By Meleah Maynard
Brian Hogan at Les Bolstad Golf Course
Can golf courses be eco-friendly? Brian Horgan, University of Minnesota professor of horticultural science and Extension turf grass specialist, thinks so. He and his colleagues are intent on turning the University’s Les Bolstad Golf Course into a living laboratory that will serve as a national model.
Why is it important to change the way golf course turf is managed? Over the next decade about 4,000 of the nation’s 15,000 golf courses will need to be renovated. The management strategies in place today won’t work in the future. We’re studying ways to use different types of grasses, particularly fine fescues, which require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and mowing. Golf course managers are interested in seeing how these grasses work for golfers. Fescues have a lot of positives, but there are also weaknesses, like their ability to hold up in heat and drought and to take a lot of foot traffic. Eric Watkins [U associate professor and turf grass breeder] is currently leading an effort to develop breeding strategies to improve those weaknesses. And we may find other grass alternatives.
We’re also looking at how to make golf courses more of an asset to the surrounding community.
You mean creating something more park-like? Yes. Right across the street from the University’s Les Bolstad Golf Course there is a retirement community and we’re thinking: What can we do to promote wellness and make the golf course a place where the people who live there could walk around and recreate? Like most golf courses, our course isn’t used every hour of the day every day of the week to its maximum extent. As an example, maybe from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays it could be a park for the community. The point is, we have this amazing asset, how do we maximize its use both as a golf course and urban green space?
How much acreage do golf courses cover across the nation? The average area of each of the nation’s golf courses is about 150 acres. Of that, approximately 100 acres are managed—fairways, greens and tees, and roughs. Those rough areas offer a lot of opportunity from a conservancy perspective because golfers don’t use them very much. We’re looking at what are the right places to introduce conservancy on an existing golf course, and what value would that extend to the surrounding community. Research we’re doing with the United States Golf Association (USGA) uses GPS tracking tools to monitor golfers on the University course to see if there are spots where they never go.
You and other U researchers have been studying conservation strategies for the turf grass industry for years. Is the U leading the way to a greener way of doing things? We’ve definitely taken a leading role. We’re calling this Science of the Green at the U’s Golf Lab. Golf Lab will be privately funded, and the U is supportive of this leadership role we’re proposing. We’ve also partnered with the USGA and we’re working with the University of Minnesota Foundation on funding. If fundraising is aggressive and successful, we would likely be able to open Golf Lab in 2019.