Efficient water management and environmental stewardship at Newport Dunes

The golf course utilizes KempSports' Green to a Tee program.

James L. Brown, CGCS
Newport Dunes Golf Club, Port Aransas, Texas
Published date: January 2010

Newport Dunes opened in September 2008 and is an Arnold Palmer designed golf course located in Port Aransas, Texas.

Environmental management and stewardship have been important elements from the initial design through ongoing operations. The course is located within an environmentally sensitive area--a barrier island adjacent to the Padre Island National Seashore.

Building an environmentally friendly course

Port Aransas is one of the major migratory locations in the United States with more than 500 migratory bird species wintering each year on the island. Because of the course’s location to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre bay system, particular care had to be paid during course construction to eliminate potential fertilizer and pesticide runoff. The course was constructed on an area of 200 acres. At least 120 of those acres were converted to native vegetation with careful attention to re-establishing native species (such as the Southern Sea Oats). Native areas intersect to provide wildlife with transit points throughout the property.

Water source management

Water management at Newport Dunes is an important element for environmental protection as well as the facility’s bottom line. The 80 acres of turfgrass at the facility consists of MiniVerde, an ultradwarf bermudagrass, on the greens. The remaining turfgrass areas consist of Sea Isle paspalum. These species correspond best with our water management program and environmental conditions.

The facility utilizes an effluent supply of water source for irrigation. This particular water source is high in soluble nitrates. To address this as a potential pollutant to the adjacent water bodies, a series of perforated pipes were installed.

These pipes capture excess irrigation water and mechanically pump it into a storage tank for reapplication on the course. This is a closed loop system which efficiently addresses potential pollutants from entering the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre bay system. This has effectively eliminated potential ground water leaching into sensitive water bodies adjacent to the course. It provided an excellent conservation tool for conserving water.

Implementing technology on the golf course

In addition to using recycled water and the closed loop system, Newport Dunes utilizes a combination of weather station technology and soil sensors to irrigate on a daily basis. The weather station provides the evapotranspiration (ET) data each day to the irrigation system’s computer controller, which then downloads information to each individual sprinkler head to apply the exact amount of water. The soil sensors provide us with both the percentage of moisture in the soil as well as the salt factor. We utilize these sensors to maintain a moisture content between 12%-15% throughout the course. When we see the moisture and salinity factors getting lower or higher we fine-tune the irrigation system by adjusting the percentage of water applied to that given area.

Integrated pest management

Newport Dunes utilizes integrated pest management (IPM) practices as well. Some of those practices include: 

  • Scouting
  • Establishing threshold levels for weeds and diseases
  • Implementing no spray zones in the natural areas and around surface waters
  • Reducing mowing around perimeter areas

We do not and have not applied an insecticide to any area of the course other than our greens. Our best management tool for controlling weeds has been to increase turf density by frequently mowing high play areas such as fairways, tees, collars, and approaches. Our fertilizer management program is designed to ensure optimal turfgrass health while ensuring environmental protection. Soil and water tests are performed monthly to evaluate program effectiveness for plant health and to ensure runoff is minimized. We incorporate no-spray zones in the appropriate areas and apply fertilizers within the recommended rates for our turfgrass species. Managing our inputs and water use is important for quality turfgrass, ensuring playability, and protecting the environment. The golf facility provides additional environmental value through the natural areas.

Wildlife habitat

The facility incorporates 120 acres of native habitat. These areas are no entry, no mow, and no pesticide use areas. During the construction process the facility planted more than 20,000 native plant materials to re-establish these native areas. This included 5,000 of the endangered species, Southern Sea Oats.

Gulf muhly grass, sand love grass, and cord grass were also used. The remaining areas established plant material naturally. In addition, 80% of our lake banks are not maintained to provide shoreline habitat for bird species. The integrated use of native areas and lake management allows local species of birds, coyotes, jack rabbits, possums, and snakes to call Newport Dunes home. More than 100 species of bird wildlife has been identified on the course. These natural areas and the wildlife they attract add to the golfing experience.

Environmental best practices

Other environmental stewardship practices at the facility include:

  • Energy use. Maintenance facility lighting is controlled by light sensors in restrooms, break rooms, and cart storage areas. The sensors operate off of movement. If no movement is detected after 10 minutes, the lights shut off automatically. This system has reduced shop electrical usage by 9% each month.
  • Fuel consumption. The course has reduced annual fuel consumption by 12%. This was done by raising mowing heights and reducing mowing frequency to certain areas of the course. These include property right-a-ways, green surrounds, tee surrounds, and development common areas.
  • Recycling. The department sorts all trash into recycling bins which are then picked up by a local waste management company. Bins are sorted by plastic, paper, and glass. The department also attaches personal recycling tips to staff on payroll checks to promote individual conservation efforts.
  • Equipment cleaning. All equipment is cleaned with a low volume pressure washer to conserve water usage. The water is then filtered through a grease trap. A waste management company is contracted monthly to remove the solids accumulated in these traps.

Environmental stewardship practices involve many aspects of the facility’s operations and programs. Many of these programs have had positive impacts on the bottom line as well as the environment. Newport Dunes utilizes two environmental management programs to accomplish these goals. KemperSports’ Green to a Tee program encompasses environmentally focused initiatives within several core areas of facility operations, including:

  • Golf course maintenance
  • Habitat management
  • Water conservation
  • Energy usage
  • Recycling
  • “Green” vendor utilization
  • Staff education and training

We also participate in Audubon International’s Sanctuary Program and are working on available certifications.


Education and outreach communications are important elements of the environmental stewardship programs. Golfers and community members alike need to be aware of Newport Dunes’ environmental, social and economic values. The following elements are part of our education and outreach efforts:

  • Golfer awareness is posted in the pro shop with our current Audubon status prominently located next to our recycling efforts. Each golfer is informed of our native areas being non-entry to preserve wildlife habitat. Marshals patrol the course to ensure these areas are not entered.
  • Monthly emails are sent to past guests, and include information on course efforts to protect the environment at the facility. These include our commitment to non-pesticide usage, wildlife counts and types, and ongoing efforts to achieve certification with the Audubon Sanctuary program.

We are working with Seashore Academy, a local charter school, on wildlife identification. We have a few bird houses that students monitor. They have had two field trips to the facility with more than 35 students in attendance each time. Students work with trained staff to identify different bird species and numbers. We are also incorporating native plant identification into our education program. Newport Dunes has taken the extra effort to ensure environmental stewardship along with efficient operations to improve the course’s bottom line. The course recognizes the importance of education and outreach communications to ensure that the public is aware of golf’s value within our community. Environmental protection can go hand-in-hand with cost savings. We have reduced total annual operational dollars by $110,000 or roughly 12%. While some of these reductions were based on current economics our guest surveys show that course conditions are consistently rated excellent to superior.

Learn more about Newport Dunes Golf Club.