Golf Course Environmental Profile

Growing awareness about the positive environmental impact of golf courses

The Golf Course Environmental Profile is a groundbreaking project launched in 2006 to develop a comprehensive environmental profile of golf courses in the United States. GCSAA held meetings with a wide range of industry groups that identified a need for this data. The industry faces issues ranging from land use to regulations and practices governing water use, nutrients, and pest control. Prior to the GCEP, the industry faced a critical need for accurate data on the land use, inputs, management of natural resources and environmental stewardship associated with golf courses in the United States. Used in part to help advocate for golf course professionals and the golf industry, the profile – articulated in reports and surveys – conveys accurate data on the land use, management of natural resources and environmental stewardship associated with golf courses across the country.

Results of the Phase III Water Use and Conservation Practices survey are now available

Highlights from the Phase III Water Use and Conservation Practices survey

  • U.S. golf facilities applied approximately 1.68 million acre-feet of water in 2020, a 29% reduction since 2005.
  • Two-thirds of this reduction was likely a result of facilities applying water more efficiently, evidenced by the 23% reduction in water applied per acre in 2020.
  • The projected total irrigated acres of U.S. golf facilities declined by 11.5% since 2005 to 1.04 million acres in 2020.
  • Usage of best management practices (BMPs) has increased since 2005, and include keeping turf drier, pruning tree roots, changing to a more drought-tolerant turfgrass, mulching landscape beds and increasing no-mow acres.

The GCSAA Foundation and The Toro Giving Program funded the first phase of the project. In 2014-2017, GCSAA and the USGA conducted a second phase of the project. The GCSAA Foundation funded the third phase in its entirety. 

The project’s original five surveys yielded results that were analyzed and published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Applied Turfgrass Science as well as in a comprehensive report in GCM.

Information established baseline data for documenting changes in environmental practices over time, helping set priorities for education, research, member services and environmental programs. The data also helped GCSAA respond to governmental inquiries and answer the public's questions about environmental issues.

Phase III Timeline

  • Water Use and Management Practices Fall 2021
  • Nutrient Use and Management Practices Spring 2022
  • Property Profile and Environmental Stewardship Summer/Fall 2022

Reports and results will follow approximately four to six months after the survey closes.

Key points

  • The Golf Course Environmental Profile is owned and copyright protected by GCSAA. Data should be properly cited for publication, presentations, etc.
  • Phase III is funded by the GCSAA Foundation.
  • GCSAA intends to publish the survey in peer-review journals.
  • NGF will conduct, process, and analyze the data on behalf of the GCSAA as a third-party and independent entity who will follow the market industry standards to ensure valid survey results.
  • Travis Shaddox, Ph.D., president, Bluegrass Art and Science LLC, and J. Bryan Unruh, Ph.D., Extension turfgrass specialist, University of Florida, West Florida Research and Education Center, will provide technical oversight, analyze data, write publications including the peer-review manuscripts, public reports, and GCM articles.
  • All participants' individual survey results are not disclosed or shared. Results are reported in aggregate only. In addition, GCSAA does not sell email addresses.

As third parties, the scientists will work to ensure that the scientific methods associated with data collection and reporting are valid.

Uses of survey results

  • Document changes in environmental practices over time
  • Assist in determining the future direction of GCSAA environmental efforts and education
  • Identify key issues for potential research projects
  • Respond to governmental and public inquiries
  • Promote the efforts superintendents are making on their golf courses
  • Provide a solid basis for comments on proposed regulatory issues

GCSAA contracted the NGF to develop and conduct the surveys online, on paper, and through other methods, and analyze results. The GCSAA Environmental Programs Committee and associated advisory panels, along with GCSAA staff determined content. PACE TURF LLC’s Wendy Gelernter, Ph.D, and Larry Stowell, Ph.D. were the scientists engaged for Phase II.

All superintendents, whether GCSAA members or not, were invited to participate in the surveys. GCSAA provided incentives for completing surveys. Data is reported in the aggregate, summarized by state, region or other geographic area. Responses from individual golf courses are not published or released.

Contact Mark Johnson, GCSAA director, environmental programs, at 800-472-7878, ext. 5161, or mjohnson@gcsaa.org.