Midland Hills – An Environmental Oasis

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.

http://www.usga.org/course-care/water-resource-center/golf-courses-benefit-people-and-wildlife.html

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!

Mike Manthey

Golf Course Superintendent

 

 

 

 

 

34 Replies to “Midland Hills – An Environmental Oasis”

  1. Brad Melchior says:

    Great Post Mike!

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Brad,
      Thanks for reading!
      M.

  2. Norm Cher says:

    Excellent description. It provides a thorough, broad pictures of the environmental challenges and Midland’s proactive approach.

    Thanks!

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Norm,
      Thanks foe the support!
      M.

  3. FDZ says:

    Not only that, but the course looks and plays outstandingly. keep up the great work!

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Fred,
      Absolutely agree, thank you!
      M.

  4. Rob Etten says:

    One of your most well-written blogs to date, Mike. Thanks to you and your team for all you do – including educating the membership!

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Rob,
      Thanks as always! And thanks for recognizing the team!
      M.

  5. Chuck Stoddard says:

    Great article Mike. Very broad and deeply thought out. The accompanying pictures give testament to your and the Club’s efforts to protect and promote the natural environment. Thanks for your good work.
    Chuck

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Chuck,

      Thanks for the note. I’m glad you enjoy!

      M.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Mike, Thank you for enlightening us on all you and your teams efforts to make our course environmentally conscious and a safe habitat for all the wildlife we have ,even in the city!
    We are lucky to have you and the team who have embraced new technology and information to become great stewards of the property.
    Thank you for taking the time to share all the information and photos with us.
    Plus, we as members get to enjoy a beautiful course all year long.
    Sincerely, Cindy Rose and Ken Majkowski

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Thanks Cindy and Ken.

      It truly is unique to have such a large green space in the middle of the city, also fun to manage!

      Thanks,
      M.

  7. Dave Sellergren says:

    Very well presented. More importantly, you are doing the right things.

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Dave,
      Do the right things, good things happen!
      Thanks,
      M.

  8. Jeff Ische says:

    As a fellow superintendent in the Twin Cites, I echo your very well stated sentiment. Thank you for sharing with those who read your post!

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Jeff,

      Thanks, you may have taught me a thing or two about how to do things the right way!

      Cheers,
      M.

  9. Kenneth Myhre says:

    Mike,

    we are very fortunate to have such a talented, dedicated, intelligent, and wise golf course super at Midland Hills. Excellent article that does you and the course proud. Thank you very much for posting.

    Keep up the great work,

    Ken

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Ken,
      Appreciated!
      We are all proud of the product we provide, while having a positive impact on the green space we manage.
      M.

  10. Peg Skold says:

    Wow, this is very impressive, Mike. As one of those folks who always thought that golf courses were laden with chemicals and not good for the general environment, I am so glad to be enlightened about what you are doing at Midland. Kudos!! And may you continue to spread the word. You are doing a great job!

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Peg,

      Thanks. The golf industry, like others, made some mistakes in the past. We are not only doing things the right way now, but we also should be an example on how to manage green spaces, while providing recreational activities!

      M.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for such an informative article on the turf management at Midland. It gives me a great understanding to better answer questions and address comments from other golfers and non-golfers alike. Keep up the great work Mike, and again thanks for the info. Also loved all the pictures!
    Judy Osbon

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Judy,

      Thanks for taking the time to read!
      M.

  12. Mike Graff says:

    Mike, you should take this article and make a presentation to the city of Roseville. Providing a “green space” that is professionally managed is a service to the city.
    Environmental organizations tend to be tough on golf courses and your approach could alter their perspective.
    Not developing land in our cities and having open spaces deserves tax credits!
    Mike Graff

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Mike,

      I like your tax credit idea, there’s no reason we shouldn’t receive them!

      Slowly we will change those opinions who look at us in a negative light.

      Thanks,
      M.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Mike,

    Great write up here, very informative. You and your team do such a great job of taking care of our property. The course looks and is playing just great, thanks for ALL you do!

    Mary Liz

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Mary Liz,

      Thank you and thanks for all your support!
      M.

  14. Chris Hanson says:

    Mike,

    I always enjoy reading your posts. You and your team do a great job providing a course that is great to play, beautiful to see and environmentally sound. Thanks.

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Chris,
      Thanks for the note, glad you are enjoying!
      M.

  15. Rick London says:

    Mike, I hope the mouth breathers who criticize your course management read your blog and apologize publicly. You’re as good as it gets

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Rick,

      Thanks. I’m just trying to get the correct information out there for people to see what we actually do behind the scenes, eliminate the assumptions.

      M.

  16. Greg Amer says:

    Mike,
    Wonderful, educational article. This should be published in Golf Digest and the Star Tribune!
    Thank you!

    Greg Amer

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Thanks Greg!

  17. FDZ says:

    Mike- question unrelated to environmental issues but curious.
    Holes 13-16 have fairly large green aprons or surrounds. These are really the only four like this. They are contiguous and a little different. Why? Why not a few more? Is there a Raynor/McDonald principal at work here?

    1. Mike Manthey says:

      Fred,

      Great question.

      Yes those holes, along with #1 and 12 are different. There’s two trains of thoughts here. First is that Raynor wanted balls to roll away/off greens if a shot missed its mark. He also wanted players to play the ground game, and short grass is necessary for the ground game. Now if you look at #13, I think the green shrunk over time as trees matured, they couldn’t keep healthy turf in the shade at that height so it transitioned to fairway height. I think Raynor wanted you to play the surrounding slopes like a punchbowl and have the ability to play your ball off the banks. Same with #16, The Redan. The original shape of the green has been lost and no longer functions like a true Redan. The green is supposed to go up the slope on the right side, giving a more boomerang effect. If you look at 15, I think Raynor wanted balls that went long to roll further away from the green with the surround, thus being left with a more delicate chip to a green that would be running away from you.
      I think a lot of the surround swales were lost over decades of trees encroaching greens, as turf quality became unacceptable. It’s was much easier to maintain them as rough in the shade. I think some of them were lost on the front 9 as well. Historical photos show more short grass around greens. Now it’s hard to tell if it was fairway or greens height.
      I would recommend and refer to an expert Seth Raynor Golf Course Architect to decipher what was here and what Raynor’s intents were. Someone who has seen these design aspects in several Raynor courses that have been restored. I can tell you from the 9 Raynor courses I’ve experienced, we are missing some of the best aspects Raynor created and designed into his courses. Some of them were here, some might not have been. But restoring those aspects could make MH unbelievably better. These areas you mention add challenge, variety, as well as fun to the game. We just need it to be consistent throughout the entire course if that’s what the original design and intentions were 98 years ago.

      Thanks for the questions!
      M.

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