A few recent comments about the course got me focusing on the positive imprint Midland Hills leaves environmentally. The comments were regarding the algae bloom in Walsh Lake in the beginning of June. Several thought this bloom was from the Turf Department’s management of the course; fertilizer and chemical usage, in particular. I took these statements personally offensive to be honest. Reason being, we do more than most to manage this green space to the highest environmental standards. The misconception of golf courses being toxic dumping grounds is so far from the truth and needs to change. I’m confident it will, as over time, Superintendents, the USGA, Universities and Environmental groups are becoming much more effective at communicating the positive environmental impact golf courses have in our communities.
The algae bloom that occurred is from a surplus of phosphorus in Walsh Lake. 99%+ of this phosphorus comes from the storm drain system from the Cities of Roseville and Lauderdale. As you can see in the photo below, during a large rain event, the holding pond to the south of Walsh Lake overflows into our property, bringing with it high amounts of Phosphorus and nutrient-rich sediment. That sediment gets built up around the edges of Walsh Lake, making it very shallow, which creates the perfect environment for algae blooms in the spring. The storm drain system is filled with millions of pounds of leaves, trash and road salt, which unfortunately ends up being our aesthetically problem. It also causes functionality issues, as it clogs our irrigation system screens and nozzles, as we pull water from Walsh Lake to irrigate the property. One benefit of the high nitrates in the water is that it’s helped us reduce our yearly nitrogen application amounts by 75% since 2009. I measure the amounts of nutrients in the irrigation water, soil, and soil solution multiple times per year. We haven’t applied a measurable amount of phosphorus on property since 2010, yet the phosphorus levels in our irrigation water are very high.
How does millions of pounds of leaves, phosphorus and nutrient load get into that system? Look at the picture below. I’ve squared off the area in which all of the surface water that makes its way through the storm drains and ends up in the pond to the south of Walsh Lake. Several square miles makes its way through the storm drain, collecting leaves from everywhere they are not mulched or picked up, as well as carrying sediment from erosion and depositing in Walsh Lake’s perimeters.
I’m a certified Class F Aquatics applicator with the State of Minnesota, but cannot treat Walsh Lake as it’s a protected body of water that is directly connected to the Mississippi River. This is a good thing as Walsh Lake acts as a filter. However we must live with the dysfunction of Walsh Lake until the City decides to dredge the sediment buildup and restores the filtration functionality of the system. The system is broken, in my opinion, as maintenance is decades past due.
We’ve created buffer strips to our bodies of water to reduce runoff. We have strategically installed riprap to eroding edges of Walsh Lake to prevent any future erosion from the rush of water through the city’s drainage system.
We are part of the Audubon Society ( http://www.audubon.org ) and currently have 27 ducklings that hatched in our waters, using our duck/hen houses we manage.
We have a blue bird trail with over 20 eggs that we manage.
Over 1000 bees call Midland home and we continue to increase our perennial flower diversity to provide them habitat and plenty of food to pollinate from. We not only work on creating habitat for wildlife during the golf season but during the winter months as well.
We have Best Management Practices (BMPs) that I created 6 years ago to reduce water usage and pesticide reliance. We’ve reduced our water usage on average by over 20 million gallons per year since 2010. Part of that program is managing towards more Bentgrass and less Poa Annua. Poa is very water-needy, as well as needing protection with fungicides from diseases more regularly. We continue to gain more Bentgrass with our ultra-low water and fertility program, along with our mowing equipment configuration and aerfication processes. Notice in the picture below the interface of the edge of the 5 and 8 fairways. That small section of turf bordering the intermediate rough is all that remains of the Poa Annua, as the Bentgrass is creeping over the top of the Poa, smothering it out. Not only does the turf on our 165 acres act like a massive rain garden for the hundreds of millions of gallons that fall/and/or flow onto property, the turf species itself can have a more positive environmental impact than the alternative. Often it’s perceived negatively when people see our sprayers out making applications to the property. In actuality, we use such ultra-low rates of fertilizers and fungicides, which have much lower active ingredient percentages than what you can’t wash off on the fruit and vegetables you eat. You might think that is a stretch, but that’s data that the US FDA doesn’t want consumers to get….
Bentgrass grows roots much deeper and thicker than Poa. It’s more drought tolerant and can naturally fight off diseases and insects much more effectively. Not only does it provide better, more consistent playing conditions, its inputs are much less and more sustainable to manage. I don’t like to use the word sustainable and golf, as golf courses that need daily mowing, aren’t exactly the definition of sustainable. However, we can manage them to be more sustainable. Using growth regulators, which slow growth and reduce the need for mowing, creating no-mow native/fescue areas that are only mown 2 times per year, and manage towards turf that needs less inputs. Those are just some of the goals we set to make the property more sustainable and healthier for the end users of the property; wildlife and golfers included.
My entire full-time technical staff all have formal turf educations, continually seek higher education annually; including environmental stewardship. I serve on the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendent Association Board of Directors and consult with our Environmental Stewardship Committee. I also do the same for our National Association.
The 10 acres of native areas we’ve created have injected a habitat for a variety of wildlife, reduced water usage, mowing labor and fuel consumption since we don’t need to mow it. If you look at the perimeter of our property, it is almost entirely surrounded by woods and/or native grass. This gives wildlife a corridor to move throughout the property, raise young, as well as find food.
All of these things we do and the public perceives us, golf courses, as the bad guys? I don’t’ see it that way. Our Carbon Footprint is not even close to what would exist in there were 320 ½ acre homes on our land, not even close. Our impact is positive, it’s a green oasis surrounded by asphalt and concrete.
We are stewards of this land and look after it carefully. We have very high standards to increase our diversity, environmental inventory, functionality of our landscape, as well as being proactive to have a more functioning ecosystem for future generations. Those that view us in negative light, in my opinion, don’t have the right information/education on what the facts really are. Help spread the word – Golf is good for the environment!
Golf Course Superintendent