The course maintenance team at Woodhill CC in Wayzata, Minn. has enhanced its credentials for environmental stewardship by participating in a research project that helps golf courses measure sustainability.
Golf course maintenance operations and environmental stewardship are inextricably intertwined at Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata, Minn. The property has been an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary since 1994, becoming the third private facility in Minnesota and the 32nd in the world to achieve the certification. And Superintendent Rick Fredericksen, CGCS, who has been at Woodhill for 29 years, has always pursued and promoted eco-friendly maintenance practices.
“My goal is still to be as environmentally creative and responsible and forward-thinking as possible,” Fredericksen says after 41 total years in the business.
That goal got a giant boost last year, when Woodhill partnered with the University of Minnesota in a research initiative, Science of the Green, to help develop a matrix that would measure golf course sustainability.
“Together, we are looking at incorporating the suggestions where we can improve and continue our environmental efforts,” Fredericksen says.
The initiative is a five-year collaboration between the University of Minnesota and the United States Golf Association. The program is designed to inform golf stakeholders of the critical importance—and profitability—of sustainability within the industry, explore the role that golf courses play in ecosystems, and encourage facilities to incorporate environmentally friendly practices into their operations.
In addition, the partnership stresses the importance of engaging with the surrounding community to increase the value of the golf course, and of the need to take a holistic, sustainable approach to management decisions that can add economic, environmental, and societal value to the golf business.
Commitment to Stewardship
For the initiative, Woodhill CC was one of three golf courses from which Science of the Green collected data.
“All of our members have a real heart to do the right thing,” says General Manager Paul Gustafson. “Everybody’s very excited and supportive of it. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good public relations for us. Golf courses are not seen as being environmentally friendly, but the opposite is often true.”
Woodhill CC was a natural fit for the Science of the Green program. Dr. Brian Horgan, the Professor and Turfgrass Extension Specialist at the University of Minnesota who spearheaded the project, had developed a relationship with Fredericksen during the superintendent’s second stint on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association (MGCSA), from 1999 – 2003. At that time, Fredericksen supported Horgan, a then-new turfgrass science professor at the university, and pushed the MGCSA board to encourage the establishment of a University of Minnesota Turfgrass Research Outreach and Education Center.
“Rick is certainly a leader in the area. He’s five to seven years ahead of everybody else,” says Gustafson. “We’re grateful and lucky to have him here.”
Under Fredericksen, who received the MGCSA’s 2018 Distinguished Service Award for his longtime contributions to the golf course superintendent profession, Woodhill CC has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the cause of environmental stewardship.
“Woodhill was selected [for the research initiative] for a number of reasons—its proximity to the University of Minnesota, its reputation as a leader in environmental stewardship, its interested and welcoming membership, and its exceptional and professional staff,” says Parker Anderson, who now has a consulting business but served as a researcher and facilitator for Science of the Green during a three-year appointment to the University of Minnesota.
Developing a Matrix
Science of the Green defines sustainable golf as value-added use of standard golf course space and the dissolution of boundaries between a golf course and its community, to encourage the inclusion of community members in a property’s activities. In addition, a sustainable golf course benefits species and uses ecosystem services and resource flows in its management practices.
“The initiative is trying to develop a matrix that would allow a golf course to have a ‘handicap rating’ [for its sustainability efforts],” notes Fredericksen. ‘It also gives the superintendent and the membership incentive to work toward goals to be more sustainable.”
Work on the project began at Woodhill in May 2018, and Fredericksen turned over the primary responsibilities for it to Assistant Superintendent Ryan Eberling and former employee Jody Watts.
The initial research assessment of Woodhill CC highlighted key sustainability factors. Based on data collected and regional significance, the five top sustainability factors identified at the property were resource efficiency and expenses, education and citizen science, water quality, pollinator habitat, and environmental impact.
However, Fredericksen explains, “The initiative allows other golf courses to develop their own programs. We thought we were cutting-edge, but I think there’s still a lot of things we can do.”
To determine resource efficiency and expenses, for instance, Woodhill collected data from a major equipment manufacturer on mowing patterns and on the efficiency of golf course maintenance equipment. The University of Minnesota analyzed the data and determined that Woodhill could achieve resource and cost savings of up to 64 percent and engage in responsible fossil-fuel use to reduce emissions.
The Woodhill staff has also created opportunities to help the membership understand the property’s ecosystem through events like bird walks, tree walks, and educational signage.
In May 2019, Woodhill held its 27th annual bird walk, which is part of the yearly Audubon International Migratory Bird Count and has several benefits for the property. In addition to tallying the number of bird species spotted, the bird walk brings new people to Woodhill. Members are encouraged to bring their children, grandchildren, and guests, which in turn can lead to additional members joining the club.
The event also gives Fredericksen a chance to interact with the membership. “A lot of the members don’t get a chance to talk to me about what we’re doing,” he says. “I like that opportunity to have one-on-one interaction with the members. I’ve given presentations at the club, but it can be difficult for members to ask questions then.”
Woodhill also has a bluebird program, and Fredericksen estimates that the bluebird boxes located throughout the property have produced more than 500 fledglings.
With the use of new technologies to collect data, Woodhill also has the potential to increase the value of these educational and outreach opportunities. Precise data collection results in a better understanding of the property and strengthens its narrative as a valuable land-use entity to community stakeholders and industry organizations, by educating them about the benefits of an engaged golf facility.
And one of the most important constituencies that the Woodhill staff needs in its corner—the membership—has taken notice of the environmental efforts. “The members like that we’re able to reduce our costs and the amount of pesticides we’re putting out,” Fredericksen says. “They don’t mind investing in technology if it makes the golf course better and safer for the environment, and saves money.”
Through its research partnership with the university, Woodhill is beginning a long-term analysis by measuring the quality of water entering and exiting the golf course, and comparing the results. Preliminary studies, according to research findings, indicate that the golf course is an effective water filter for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed. In addition to improving the water clarity, statistically significant reductions in contaminants have occurred as well.
By collecting water-quality data, Woodhill can strengthen its position as a vital member of the watershed and as a steward of its resources. Having data at its fingertips also is a valuable tool for reaching out to partners that share these interests and support Woodhill’s environmental stewardship goals.
The property is making efforts to capture sediments and chemicals, which run off a freeway that goes by the property, and absorb the contaminants that find their way to the golf course before they run into its waterways. Fredericksen also wants to develop partnerships with other stakeholders, such as the state Department of Transportation.
Of course, improving water filtration is something that can benefit any golf course property.
“A lot of golf courses in Minnesota are built near lakes, and they need to capture nutrients before they run off the golf course,” notes Fredericksen. “We’re getting a fair amount of salt in lakes and watersheds.”
Woodhill CC has also created buffer zones around wetlands areas, and uses GPS technology in its sprayers to pinpoint chemical applications more accurately.
“We’ve started to map our fairways and develop more no-spray zones,” Fredericksen says. “Around drainage covers, we don’t spray over the tops or within 10 feet of the covers. Rather than just relying on the operator, it’s programmed into the GPS spray system.”
The grounds crew has also started using variable rate controls to reduce chemical use on the golf course. In addition, notes Fredericksen, “We’re not quite there yet, but we’re starting to use some drone technology. We can look at infrared technology analyses, to see where plants are stressed.”
Woodhill is also considering an upgrade to its wash-pad system and the implementation of a plan to create an open area where water flows through wetlands with the addition of a meandering stream. The stream would slow down the flow of water, collect sediment, and recharge it into the soil.
“We haven’t tested for hydrocarbons that come off vehicles to collect them out of the water,” Fredericksen says. “The water going off the golf course should be better than when it comes on. And we want to create a better oxygen-producing plant.”
Woodhill developed a five-acre pollinator meadow onsite five years ago. Called the Pillsbury Pollinator Meadow, the area is located on land that was originally owned by the Pillsbury family of flour-mill fame (some family members still belong to Woodhill).
Plants in the pollinator meadow include purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, black-eyed Susan, leadplant, smooth aster, stiff goldenrod, gray goldenrod, bush clover, common milkweed, meadow blazing star, northern bedstraw, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, and switch grass.
The meadow provides habitat for monarch butterflies and bees, and Fredericksen says, “A lot of birds feed on the insects there, too.”
With a 90-percent decline of monarch butterfly populations in the last two decades, the USGA and Audubon International are working together to establish Monarchs in the Rough, a program that creates a network of pollinator habitats, marked with educational signs, on golf course sites throughout the country.
Pollinator health and habitat presence is a key issue in the Midwest, where 10 states, including Minnesota, are on the monarch butterfly’s primary migration route. Golf courses are ideal places to establish these habitats because, on average, only 60 percent of a golf property is actually used for golf. That leaves another 40 percent of land in out-of-play areas for other programming such as pollinator meadows.
While Woodhill already had taken steps to create pollinator habitat, the Science of the Green project, through GPS golfer traffic-data collection, helped the property identify additional out-of-play areas that can be converted to pollinator habitat. The GPS data generated a heat map that showed high-, moderate-, minimal-, and no-traffic areas on the golf course.
By illustrating how the golf course is used overall, the data can translate into better turf management and economic benefits. High-traffic areas, for example, can call for the installation of a turf species that can withstand wear and tear, preventing poor plant health and poor playing conditions.
The low- and no-traffic areas can offer other uses without negatively affecting the player experience. By converting these areas to pollinator habitats, vegetable or rain gardens, or a turfgrass nursery, they add value and connect golf courses to their local communities and environmental organizations.
They can also enhance eco-friendly practices by reducing golf course labor inputs including watering, mowing, and the use of plant protectants.
“It is important for golf courses to be eco-friendly, for multiple reasons,” reports Anderson. “These can include:
– cost savings from efficient resource use;
– input reduction for compliance with increasingly stringent regulation and oversight;
– marketability of environmental stewardship for consumers that demand sustainability from the goods and services that they purchase;
– increased access and exposure to the game of golf from people engaged in the course through sustainability initiatives that then pick up golf;
– and educational opportunities for tomorrow’s environmental leaders, superintendents, and golfers.
“There are countless important reasons for golf courses to adopt sustainability as a core principle of their operations, and they fall into four categories—economic, environmental, community, and golfer experience,” Anderson adds.
To manage chemical and pesticide usage, the Woodhill grounds crew has used the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) to control its chemical inventory and minimize the effect of these products on the turf. The EIQ is a measure of pesticides used in relation to the effect that their usage has on the environment.
Through the research partnership with the University of Minnesota, the Woodhill maintenance department has endeavored to achieve even better EIQ levels through annual assessments and improvements. By calculating the EIQ and demonstrating continued improvement, Woodhill has a means to engage with the community in a sustainable manner and to increase its environmental stewardship potential.
“We look at EIQ from a singular application and from the whole golf course for the entire year,” Fredericksen says. “At the end of the year, we look to see how we have been able to reduce our numbers.”
He hopes to reduce Woodhill’s pesticide use by 10 percent to 13 percent, reducing the EIQ for each application and for the entire year.
“When we use variable rate controls, we’re more accurate in how we apply chemicals,” says Fredericksen.
Woodhill Country Club
Location: Wayzata, Minn.
Club Website: www.woodhillcc.com
Golf Holes: 18
Course Designer: Donald Ross
Property Type: Private
No. of Members: 395
Year Opened: 1915
Golf Season: April to November
Annual Rounds of Golf: 11,000
Greens: Woodhill Bentgrass
Rick Fredericksen, CGCS
Education and Training: Graduate of Penn State University
Years at Woodhill Country Club: 29
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Business: 41
Previous Employment: Medina (Minn.) Golf & Country Club
Certifications: Minnesota Pesticide Applicator License, Class D Well Operator License, Certified Golf Course Superintendent
Honors and Awards:
• President of Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association – 1991, 2001, 2002
• Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association Distinguished Service Award – 2018
• Long Lake Volunteer Fire Department Firefighter of the Year – 1999
• Woodhill Country Club has been a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary since 1994
Just Getting Started
Pursuing the development of a matrix to measure golf-course sustainability is not the only research initiative that the University of Minnesota has conducted.
In an earlier project, Science of the Green researchers collected data on pace of play at seven U.S. golf courses with different characteristics. They found that green-speed and pace-of-play data also have significant implications for economic, environmental, and social sustainability of golf course management.
Parker Anderson, a consultant and researcher who blogs about the findings and results at greenergolfgroup.org, believes the work has unlimited capabilities.
“We hope that it will continue into perpetuity, as we have highlighted the need for this type of work in the golf industry and the importance of using research and data collection to tell the true narrative of golf facilities,” Anderson says. “The findings of this work will greatly benefit other golf facilities, because the processes we conduct as part of this work are replicable and quantifiable.
“We hope that other golf courses will be able to draw from our experience and utilize our methods and results to guide their facilities toward a more sustainable future,” he adds.
The research has certainly benefitted Woodhill Country Club, and vice versa. “We’re excited about the potential and to be a part of it,” says General Manager Paul Gustafson. Woodhill’s Certified Golf Course Superintendent, Rick Fredericksen, agrees. “We owe it to our community. We have the opportunity to make an impact,” he says. “We want to be known as the best neighbor around.”
Course + Grounds
Woodhill Country Club
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $950,000
Staff: 10 full-time, 15 seasonal, 4 retired
Other Staff Members: Clayton Kreiger, Senior Assistant Superintendent; Ryan Ebeling, Assistant Superintendent; John Martinson, Head Mechanic; Luis Garcia, Juan Reyes, and Abel Reyes, full-time, core staff members
Irrigation System: Toro Site Pro, LTC Controllers, 1,200 heads
Water Source and Usage: Two wells—provide irrigation, water for hockey rinks, and drinking water
Equipment: Toro—purchasing agreement, own
Technology: GPS-mapped, GPS Toro/Frost spray control, TDR moisture-sensing equipment, two weather stations
Maintenance Facility: 10,800-sq. ft maintenance facility; wash pad; cold-storage building for three hockey rinks, luge, and ski trail grooming equipment; cold storage for topdressing and fertilizer; heated chemical storage area
Aerating Schedule: Greens aerification three times a year, with needle tines in season; tees and fairways – 5/8 inch tines, after Labor Day; rough – 3/4-inch tines, October
Upcoming Capital Projects: Ross restoration project—greens are original Ross style and grass, remain as designed; tees—level and straighten, add forward tees, and add blue tees; fairways—recontour, level, and regrass to new variety of bentgrass
Duties and Responsibilities: Golf course, 10 Har-Tru clay courts, four Reilly Green Mountain paddle courts, three hockey rinks, one curling rink, luge and cross-country ski trail; water manager for Woodhill