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GCSAA announces winners of its 2021 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards

by Aug 24, 2021 | Angela Hartmann

Golf Digest awards honor golf course superintendents for their commitment to environmental stewardship

Metropolitan Golf CourseLawrence, Kan. (August 24) – Four golf course superintendents have been named winners of the 2021 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards (ELGA), which are presented annually by GCSAA and Golf Digest in partnership with Syngenta. Eight runners-up also received recognition for their environmental efforts.

The awards have recognized superintendents and golf courses around the world for their commitment to environmental stewardship since 1993, but in 2018 the ELGAs were updated to recognize more superintendents in more focused areas of environmental sustainability. Instead of offering national awards based on facility type, the newer version of the ELGAs is based on the environmental best management practices and honor specific areas of focus.

·      The Communications and Outreach Award recognizes effective communication of conservation strategies with facility employees, golfers and other members of the community.

·      The Healthy Land Stewardship Award recognizes effective strategies for efficient use of pesticides and nutrients, as well as pollution prevention.

·      The Innovative Conservation Award recognizes unique and innovative strategies for conservation.

·      The Natural Resource Conservation Award recognizes effective strategies for water conservation, energy conservation, and sound wildlife management.

“The winners of our Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards reflect the industry’s commitment to environmental sustainability,” said GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans. “Congratulations to all the winners who excel in their roles of providing enjoyable playing conditions while embracing sustainable practices.”

The 2021 ELGA winners include:

Jay RandolphCommunications and Outreach Award
Jay Randolph, CGCS  
Ben Geren Golf Course
Fort Smith, Ark.

Jay Randolph is a 26-year GCSAA member who first worked on a golf course at age 14. As superintendent at Ben Geren GC, he oversees 36 holes on 350 acres, which includes 100 acres of restored native tallgrass prairie.

When Randolph began the prairie restoration project in 2016, he opened lines of communication with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas Forestry Commission, Arkansas Master Naturalists and other experts to ensure the project’s success. As things progressed, he also developed working relationships with the Arkansas Monarch Conservation Partnership, Arkansas Audubon, Sebastian County Conservation District, University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University and University of Arkansas Fort Smith.

Through Facebook and the iNaturalist app, Randolph shares information about new plants found in the restoration area and has also created a photo exhibition of the project at the city library. In addition, local FFA programs and high school social classes have toured the restoration areas. Others have visited course for prairie, bird and butterfly walks. Randolph also reaches out to the community through presentations for civic groups and others where he discusses the history of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and how golf courses can play an important role in the conservation of native plants and animals.

First runner-up in the Communications and Outreach category is Scott Bower, director of grounds, Martis Camp Club, Truckee, Calif. Second runner-up is Gary Early, superintendent, Salmon Run Golf and Resort, Brookings, Ore.

Cortland WinkleHealthy Land Stewardship
Cortland Winkle, CGCS
Four Seasons Resort and Club
Irving, Texas

With an uncle who was a golf pro, Cortland Winkle developed an early love of the game. He found his calling in the turf program at Texas A&M and has been a GCSAA member for 11 years.

TPC Four Seasons is 405-acre layout that includes native mesquite groves, 42 acres of native grasses and 128 documented species of wildlife that call it home. The facility has a highly sophisticated integrated pest management (IPM) program. Its IPM “war room” includes microscopes, diagnostic tools, IPM history and more. In addition, they use environmentally friendly products including non-toxic cleaners, worm cast teas, bio-solid organic fertilizers and micro-rate fungicides for pollution prevention.

Water conservation is also a key element of Winkle’s efforts. All staff members attend 24 hours of water conservation training each year, and the “Golden Hose” award goes to the person who best manages water assets at the facility through hand watering and other strategies. The water conservation efforts and 100% use of reclaimed water have saved the course an average of $18,375 in water bills over the last five years.

First runner-up in the Healthy Land Stewardship is Matt Gourlay, CGCS, MG, director of golf course management, Colbert Hills Golf Course, Manhattan, Kan. Second runner-up is Andrew Johnston, general manager/director of agronomy, Sentosa Golf Club, Singapore.

Jeff PlottsInnovative Conservation
Jeff Plotts       
Director of Golf Course Operations
TPC Sawgrass
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Each year, the golf world’s eyes are focused on TPC Sawgrass and Jeff Plotts’ work during the Players Championship. The 27-year GCSAA member has been at TPC Sawgrass since 2015.

Flowers have played a big role in aesthetic value of the landscape during television broadcasts of the Players. By developing a wildflower initiative with native seeds, Plotts and his staff have been able grow large numbers of flowers that can be used throughout the property. Previously annual flowers would have to be changed out 3-4 times per year. The native wildflowers are hardier, require fewer inputs and can be maintained through multiple seasons or years. The savings related to flowers of $75,000 a year is then used for ongoing reforestation of property after hurricanes damaged trees in 2017 and 2018.

In all, more than 1,500 trees have been planted at TPC Sawgrass in the last three years as part of the reforestation project. Like the wildflowers, the tree species are native to the area and include oak, pine and magnolia trees. The success of the wildflowers has also resulted in the planting of native grass species to accompany the wildflower plantings. 

First runner-up in the Innovative Conservation category is Jim Pavonetti, CGCS superintendent, Fairview Country Club, Greenwich, Conn. Second runner-up is H. Mitchell Wilkerson, CGCS, director of golf and grounds maintenance, Moss Creek Golf Club, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Gary IngramNatural Resource Conservation
Gary Ingram, CGCS
Director of Agronomy
Metropolitan Golf Links
Oakland, Calif.

Gary Ingram, CGCS, has been named an ELGA recipient for the fifth time in eight years, and the 41-year GCSAA member was also the winner of the 2020 President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship.

Built in 2003, Metropolitan Golf Links is home to Metropolitan Golf Links Junior Golf Program, the Oakland Turfgrass Education Initiative and more than 20 acres of wetlands. In 2021, renovation of all lighting at the facility, including the clubhouse, maintenance facility, restaurant and parking lots, to LED fixtures was completed with annual energy savings of 56,352 kilowatt-hours.

With ongoing drought in California, Ingram developed a Drought Management Plan. Through targeted watering, regular irrigation audits and more, water usage has dropped. In addition, irrigation water is recaptured through the drainage system and piped into the irrigation ponds for reuse. 

First runner-up in the Natural Resource Conservation is Wayne Mills, superintendent, La Cumbre Country Club, Santa Barbara, Calif. Second runner-up is Jay Neunsinger, superintendent, Boundary Oak Golf Course, Walnut Creek, Calif.

The winners will be recognized during the annual GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, which will be held Feb. 5-10, 2022, in San Diego.

A list of previous ELGA Award winners is available at