Environmental stewardship and outreach at TPC at Summerlin

The golf course details its water conservation, energy savings, and outreach programs

Dale Hahn, CGCS
Tournament Players Club at Summerlin, Las Vegas
Published date: February 2010

TPC at SummerlinThe Tournament Players Club at Summerlin is a private 18-hole golf course located on 230 acres of Las Vegas desert at an elevation of 2,700 feet. The course is home to the Justin Timberlake Shriner Hospitals for Children Open. Like this worthwhile event, environmental stewardship is an important aspect of our operations, especially in regard to our use of natural resources and maintaining a positive impact on the course’s bottom line.

The course was designed with minimal impact on the environment, preserving and protecting natural contours and habitat where possible. TPC at Summerlin was the first course in Nevada to become an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through Audubon International.

Challenges

The environment and climate in Las Vegas presents several challenges for golf course operations and environmental stewardship practices. The desert is comprised mostly of caliche, a very hard rocky soil, native to the southwest. Topsoil is comprised of caliche ground to 3/8 inch. The more fortunate golf courses in the valley, including TPC at Summerlin, have 6 inches of the ground caliche covering the course. Caliche soil base have excellent drainage and firm playing conditions. The downside? Caliche’s have a poor nutrient holding capacity and is difficulty to aerify. Our primary challenge is keeping greens healthy and fast in an extreme climate, and on a course open for play year-round. We maintain the following turfgrass within this environment:

  • The greens are a 50-50 blend of A-l and A-4 bentgrass.
  • Our fairways, roughs, and tees are 419 hybrid bermudagrass.
  • We have bluegrass collars.
  • Only the tees are over seeded with ryegrass.

Weather patterns

The winters are cold and windy, and the summers are world renown for heat. Despite the high temperatures, disease pressure is minimal due to the year-round low humidity. The obvious lack of rainfall, 4.49 inches per year, creates challenges in managing the salt load in the soil. Since 2002, we have irrigated with recycled water. Our recycled water is high in salts and requires us to perform periodic leaching to keep the salt load to a minimum. Despite increased aerifications, additional gypsum applications, and wetting agents, soil sodium levels still climb in dry years. We will continue to increase both the frequency and rates of gypsum and aerification as well as regular leaching to help offset the salt load.

Water conservation practices

Efficient water management is the key to our operation, especially in light of meeting customer expectations, minimizing costs, and ensuring environmental stewardship. Most of the irrigation water used is recycled water. Golf courses are the perfect avenue to provide additional filtration and to discharge the community’s recycled water. At TPC at Summerlin we irrigate 197 acres:

  • 150 acres of turf
  • 17 acres of Acacia
  • 11.5 acres of shrubs
  • 18.5 acres of desert xeriscape

We use potable water on our greens and recycled water everywhere else.

  • Water conservation practices at TPC at Summerlin include the following:
  • We do not overseed fairways or roughs, which are the majority of our turfgrass acreage. This reduces the amount of water used when overseeding.
  • We use a state-of-the-art irrigation system.
  • Our pump stations have state-of-the-art VFD drives that maintain proper psi and flow without sacrificing efficiency.
  • We have more than 6,700 Toro sprinklers controlled by a central computer running Toro Site Pro software.
  • Irrigation runtimes are computed using evapotransporation rates calculated and delivered to the Toro Site Pro software by a Campbell Scientific weather station.
  • Water runoff, even rainwater that falls onto the course, is captured by an underground drainage system and transported into one of three lakes on the course. Although the three lakes are not irrigation lakes, they do require filling from our irrigation system. Capturing the runoff reduces and sometimes even eliminates the need for filling the lakes with the irrigation system.

TPC at SummerlinFrom 2002-2009, we lowered our water use from 6.3 acre feet per irrigated acre down to 5.8 acre feet per irrigated acre, saving nearly 42 million gallons. This was achieved in part by our participation in the Northwest Water Resource Group. We meet once per month to discuss water use and ways to improve water management practices on the Northwest Valley golf courses. As a result of this collaboration, I completed a 10-page water use reduction plan and submitted it to the Las Vegas Valley Water District. The plan provides basic information such as acreage, grass types, plant types, and pond sizes. It also outlines practices currently in place to reduce water usage, regular aerification, wetting agents, pond leak tests, proper care, and system maintenance.

Turf reduction

TPC at SummerlinThe turf reduction section outlines a plan for removing 300,000 square feet of turf and converting it to xeriscape. The plan will lower our annual water use from 5.8-5.4 acre feet per irrigated acre. We saved an additional 15 million gallons a year going forward. Water efficiency and conservation practices often equate to energy efficiency and conservation. We are always looking for ways to save energy, water, and fuel. Since 2004, we have lowered our electrical consumption at our pump station from 1.65 KWH per million gallons of water to 1.41 KWH. Prior to 2008, we averaged 618,000 KWH per year in electrical consumption at our pump station. In 2008 and 2009, consumption was reduced to 531,000 KWH and 532,000 KWH respectively. That translates to a reduction of 90,000 KWH and $10,000 per year in electrical costs at today’s rates. In part, this was achieved by monitoring the efficiencies of our pumps and motors. When needed, we would rebuild and rewind the pumps and motors when efficiencies dropped below the recommended levels. We closely monitored irrigation cycles, run times, start times, and water windows to ensure our pump station was operating at full capacity. Full capacity is the most efficient way to operate a pump station. Other efficiency, conservation and pollution prevention efforts include:

  • Time of use lock out. Special feature that lets water flow from the No. 16 lake to the No. 17 green. The lock out only allows the 30-hp motor to recirculate water during hours when golfers are on the course. This saves us 50 percent in electrical costs.
  • Lock outs for the shop air compressor. In the past, we had to remember to turn off the compressor before we left for home. Now it happens automatically.
  • Programmable thermostats. The golf course maintenance offices installed new thermostats that can be turned up at night to save electricity, while still keeping it cool enough for our computers.
  • Recirculation wash rack. Our golf course maintenance shop is equipped with a recirculation wash rack. At the end of a work day, employees take their equipment to a dumpster to off load debris. The blow-off rack removes any loose debris. The recycled wash rack finishes the cleaning process.
  • The Landa wash rack. Landa uses microbes, filtration, and screening to allow the same volume of water to clean equipment. It is routinely serviced. We do not measure the amount of water recycled with the rack, but we can estimate the savings. If we wash 20 pieces of equipment a day, using 20-30 gallons of water per unit, then the savings over a year’s time could be well over 100,000 gallons.
  • Waste removal. Par 3 Landscape, our waste removal company, recycles waste from our golf course. The containers are taken to a separation center where waste is separated into greens waste, recyclables and trash, and then hauled off accordingly. In 2009, approximately 1,520 cubic yards of waste was hauled from the golf facility to Par 3’s recycling center. Par 3 estimates 40% (608 cubic yards) was recycled.

Integrated pest management practices

TPC Summerlin is a professionally managed landscape. This includes both the proper management of resources and inputs. Our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and nutrient management practices help to ensure that we properly diagnose and safely administer all fertilizers, pesticides, and chemicals. Three employees, including myself, have obtained the Nevada State Pesticide License. We strive to not just meet federal, state and local standards, but to exceed them. IPM practices are at the core of our program. PGA Tour properties support these efforts. Tour guidelines require semiannual soil, water and tissue testing. Test results are reviewed by the superintendent, the regional agronomist and the director of agronomy for the PGA tour. A Turf Management Plan (TMP) was developed. The TMP identifies all fertilizer, fungicide, herbicide and insecticide applications, the timing of those applications, and the cost. TMP has 17 years of history, which provides a solid foundation for the planning and decision making process. We make notes on the current TMP and use that information to develop the next year’s TMP.

Chemical inventory management

Scott Cishowlas, of Nevada's Department of Agriculture, sits on our Resource Advisory Group. Our collaboration has benefited both organizations. Chemical applications are primarily growth regulators and herbicides. The minimal amount of chemical applications we make reduces any threat to the environment and saves hundreds of yards of greens waste (grass clippings) from being hauled to landfills. This reduces the mowing frequency, saves fuel and reduces emissions. Our fungicide applications are few and far between. IPM practices ensure that we apply only what is needed.

Wildlife opportunities

TPC at SummerlinThe golf course, in conjunction with our environmental management program as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, provides a great foundation for wildlife conservation and education opportunities. In 1995, we became the first certified golf course in the state of Nevada. Under the Audubon International Program we monitor and maintain:

  • Two nest owl boxes in the arroyo off the18th tee
  • Five bird feeders throughout the course
  • An Audubon garden on the sixth green
  • An herb garden at the clubhouse

The Audubon Garden replaced Sheep's Fescue with low water use plants, and educates golfers as they make their way past the sixth green. The Audubon garden contains 18 plant species native to the Nevada desert. All species are labeled and are easily visible to golfers parking on the cart path. Wildlife is also maintained and monitored in five lakes. We restock these lakes as needed with large-mouth bass, triploid carp, and bluegill. The three lakes that contain fish have subsurface aeration to keep weeds down and oxygen levels up. This provides an ideal habitat for our fish. We have added recycled Christmas trees to our lake bottoms to further promote a healthy fish habitat.

Protecting wildlife habitat in the desert is difficult, but not impossible. The desert requires regular cleaning to maintain a balance of plant life. If we ignored the deserts, our course would quickly be overrun with baccharis, tamarisk and saltbush. All three indigenous plants can quickly overpower all other plant life. We spend more than 1,400 labor hours each winter maintaining a healthy balance of plant life. We developed a plan to rejuvenate the 26 acres of landscape that border the golf course. The border currently consists solely of acacia redolens. The acacia was severely damaged by extremely low temperatures in January 2007. The acacia is increasingly woody and dense, and now coyotes are unable to navigate through it. It is our hope that by removing and replacing the acacia with a more hospitable environment for wildlife our populations will increase. We chose deergrass, rosemary, Texas ranger and Myoporum to replace the acacia. In 2009, we replaced 10.8 acres.

The great outdoors

TPC at SummerlinWe regularly conduct Audubon nature walks, fishing derbies and school field trips. We host fishing derbies for kids and we stress the importance of the 'catch and release' philosophy. More than 30 kids participate.
School field trips provide an opportunity to coordinate presentations with our water providers and demonstrate agronomic practices and stewardship efforts. Every May TPC at Summerlin hosts the fifth grade class from Richard H. Bryan elementary school. Twenty-eight students attend. The tour starts at the Durango Hills Water Resource Center, the northwest recycled water plant for the Las Vegas Valley Water District. Students learn how water is recycled (from raw wastewater to high-quality water) on golf courses and parks. The tour starts in the lab. There, students get to look under a microscope and see micro-organisms in action. They follow the path of water from screens, to girt basins, along to equalization basins, aeration basins, secondary clarifiers, odor control, backwash filters, and ultraviolet disinfection. The tour ends with students viewing a 2 million gallon reclaimed water reservoir. The second half of the tour takes place at the TPC Summerlin golf course. The tour begins at the Barney Tube, the purple inlet pipe that carries recycled water from the treatment plant to the onsite irrigation holding pond.
TPC at Summerlin
The tour continues at our pump station, irrigation satellites, and weather station. Students are impressed with our ET-based computer controlled irrigation system. They learn about evapotranspiration and how water is applied on a golf course. They see how a sprinkler works and how water is percolated through many feet of soil and returned to the water table as crystal clear water, ready for human consumption.

Outreach

Our tours and fishing derbies are just a few examples of how outreach and education can be used to demonstrate its value within local communities. Environmental stewardship at TPC at Summerlin is an important aspect of operations. It helps to ensure efficiency as well as a good image. We will continue to move forward with our efforts to protect the environment, serve our community, and improve the bottom line.

Learn more about TPC at Summerlin.