardship co-exist? According to a veteran Alberta superintendent, they can.

Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club’s James Beebe addressed the subject in January at the 2009 Golf Course Management Conference and Trade Show in Toronto.

“Our No. 1 priority is that we’re going to maintain the highest possible standards in excellence and conditioning,” he said. “Our commitment to environmental stewardship is really important.”


Under Beebe’s direction, the 36-hole facility located 30 kilometres west of Calgary became the first golf course in Alberta and the 11th in Canada to become a fully-certified Audubon co-operative sanctuary in 1998. 


Admitting he wasn’t necessarily an environmentalist in the beginning, Beebe said he has since grown to embrace the whole environmental movement during his tenure as both a superintendent and an assistant.

“We have an abundance of naturally-occurring wildlife,” he said. “I’d like to think our environmental programs have enhanced the wildlife issues.”

The club has seen some busy times during the past decade, but has never placed its environmental efforts on the back burner. In 1999, Priddis Greens was the host course for the LPGA Tour’s DuMaurier Classic. Three years later, nine new holes were constructed and another nine were renovated in 2004-2005. A “hellish” flood hit the course at about the same time, costing the club $4 million to rebuild its irrigation reservoir.

Over the past four years, the club’s putting surfaces have been regrassed.

“Some of these initiatives in regard to the environmental area do take time. We’ve been very busy, always trying to improve and upgrade. We’re proud of the state of the course and that we’ve been able to continue to improve our environmental program.”

Beebe said he felt the education and public outreach aspect of Priddis Greens’ Audubon certification had been lacking, and efforts were made to include all departments at the club to buy into the same environmental vision.

“As part of our club’s strategic plan, we (turf maintenance department) have strategic goals we have to achieve so that the club can reach its strategic goals.”

Dealing with environmental issues ranks equally in importance for Beebe’s staff as providing members with the best possible playing conditions. In fact, the turf maintenance department’s mission statement ensures each new person hired goes through an orientation process so that he is aware of what is expected of him from a stewardship standpoint.

Workers aren’t merely giving environmental lip service, but are walking the walk, he said.

The club spreads its environmental message with articles in its newsletter, speaking engagements, course signage and clubhouse postings.

“A big part of our environmental program is not just developing a system and putting it in a filing cabinet somewhere and pulling it out when it’s convenient. We’re really trying to make sure everyone’s aware of the things we’re doing.”

Each season begins with a departmental meeting to address goals and priorities and the need to improve upon the club’s environmental programs. A comprehensive training program is put on for the entire club which includes a Power Point presentation about the environment and the club’s role within the Audubon Society.

In its environmental policy, all areas of the golf course must be assessed, including the maintenance shop, wash areas, creeks, tees, greens and fairways. For putting greens, for example, Priddis Greens’ golf concerns include their smoothness, firmness, aesthetic value and overall quality, but their environmental concerns are also identified.

It’s important to ensure course playability and the environment can co-exist with one another, Beebe said, meaning golf concerns, environmental concerns and the strategies to deal with both must be undertaken.

“Each cultural practice we do has its own strategy.”

Beebe said Alberta is trying to follow Ontario’s lead in developing an integrated pest management (IPM) accreditation program that can be adopted by the turf industry. He said IPM is “much bigger and deeper” than simply scouting and monitoring.

“During the season, we keep a tremendous amount of records of anything we do on the golf course (including IPM scouting reports and how often various cultural practices are conducted),” he said. 

The data is tabulated during the off season and turned into a summary report. 

“Once you’ve got all that data on hand, if there’s ever a situation where you have neighbours or concerned citizens who want to know about your environmental program, you can pull these up and you’ve got that in your back pocket.”

Beebe said environmental stewardship, to him, is about having a reason for doing everything, “and I think that’s what really helped me to be a better superintendent was identifying all the different areas we need to be concerned about and re-evaluating how we performed all of our practices.”

In addition to tabulating data during the off season, that time period is spent developing a plan for the coming year which includes all cultural practice strategies. 

“It really helps out having that in a plan so that when you have multiple assistants or people helping to make these things happen, they just strategically go out and check things off the list and make things happen.”

Because superintendents are working with Mother Nature, they’re not always able to do everything in their plan, but will at least have a foundation for how they conduct their cultural practices, Beebe said.

By practising IPM, he said he can look back through his summary reports and see if he was successful in areas he set out to be. Data is compared afterward to that included in the original plan which shows where improvements can be made and how the course can better itself. Such data also includes daily stimpmeter readings, how often mower blades are sharpened and how often areas are topdressed.

The data can also be taken to club management to help sell various programs. Beebe said he can approach his board of directors to ask for the resources needed to purchase new equipment or to demonstrate the need for more time to accomplish certain practices. This might mean requesting the course be shut down for a day and a half to properly accomplish a particular job rather than be allotted only one day.

Beebe’s concluded his address by encouraging his peers to be proactive and to be leaders, saying he’s been so successful at his course because he’s been able to get so many others involved. He said it hasn’t cost a lot of money to become involved in the club’s environmental projects, and he’s seen his budgets increase slightly so that more people can be hired to work specifically on these projects.

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