Golf & the Environment

Golf Digest's Green Star Award

Environmental practices at Madden's On Gull Lake make sense (and cents)

October 2010

This might be the role model for every golf facility that thinks it can't afford to go green.

Madden's on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minn., is Golf Digest's lone recipient of our Green Star environmental award for 2010. Our panel of judges, which includes representatives from many facets of the golf industry and leading environmental organizations, believes that only Madden's meets the standards set by our four initial recipients from 2009: Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Texas, Kiawah Island (S.C.) Resort, Pebble Beach Resorts and Sunriver (Ore.) Resort. Those standards are extremely high, as they should be. A Green Star is meant to signify environmental achievement in every phase of a golf resort's operation.

Madden's is a charming, intimate, third-generation mom-and-pop facility positioned mostly on a peninsula in Gull Lake, with a mile of shoreline. It has four golf courses within its 1,000 acres, offering something for every skill level. The Classic at Madden's ranks 40th on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses. Pine Beach East, the resort's oldest, is a regulation 18, and Pine Beach West is an 18-hole par 67. There's also a par-28 Social 9. Madden's has 287 guest rooms in an inn, lakeside lodges, villas and overnight cabins. It's configured like a small village, complete with a row of storefronts that includes a general store and boutique shops.

But it is not Pebble Beach, with a $67 million reverse-osmosis water-treatment facility, or Kiawah Island, with an extensive underground drainage-recapture system. Madden's is a far more austere operation but equally dedicated to preserving and enhancing the ecology of its locale.

Madden's is Karen Enberg, daily collecting all trash for recycling, depositing it in her little red wagon that she tows around the property using an ancient red Farmall, a recycled tractor. It's course superintendent Scott Hoffmann, directing workers to hand pick weeds to avoid spraying synthetic chemical herbicides. It's co-owner C. Brian Thuringer, who once pitched in and shoveled leftover food into a pigpen to avoid wasting the stuff. (An experience, he says with a smile, best done not in street shoes.)

Thuringer owns the resort with his wife, Deb, whose great-uncle started the business in the late 1920s. It was Thuringer's idea in 2008 to embrace a hospitality-industry trend and establish a company-wide stewardship program. He organized a Green Committee to review and recommend changes to minimize the resort's impact on the environment. To his surprise, the committee found many sustainable practices were already in place, previously implemented as cost-cutting measures.

The resort already had a linen and towel re-use program in all guest rooms. The outdoor bars and dining areas were already using glassware and china instead of disposable cups and dishes. ("I've always felt that glass equals class," Thuringer says.) Hoffmann was already composting leaves and grass clippings for use as mulch and soil for the fenced-off chef's herb garden.


Left to right: iron instead of nitrogen fertilizer keeps the lightly watered Classic course green; 105 tons of waste have been recycled since 2008; there are 600 acres of wild native areas at the resort.

"Most of what we were doing made sense as well as cents," Thuringer says. "We just expanded from there, concentrating on what we could do manually. We weren't prepared to invest in a lot of technical equipment."

The resort added recycling bags to each lodging room, switched to recyclable bottles of complimentary shampoo and mouthwash, and installed towels made of recycled paper in restrooms. At the snack bar, polystyrene-foam food containers were replaced by ones made from biodegradable cornstarch.

Old mattresses were donated to a local charity. Old doors were re-purposed as desktops and benches elsewhere at the resort. Used fryer oil collected from the resort's seven food-service locations was turned over to a renewable-energy firm for use in biodiesel fuel. Staff members were directed to turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. (Thuringer's mantra, "When not in use, cut the juice," resulted in a savings of $32,000 the first year.)

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