With an award-winning golf course superintendent at the helm, Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland, Calif., fosters strong community relationships with environmental stewardship and hands-on outreach programs.
For some people, a golf course is a sporting arena where they can learn or improve a skill. For others, it’s a venue for enjoying the camaraderie of friends and the beauty of nature.
At Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland, Calif., the staff takes its mission a step further—the property is also an environmental science learning lab that helps make the community a better place.
“We sometimes are the last refuge for wildlife in a community,” Gary Ingram, CGCS, Director of Agronomy, says of golf courses. “We help Mother Nature and society.”
Metropolitan, located in an industrial area next to Oakland International Airport, has been a community asset since its beginning. The 18-hole, links-style golf course was built on a disposal site for dredged material from the San Francisco Bay. The layout was built on an old landfill, which was previously occupied by the Lew Galbraith Golf Course that closed in 1993, because the landfill had not been properly sealed.
“Government agencies required the property to be capped correctly, so that water couldn’t infiltrate into the aquifer and pollute the surrounding wetlands,” says Ingram, who has been at the property since the 2002 grow-in for the new golf course, which was created when Metropolitan designers Johnny Miller and Fred Bliss augmented the site and improved drainage by covering the landscape with dredged silt, then growing the latest turf hybrids.
Using Resources Wisely
Grasses on the Metropolitan golf course include numerous turf species such as ryegrass, alkali grass, paspalum, bentgrass, fescue, salt grass, and fiber optic grass. “Most of the area got covered with silt, but some areas with soil created unique salt and percolation issues,” says Ingram. “It can be a challenge to get grass to grow in some areas. Many of our fairways are different. It’s not a uniform growing medium.”
Ingram, the winner of the 2020 President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship from the Board of Directors of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), is passionate about the ways that turf can be used. “Not only do people enjoy the game, the challenge, and the scenery, they also enjoy the euphoric effects from the oxygen released from the turf,” he says. “Some people play golf because they want to take a beautiful walk in the park and take their golf clubs with them.”
He also appreciates the challenge of having to keep different types of turf alive. “One of the biggest challenges with our society and agricultural business is we used monocultures that create habitat where disease and insects can escalate,” he says. But there is an upside to having different species of grasses at Metropolitan. “One disease can’t kill everything—it can only affect a certain species of turf,” notes Ingram.
At Metropolitan, Ingram has also employed an integrated pest management (IPM) plan, chemical application management plan, and water conservation practices. The key to an effective IPM plan, he says, is creating aesthetic thresholds for greens, tees, fairways and native areas, because “they all have different thresholds.”
Ingram’s chemical application management plan is similar to his IPM approach—use as little product as possible. “Not only is it best for the environment, it’s best for your bottom line,” hr explains. “We only put down chemicals when necessary. We do a lot of spot treating on the golf course.”
He also trains crew members to turn their sprayers off when they’re on the fairways. “Sometimes you have to spray wall-to-wall, but it’s not always necessary,” Ingram says. “Any time you turn the sprayer off, you save money.”
Surf and Turf
Ingram calls water “liquid gold” in California. Water conservation practices at the golf course include hand-watering and reducing irrigated turf, as well as the use of a recycling equipment wash system, soil moisture sensors, and wetting agents. The property installed a California Irrigation Management Information Service onsite weather station a couple of years ago, and the maintenance staff measures evapotranspiration and waters accordingly.
“All of our cutting units are kept sharp, which causes less turf damage and less transpiration,” says Ingram. “We raise and lower the heights of cut during the different seasons, and we do deep, infrequent watering as much as possible.”
In addition, the maintenance staff fertilizes relative to plant needs, and aerifies the turf so that water can percolate into the ground.
Metropolitan Golf Links has one of the only all-grass driving ranges in the Bay Area, and the maintenance staff waters this turf judiciously as well. While the target areas are green, the grounds crew allows the majority of the grass on the landing area to go brown. This practice allows the staff to use less water than it would on a range with wall-to-wall green grass.
However, Ingram believes, turf reduction is the most important component of water conservation. “The biggest thing we do as a golf industry is to make sure we don’t have wall-to-wall turf unless we need it,” he says. “We only irrigate what we need. We evaluate all of our acres to see if it’s necessary to irrigate them. We do that all the time.”
Metropolitan Golf Links has reduced irrigated turf by 20 acres and planted numerous areas with a pollinator mix that includes a number of different plant varieties.
The course collaborates with Pollinator Posse, an Oakland-based organization that creates pollinator-friendly landscaping and fosters appreciation of local ecosystems through outreach, education, and direct action. Its efforts include making oversized golf balls out of mud and pollinator seeds that golfers, and kids in particular, can hit into native areas on the course.
In addition, the property has planted milkweed to participate in Monarchs in the Rough, the program that partners with golf courses to restore pollinator habitat in out-of-play areas. The property also has beehives and pollinator gardens for native and European bees.
Metropolitan, which is certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, conducts an Audubon bird count every year as well. Raptors such as red-shoulder hawks, red-tail hawks, kites, and kestrels and owls, along with numerous species of waterfowl and song birds, have been spotted on the golf course.
“We can’t focus on creating wildlife habitat because we’re right next to an airport,” Ingram notes. “We can’t promote bird populations because of the airport, but we can allow them to survive and co-exist with us.”
A Touch of Class
To promote the golf industry, Ingram has collaborated with various community entities during his career. For the past several years, however, he has focused his efforts on the Oakland Unified School District, where he serves on advisory committees.
He also plays an instrumental role in Metropolitan’s nonprofit entity, the Oakland Turfgrass Educational Initiative (OTEI), a community outreach program that introduces youth to potential career paths in sports turf and golf course management, environmental sciences, and the green industry.
“I want to communicate to youth and the public about the importance of the golf industry, not just for the game of golf, but for the environment as well,” Ingram says.
Metropolitan holds study tours and field trips for middle and high school students in all-day, all-expenses-paid OTEI sessions that give public and charter school students the opportunity to learn about environmental science, agronomy, and chemistry in a STEM-based curriculum. The students conduct hands-on experiments, walk the golf course, and observe the grounds crew in action, followed by lunch and lessons on the driving range.
“We show them what we do and let them look at the maintenance equipment,” Ingram reports.
OTEI, which was started by Metropolitan’s management company, CourseCo, in conjunction with Oakland community leaders, has hosted more than 2,000 students and includes a summer internship program for students. It is funded by a large community tournament for Oakland junior golf programs, as well as support from CourseCo and other donations. The study tours are led by Ingram.
“The program is in line with Gary’s interests in environmental stewardship and teaching,” notes Metropolitan’s General Manager, Shelley Hara.
The property is also the site of the Metropolitan Junior Golf Program, which meets year-round every Saturday morning. The participants receive two hours of golf instruction, and Metropolitan opens the back nine for the juniors to play golf.
This year Metropolitan, which is a popular venue for weddings, meetings, parties and other social events, also started an outreach effort with a charter school that has a hospitality program. “The hospitality business is always looking for employees, and this is another avenue to find people,” Ingram notes.
In addition, CourseCo holds First Green programs—a GCSAA initiative that brings students to golf courses for STEM learning opportunities—at other properties, and Ingram often assists with these as well. School students and young people involved in First Tee or scouting programs participate in the half-day programs, where CourseCo superintendents and their teams set up tables for hands-on experiments on concepts such as agronomics and sustainability.
NOTHING GOES TO WASTE
Community-outreach initiatives are not the only way that Metropolitan Golf Links strives to make Oakland a better place. Several years ago, Hara and Ingram participated in a sustainability program to formulate an action plan for Metropolitan to become a greener business and a zero-waste facility.
The property wanted to extend its efforts beyond basic recycling and composting efforts, says Hara, so Metropolitan took part in the program along with other entities such as a commercial real estate company, a brewery, and a city facility. “We heard different ideas that are specific to their operations, but might be useful to our facility,” she notes.
Under its plan, Metropolitan explored different power rates, replaced fluorescent bulbs with LED lights, adjusted thermostat settings, and installed timers and occupancy sensors in the clubhouse to curb electricity usage. The course’s outside service staff was trained to recycle things that people leave behind in their golf cars. The property has also scaled back its use of single-use plastic materials in its bar and grill and its banquet facility.
“We also work with a local organization to donate extra banquet food when it’s appropriate,” Hara notes. And golf shop personnel bag purchases in reusable totes. “That’s also a branding and promotional opportunity for us,” Hara says.
Of course, recycling and composting also remain important components of the property’s sustainability efforts. Metropolitan put labeled recycling containers around the clubhouse and golf course. The grounds staff then takes the golf course receptacles to the maintenance department and divides the waste into piles for recycling, composting, or the landfill.
The golf shop staff also does its part to promote recycling. “We have multiple bins to separate out waste,” says PGA Head Golf Professional Mike Robason. “We try to educate the customers and players that come in.” But if golfers don’t separate waste for recycling, his staff pitches in as well.
SHARING THE KNOWLEDGE
As part of his job, Ingram also tries to help other golf course superintendents. For the last several years, he has been involved with an effort to develop best management practices (BMPs) for the state of California.
“California is so diverse,” he notes. “So we needed a diverse set of BMPs.”
For the initiative, superintendents in the state formed several committees and sought input from university officials and personnel at state agencies. In the coming months, the BMPs will be published in English and in Spanish. Once completed, superintendents will be able to go online and adapt the BMPs to their facilities.
“That’s our goal—for every golf course to have its own set of BMPs,” Ingram says.
NO SHORTAGE OF SUPPORT
Ingram credits his support network with helping him to promote the golf industry and achieve honors such as the President’s Award.
“I’m lucky to have had parents who were teachers and who instilled in me the importance of giving back and being part of the solution,” he says. “I’m also lucky enough to have great people around me from our management company and team, and from among my colleagues, co-workers, and my family. I’m one of the spokes in the wheel, and recognition is really a team effort.”
He also appreciates the opportunity that recognition gives him to further his causes.
“People tend to listen to you when you get an award,” he says. “I can impress on the community that the golf industry is a community asset, and that we are stewards of the environment. It’s the right thing to do, and people want to be associated with good places and green facilities.”
Gary Ingram, CGCS
Title: Director of Agronomy, Metropolitan Golf Links; Senior Agronomy Manager, CourseCo
Years at Metropolitan Golf Links: 18
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Profession: 50
Previous Employment: Moraga (Calif.) Country Club; Claremont Country Club, Oakland, Calif.; Tilden Park Golf Course, Berkeley, Calif.
Education and Training: Ornamental Horticulture, Merritt College, Oakland, Calif.
Certifications: QAC, QAL, PCA, IA
Honors and Awards:
• GCSAA President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship, 2020
• President’s Award, 2019 – GCSAA
• Overall public and national ELGA, 2014 (ELGA annually since 2013)
• Superintendent of the Year – CourseCo
• Superintendent of the Year – GCSANC
• State of California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, 2003
• Certified Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary
METROPOLITAN GOLF LINKS
Location: Oakland, Calif.
Club Website: www.playmetro.com
Golf Holes: 18 + Practice Area (University of California-Berkeley Practice Facility)
Course Designers: Fred Bliss and Johnny Miller
Property Type: Public
Year Opened: 2003
Golf Season: Year-round
Annual Rounds of Golf: 55,000
Fairways: Assorted grasses
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
METROPOLITAN GOLF LINKS
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $850,000
Staff: 8 full-time, 2 seasonal
Other Managers: Guillermo Romero-Reyes, Assistant Superintendent; Efrain Espinosa, Mechanic
Irrigation System: SitePro Central LTC Plus, 2,300 heads; CIMIS station onsite
Water Source: Well water
Equipment: Leases standard maintenance equipment
Technology: Google Earth, My Turf, GoogleDrive Job Board scheduling, TDS 3000
Maintenance Facility: Includes break room, lockers, restrooms, recycle washpad, storage facilities
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: Semi-annually
Upcoming Capital Projects: Bunkers, tees, sodding