Environmental stewardship efforts by golf course superintendents are recognized by the GCSAA/Golf Digest awards
Lawrence, Kan. (Oct. 24, 2023) – Four golf course superintendents have been named winners of the 2023 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards (ELGA). The annual awards are presented by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (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 current version of the ELGAs is based on 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 ELGA awards are a way to recognize those golf course superintendents who exemplify a tremendous commitment to environmental stewardship, while still providing quality playing conditions,” said GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans. “We are always thrilled to acknowledge those who are standouts in keeping the game of golf sustainable. Congratulations to all the recipients.”
The 2023 ELGA Winners and runners-up include:
Communications and Outreach Award
H. Mitchell Wilkerson, CGCS
Moss Creek Owner’s Association
Hilton Head, S.C.
H. Mitchell Wilkerson, CGCS is the director of golf and grounds maintenance at Moss Creek Golf Club in Hilton Head, S.C. The 39-year GCSAA member has been at Moss Creek since 1999. Moss Creek features two 18-hole courses designed by George and Tom Fazio and has been certified through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Program since 2012.
Moss Creek acquired certification from the National Wildlife Federation for becoming a “Community Wildlife Habitat” in 2022. The achievement was supported by the maintenance staff on numerous occasions by mounting bird/owl/fox squirrel boxes and for native plantings of trees, shrubs and perennials.
Wilkerson and Moss Creek lead several communication efforts about the facilities’ environmental practices. Moss Creek hosts regular speakers in an open community forum, which includes the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Clemson University Extension service. There is also communication through social media feeds and a weekly online newsletter, which provide course updates and a “Nature Note”.
On-course signage alerts members and guests to pollinator areas, honeybee spaces, no hunting domains and to alligator awareness on the property. The facility hosts nature walks and discussions regarding the way nature is treated and taken care of on the property.
“Golf course superintendents are nature sensitive,” Wilkerson said. “That is our bread and butter. I don’t think there is a golf course superintendent that is not concerned about nature.”
Wilkerson was the second runner-up for the 2022 Healthy Land Stewardship Award and the 2021 Innovative Conservation Award. He became a certified golf course superintendent in 1997 and served as president of the Carolina GCSA in 2008.
First Runner-up: Wayne Mills, La Cumbre Country Club, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Second Runner-up: Coman Mulry, MG, Al Zorah Golf Club, United Arab Emirates
Healthy Land Stewardship Award
Matthew Gourlay, CGCS, MG
Colbert Hills Golf Course
Matthew Gourlay, CGCS, MG, has obtained certification by the GCSAA as a Certified Golf Course Superintendent (CGCS) and by the British and International Golf Greenskeepers Association (BIGGA) as a Master Greenskeeper (MG).
The 21-year GCSAA member and third-generation superintendent is the director of golf course operations at Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan, Kan. Gourlay was on the cart crew at age 14 when the course opened in 2000, and he was named superintendent in 2007.
Colbert Hills is a links style course in the Kansas Flint Hills, featuring 99 white sand bunkers, three ponds, numerous creeks and tall native grass outside of the fairways.
Gourlay utilizes a drone to monitor plant health up to five times a week and limits fungicide use. Waste management is a key consideration in the Colbert Hills Natural Resource Management Plan. The guiding philosophy is Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Decisions regarding design, construction and use of products go through an 11-step process as Colbert Hill strives to become a zero-waste property. Solar panels and re-use of oil helps reduce Colbert Hills’ carbon footprint.
Gourlay was the recipient of the 2019 Natural Resource Conservation Award and the 2018 Innovative Conservation Award. He was also the first runner-up for the 2020 and 2022 Communications and Outreach Awards and the 2021 Healthy Land Stewardship honor.
“It is always my name on there, but it is not just me,” Gourlay said. “I have a great group of individuals who work with me on the turf team. I am just the one filling out the paperwork.”
First Runner-up: Kevin Goss, Sugar Creek Golf Course, Villa Park, Ill.
Second Runner-up: Harlyn Goldman, CGCS, Needwood Golf Course, Derwood, Md.
Innovative Conservation Award
Jim Pavonetti, CGCS
Fairview Country Club
Jim Pavonetti, CGCS is a 28-year GCSAA member and has served as the golf course superintendent at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. since 2008.
The Fairview Country Club, just 30 minutes outside of New York City, was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1968. The course features 200 feet of elevation change, which creates a wide range of diversity in the environments on the course.
One of Pavonetti’s environmental innovations involves the property’s ponds. His use of barley straw and dye to create clean ponds has reduced herbicide usage by 90 percent. His team uses a combination of air diffusers, black pond dye and the barley straw to reduce algae blooms. The limiting of inputs saved the club an average of $9,000 per year and has reduced aquatic applications by more than 90 percent.
These efforts keep the ponds clean as they eventually drain into the Long Island Sound via a river. The program benefits neighbors, the community and saves money. In addition, Pavonetti has created more pollinator areas on the course and instigated more hand watering in fairways to reduce water usage.
“Every year we just try to tweak our applications a little, but really we just keep building on the same programs,” Pavonetti said. “I have always been drawn toward nature, even before I got in the business. I love fishing and things like that, protecting the environment. Protecting habitat is a natural thing for me.”
Pavonetti was the first runner-up for the 2018 and 2019 Natural Resource Awards and the 2021 and 2022 Innovative Conservation Award.
First Runner-up: Carl Thompson, CGCS, Columbia Point Golf Course, Richland, Wash.
Second Runner-up: Jay Wade, CGCS, Magnolia Green Golf Club, Moseley, Va.
Natural Resource Conservation
The Nelson Golf and Sports Club
Landon Lindsay is the golf course superintendent at the Sports Club of Las Colinas in Irving, Texas. The 12-year GCSAA member oversees two 18-hole facilities, including TPC Las Colinas and Cottonwood Valley.
The Cottonwood Valley course features a hole with the green in the shape of the state of Texas. The facility has received numerous environmental awards over the years, including the 2017 National Private Course ELGA from GCSAA.
Lindsay and his team have made great efforts to convert out of play areas into native/pollinator areas, replace turf with a grass that requires less water, replace plants with those that are native and drought tolerant, and use organic and stone mulch to prevent erosion and conserve water.
Lindsay has created goals to be more efficient with water usage, while also using reclaimed water. Work has also been done to improve reaction to flash floods and improve water quality through buffer zones, use of aquatic plants and pond dyes.
“Every year we try to get better,” Lindsay said. “One year we brought beehives onto the property. Last year it was wildflowers. It is just trying to be better than you were before, expanding on everything.”
The property is a tremendous wildlife habitat with more than 43 different bird species , 20 different mammals and 15 various reptile and amphibians accounted for at the Sports Club.
Lindsay was the 2022 runner-up for this award.
First Runner-up: Charles (Roby) Robertson IV, CGCS, TPC San Antonio(Texas)
Second Runner-up: Justin Brimley, Crystal Springs Golf Course, Burlingame, Calif.
The four winners will be recognized during the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 29-Feb. 1, 2024, in Phoenix.
A list of previous ELGA Award winners is available at https://www.gcsaa.org/about-gcsaa/awards/environmental-leaders-in-golf-awards