Environmental stewardship at Birmingham Country Club

The country club implements the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program

Tavis Horton, assistant superintendent
Birmingham Country Club, Birmingham, Mich.
Publication date: May 2009

Birmingham Country ClubThe Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program (MTESP) assists golf property managers in describing and evaluating potential sources of contamination through a series of self-assessment exercises. Through these exercises, property owners and managers are able to gauge their level of pollution protection and clearly indicate their level of compliance with the most common laws and regulations. As a result of the MTESP, several action plans were put into place at the Birmingham Country Club. Action plans included environmental protection associated with wells, petroleum tanks, and wash stations.

Sealing abandoned wells

Birmingham Country Club’s No. 1 priority was to seal an abandoned well. The well had not been used for years and was no longer a source for irrigation water. If an unused well is not properly filled and sealed, it provides direct access for contaminants to reach groundwater. Abandoned or unused wells must be properly plugged. To properly seal an abandoned well requires some experience or knowledge of:

  • Well construction materials
  • Closure methods
  • The geology of the well site
  • Local and state laws and regulations

A state-certified well driller has the experience needed to achieve this goal. He or she should be the first person called to seal the well. The company we hired had a working knowledge of the geology and history of our property. The company also understood both the local and the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) water rules and regulations. To seal the well, pump and piping was removed. Once the seal process was complete, we notified our local health department. The entire length of the well was sealed with a special slurry of cement to prevent any future contaminants from entering the groundwater. The cost for sealing an abandoned well varies, and depends upon the well depth, diameter, and geology of the site. Although this priority action plan took time and money, it was well worth it. Knowing that a possible pollution source was sealed to help protect drinking water gives the golf course’s employees and members peace of mind.

Complying with rules and regulations

Birmingham Country ClubTo reach compliance, additional environmental protection was taken to properly dispose of unused petroleum tanks with a registered company. Tanks not used in 12 months are considered permanently out of use and must be properly disposed of. At Birmingham, we had a 2,000-gallon aboveground diesel tank that had not been used in years. We also had an old aboveground waste oil tank that showed signs of external corrosion. Both of these tanks posed a threat to the environment and our groundwater. Tanks no longer in use can cause problems for current or future superintendents and owners. A state-registered company removed and emptied all aboveground tanks, including product and sludge. The tanks were removed from the property and delivered to a registered disposal scrapyard. The remaining materials filled two 55 gallon drums that were left on site to be disposed of by an environmental services company.

Keeping it clean

Birmingham Country ClubCleaning mowing equipment after each use is common practice throughout the turfgrass industry. Wash stations are generally comprised of a water hose that is used to remove clippings, dirt, and debris. Maintenance equipment is cleaned before it is stored. In the past, it was common to find equipment wash stations near surface water such as a pond, lake or stream. Early wash station designs frequently and inadvertently allowed wash water to flow into these surface water areas, including stormwater catch basins. The MTESP provided information about primary contaminants (including nitrogen and phosphorus) in grass clippings, dirt, oil and grease from bearings, and surface water and groundwater resource pollutants that live underneath our maintenance equipment. We examined several options for wash station systems from an on-site biological treatment system to a mechanical washing system. Both systems were designed to:

  • Separate grass clippings from wash water
  • Collect wash water
  • Discharge recycled wash water back into a holding tank to be used again

Both systems were expensive. After further investigation, we found an inexpensive wash system. The dog leash system connects to the irrigation system with a hose and quick coupler. It is located in a turfgrass area. The equipment is washed over the turfgrass area where the water will infiltrate and not flow into surface water. The designated equipment wash area is relocated on a weekly basis so that the area does not become muddy and problematic. We installed a gate valve on the end of the quick coupler to control the flow of water. We strategically created several wash stations at central locations where mowing routes end. These areas were considered out of play for members.


This inexpensive system only required a few spools of a 1-inch irrigation hose, quick couplers and gate valves. Maintenance personnel frequently brush off loose grass clippings from the equipment and onto the course before coming to the wash areas. This practice controls the amount of grass clippings left behind in the wash areas.

Priority action planning

Birmingham Country ClubThe use of pesticides and fertilizers in golf course maintenance is one of the most environmentally sensitive activities. It is important to understand existing and proposed pesticide and fertilizer storage rules within your state. It was important to gauge our level of protection to provide a framework for applying regulations to our site and storage facilities. You should be prepared to answer questions such as:

  • Is your storage area properly vented?
  • Do you have impervious shelving within the storage facility?
  • Is the storage area secured from the public or employees without proper training?
  • Do you have the door clearly marked for a multicultural work force?

Signs and impervious shelves were purchased for our pesticide storage facility. A ventilation system was installed in-house. After a couple of attempts, we were successful with aligning our holes in the walls from the inside and outside. Some of the smaller in-house projects provided for a great learning experience and an opportunity to save money. The MTESP suggested that the venting system be capable of 3-6 air exchanges per hour. The turfgrass industry in Michigan is comprised of golf course, lawn care, grounds maintenance, sod production operations, and the various suppliers of turf products and equipment. Within the golf industry, environmental sensitivity has long been recognized as a key to the future of the sport. This philosophy of environmental sensitivity is particularly evident in Michigan. The action plan was used as a management tool to prevent potential threats from pesticides, fertilizers, fuel, and hazardous materials. A special focus is placed upon the protection of groundwater, which is often the source for golf course irrigation and drinking water.

Birmingham Country ClubThe priority action plan is a summary of operational changes made at Birmingham Country Club from 2000-2003 as a result of participating in the MTESP program. This checklist represents a “summary of success” that was documented and completed in order to achieve the designation as a certified member of the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program. In 2006, we re-certified after completing a few additional recommended action plans.

Priority action plan from 2000-2003:

  • Locate well logs (Oakland Health Department)
  • Sample well quality (Corsault Well Drillers)
  • Anti-siphoning device on all hoses
  • Spill kit on sprayers (small hand shovel)
  • Locks on fuel caps
  • Breakaway hoses for fuel lines
  • Spill control kit for fuel tanks
  • Move fire extinguishers next to doors where extinguisher markings are placed
  • Any chemicals stored on wooden shelves must be stored on new metal shelving or chrome-plated rust resistant shelving
  • Move spill kits closer to chemical room door for quick access
  • Add power venting unit for indoor chemical storage room
  • Keep any chemicals stored in paper bags off floor
  • Eye wash station/bottles in outdoor chemical room
  • New waste oil storage tank (old one is corroding)
  • Seal the floor drain in mechanics shop
  • Return old batteries
  • Find a tire shredding company to pick up old tires
  • Set up emergency phone numbers at all shop phones
  • Dispose of old 2,000 gallon diesel tank and 275 gallon waste oil tank to a registered scrapyard
  • County registered Clean Sweep Program to dispose of old unused chemicals
  • Drift management plan

Priority action expenses from 2000-2003:

The following list represents the total expenses involved to achieve MTESP certification during the 2000-2003 period:  

  • Sample well quality: $35 plus labor for bacteria sample
  • Anti-siphoning devices on all shop hoses: $6.95 x 6 = $42
  • Spill kit on sprayers: $9 x 3 = $27
  • Locks on fuel caps: $14
  • Breakaway hoses for fuel lines (1-inch hose): $89.95 x 2 = $180
  • Labor rate: $65/hr (minimum hourly charge) + $65 service call
  • Spill control kit for fuel: $150
  • New shelving for indoor chemical room: $2,130
  • Power vent for indoor chemical room: $346
  • Eye wash station/bottles: $38
  • New waste oil storage tank: $300
  • Seal floor drain in mechanics shop: $20
  • Return old batteries: free
  • Dispose of old tires: $25 for large tractor tires, $24 for small tires
  • Seal abandoned well: $2,400
  • Hoses and quick couplers for wash stations: 50 foot hoses ($90 each) x 4 = $360; four quick couplers at $65 each = $260
  • Disposal of 2,000 gallon diesel and 275 gallon waste oil tanks: $1,700
  • Disposal of waste gas and oil: $85/drum x 2 = $170 + $150 transportation fee
  • Soccra Clean Sweep Program: free
  • Total costs: $8,478

Environmental stewardship

Birmingham Country Club utilized the environmental stewardship program to evaluate and improve environmental practices. To become an environmental steward, we followed guidelines designed to bring us into compliance with state laws and regulations. The three-year Environmental Action Plan developed in 2000 was an extremely valuable long-term management tool. Thanks to the plan, we were able to communicate environmental concerns, resolutions, and successes to the management and members at Birmingham Country Club. Today, the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship program at BCC continues to be a model that teaches both by example and through concrete learning. This ensures a safe and environmentally friendly course to play and work. Learn more about Birmingham Country Club.