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Manitoba golf course assumes leadership role in environmental practices

February 17, 2011  By  Mike Jiggens

By Myron Love

The 80-year-old Clear Lake Golf Course at Wasagaming in Riding Mountain
National Park in western Manitoba may be one of Western Canada’s oldest
courses. In recent years, however, thanks to the vision of the current
management team led by golf course superintendent Greg Holden, Clear
Lake has been rejuvenated with a fresh approach to environmental
sustainability which has made the course one of the most
environmentally-friendly courses in Canada.

     At a presentation on Nov. 29, at the Manitoba Golf Course Superintendents’ Association’s annual general meeting  and conference, Holden— who is also president of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association—explained how he and his team have transformed the venerable course over the past 15 or so years.clearcreekweb

     “Our journey began in 1993 when our management group put in a bid to Parks Canada to manage the course,” Holden said. “Parks Canada was looking for a more environmentally-friendly management team than the previous administration.”

     The new management group was awarded the contract for Clear Lake early in 1993 and began operations almost immediately. “We didn’t have much of an environmental plan in place when we started,” Holden recalled. Our main focus was getting the course up and running.”

      One step that the new management team did take almost immediately was the purchase of electric carts. (“We needed new carts anyway,” Holden said.)

     Also early on, Holden and company started a composting program. 

“I had been involved in food and beverage management before and had some experience with composting and food waste management,” he said. “We began with a waste audit with help from Agriculture Canada and the University of Manitoba. We used food scraps from the kitchen and other wastes to create compost which we applied to our turf and flower beds.”

     Clear Lake’s environmental plan has evolved over the years, Holden noted. For example, every green has a box in which clippings are deposited for transport to the composting yard.

“We mix fresh clippings gathered from the course and food waste with a mix of dry carbon-based material,” he noted. “We turn the pile over once a week with a front end loader. At the end of the season, we end up with humus which we mix with sand, manure and soil and apply to our greens after aeration.”

      The Clear Lake grounds staff originally began applying the compost late in the fall. They found though, Holden reported, that if there was a long stretch of warm fall weather with some rain, then the grass would grow “like crazy” and, if disease were to break out, a second round of fungicide would have to be applied so that the grass would be fit for the spring.

     “It became problematic so we began applying our compost in the spring as soon as the snow melted,” Holden said.

     He noted that there is a solar electric fence around the compost yard to keep out bears that were attracted to the food waste in the compost in the early days.

     “Our waste stream has become our resource stream, and we have reduced what we used to send to the landfill by 80 per cent,” he noted.  
The course management has also introduced a composting toilet system to replace aging septic tanks and remote outhouses on the gold course. 

“We settled on the Clivus Multrum toilet,” Holden said. A solar panel drives a fan that draws oxygen to the digesters that decompose the material aerobically. A large door makes for easy weekly maintenance.

     In terms of water stewardship, Holden noted that the Clivus toilet system no-flush unit prevents more than 500,000 gallons of potable water from entering the ground water. 

“We are very pleased with the system’s efficiency,” he said. “The system also provides us with compost and liquid soil material.”

     He spoke about the importance of creating buffer zones near creeks bordering the course.

  “We planted new species of bluegrass that helps prevent erosion and keeps rain water from running off the course in vulnerable, erosion-prone areas,” Holden said.

     Clear Lake also has a bio-diesel program powered by used cooking oil from the golf course’s kitchen and from nearby restaurants. 

“About six years ago, we figured we had 90 gallons a year of waste cooking oil,” Holden said. “I went online to find out about turning the oil into diesel fuel.”

     He reported that Parks Canada was willing to partner with the golf course management on a waste kitchen oil to bio-diesel feasibility study.

“We discovered that there was an engineer not far from us with a reactor who was creating bio-diesel fuel from waste kitchen oils for the City of Brandon and local farmers. We pay 60 cents a litre to process the kitchen waste oil. We phased in our bio-diesel program over two years. We run seven machines entirely on bio-diesel oil.”

     Holden recommended that those who are just starting to use bio-diesel should change their filters after the first 10 hours.

     Holden spoke about the importance of educating and training your staff on your environmental program. That should involve hands-on training for everyone. It is also important, he noted, to educate club members and reach out to the public at large. 

“You can get a lot of new ideas through networking with others,” he said.

     Holden also recommended an environmental audit as a great way to start up an environmental program.

“That will tell you where to start, how to save energy and establish benchmarks to aim for,” he said.

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