Golf & the Environment

Green Star Awards

Golf Digest announces the first winners in our annual search for America's best environmental resorts: Barton Creek, Kiawah Island, Pebble Beach + Sunriver

November 2009

Because you play golf, you love nature. You love the outdoors, fresh air, green grass, the sight of a deer prancing across a fairway and an eagle gliding overhead.

You'd love to have a perfect lie every time, but you grudgingly recognize the quest for perfection can damage the environment. So you're OK that sprinklers don't pop up as often, because water is precious and, frankly, drier turf makes for a better playing surface. And you accept (if not applaud) that many fertilizers, bug sprays and weedkillers have been shelved for the sake of a better tomorrow.

You realize it's in every golfer's interest to preserve, protect and even enhance nature. Without nature, there is no golf.

That's why Golf Digest has established a new award -- the Green Star -- to honor golf resorts that best demonstrate the industry's efforts to do no harm to the environment. A Green Star is meant to certify practices in every phase of operation, from course to clubhouse to lodging and beyond, intended to be protective of the ecology and yet sanguine to the sport.

We've limited this award to resort facilities. Even though many public and private courses are equally as progressive, we believe resorts have the toughest challenge, being the most nationally prominent golf operations and facing increasing inquiries from potential customers about environmental commitments.

One of our judges, Jay Feldman, executive director of the environmental group Beyond Pesticides, insisted we reward only resorts that exceeded, not just met, industry standards. "It should be assumed that all facilities have strict policies and practices for handling pesticides and cleaning of equipment," he says. "In that respect, these things alone should not be an indicator of an environmentally advanced operation."

He's right, of course, but we found nothing "routine" about maintenance operations such as state-of-the-art wash racks for mowers and spray rigs, where grass clippings are captured, gas, oil and chemical residue is filtered and all wash water is recycled. Especially when compared with a typical hometown car wash, where all the grease, grit, grime, mud, oil and flaky bug ephemera pour down an open grate into a city sewer.

Each Green Star facility is a role model for the rest of us, where every golfer can visit -- should visit -- to experience what a comprehensive commitment to nature is really about, from that early-morning cup of coffee to a late-evening dinner.

It's a happy happenstance that our four inaugural winners -- Barton Creek Resort, Kiawah Island Resort, Pebble Beach Resorts and Sunriver Resort -- are among the most popular golf destinations in the nation and include some of the country's most highly ranked courses. What was of greater interest to our judges was the fact that all four exist within eco-sensitive communities -- the arid Texas flint hills, a marshy Atlantic barrier island, the rocky Pacific coastline, a quiet river valley in central Oregon -- making it incumbent on these resorts to be good neighbors.

Barton Creek Resort

All water used to clean maintenance equipment at Barton Creek Resort is filtered through Water Stax-brand bio-remedial water-treatment units (top left), which use microbes to break down oil, grease and chemicals into harmless water and carbon dioxide. Grass clippings can serve as an organic food source to keep microbes active. The 160-yard 13th hole at Barton Creek's Crenshaw Cliffside Course (top right) is typical of the philosophy at all four of the resort's courses: rolling hills slashed by ravines, with tightly mowed Bermuda grass playing surfaces framed by areas of no-mow native grasses.

Barton Creek Resort encompasses 4,000 acres of hardscrabble Hill Country in Austin. Started in the 1980s, it has three 18s on-site -- Fazio Canyons, Fazio Foothills and Crenshaw Cliffside -- and a satellite 18, Palmer Lakeside, west of town near Lake Travis. Water conservation is a primary concern. Barton Creek irrigates three of its courses with effluent water delivered from an on-site treatment plant.  Areas around many tee boxes have been denuded and planted with cactus, yucca, yaupon, Texas sage, bluebonnet and paintbrush that use very little water yet remain aesthetically pleasing. No-mow buffer zones on the fringes of holes -- 30-yard-wide areas of unirrigated, unmaintained native areas along perimeter boundaries -- are marked as wildlife habitat, though golfers aren't prohibited from entering them. Still, they can be hazardous, as the wildlife includes rattlesnakes at certain times.

Yes, some of its courses have waterfalls, but they're not just decorative; they provide oxygenation to minimize algae growth. Yes, it takes electricity to run those recirculation pumps, but Barton Creek purchases as much electricity as it is can from wind-generated turbines in West Texas.

Course conditioning follows an Integrated Pest Management program that involves daily monitoring of pests and potential diseases; continual soil, water and tissue testing to determine when nutrients are needed; and the use of slow-release organic fertilizers to minimize the chance of contaminating watersheds. The overall philosophy on Barton Creek's courses is tolerance of a certain amount of imperfection in the turf to avoid heavy chemical use. The director of golf-course maintenance -- previously Ken Gorzycki, now Roger Goettsch -- doubles as the resort's Environmental Assurance Manager to oversee a wide range of initiatives, training and programs. These include washing 200,000 pounds of laundry each month using an ozone treatment that requires little detergent and rinse water. The ozone decomposes fats as its disinfects, using only cold water, saving natural gas costs. Plus, the wash water is cleansed and recycled onto the golf courses.

The resort recently completed the replacement of all incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones that last 10 times as long, use 75 percent less energy and produce 75 percent less heat, reducing demands on air conditioning. Thirty thermostats in different areas of the resort are controlled during peak summer months directly by the electric company, Austin Energy, to cycle areas off for short periods to avoid brownouts.

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