Environmental stewardship at Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa

Crystal Mountain’s commitment to the environment pays off.

Adam Ikamas, golf course superintendentCrystal Mountain
Phil Kluesner, assistant superintendent
Trevor Nash, assistant superintendent
Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa, Thompsonville, Mich.
Published date: December 2009

Environmental stewardship is among Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa’s core values. Crystal Mountain has 36 holes of championship golf. The resort features:

  • Mountain Ridge and Betsie Valley courses
  • A 10-acre learning center with a driving range
  • Two chipping greens
  • A large practice putting green

Steps to becoming eco-friendly

As part of our standard practices we assess our operations and seek out every opportunity to become more eco-friendly.

We have reduced fuel consumption by using walk mowers on the Mountain Ridge course rather than a tri-plex mower. On average, a tri-plex uses approximately two gallons of fuel per day, whereas the three walk mowers consume a combined one gallon of fuel per day. Additional labor is involved, but we are able to curb those costs with part-time, “mow-and-go” positions during morning shifts.

Narrowing the fairways on each golf course has also helped reduce fuel consumption. This practice has enabled us to reduce the time each fairway mower runs by roughly 30 minutes. We use two fairway units per course, three times per week. Narrowing our fairways by one mower width (basically inside the cleanup pass), decreases the highly maintained area by five acres. In addition, less chemical and pesticide are necessary due to the reduction in maintained turf which offers both environmental and economic benefits. This adjustment did not adversely effect the course's playability or aesthetics.

Establishing natural areas on the golf course

Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa

Crystal Mountain has also maximized its environmental efforts by increasing the size of our natural areas. Areas previously maintained at rough height, but not “in-play” have been allowed to grow. The process began with a paint gun used to mark turfgrass areas that would be converted in order to expand the existing natural areas. The areas between the blue and white tee boxes and the larger areas surrounding the tee boxes were included. These new natural areas included the edges along greenside bunkers.

Both grounds crews and pro shop staff toured each course and noted and agreed upon the necessary changes. The staff then committed to the new maintenance program. This new tall grass provides a pleasing aesthetic and does not adversely affect play. The natural areas also provide better habitat for wildlife and provide a buffer strip adjacent to water features and ponds.

Successful collaborations

Many of our conservation and environmental efforts are in collaboration with the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program (MTESP). The MTESP provides several modules of guidelines and standard practices allowing a golf facility to be more environmentally friendly. The MTESP modules are:

  • Site evaluation
  • Wellhead protection
  • Fuel storage
  • Pesticide handling and application
  • Pesticide and fertilizer storage
  • Pesticide mixing and loading pad
  • Equipment wash pad
  • Environmental action plan

In addition to the MTESP, Crystal Mountain has recently become a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary (ACS) and is in the process of certification. The MTESP and ACS share many of the same environmental goals, but after reviewing the program, the ACS is clearly the next step.

As a part of the certification process, we’ve started building nesting boxes. We began by pricing lumber and supplies, which were quite reasonable. It then occurred to us to start thinking about where we could get lumber for less or even free.

It turns out that pallet wood is a great resource. Most pallet wood features hardwood that is the perfect thickness for building nesting boxes. Just a little persuasion is all it takes for a pallet to become several nesting boxes. Our initial efforts focused on eastern bluebird houses while future projects for this reclaimed lumber include larger houses and even bat houses.

Demonstrating sustainable golf

One of Crystal Mountain’s most recent green initiatives was the dedication of an entire golf hole for a sustainability trial. Fertilizer and pesticide inputs on the seventh hole of the Betsie Valley course were reduced by 15% in an effort to assess, document, and further demonstrate sustainable golf. Our first year with the trial was a success. The growing conditions in northern Michigan during the 2009 season were nearly perfect. The second year of the project included a movement to replace synthetic fertilizers with an organic substitute. We also split the hole lengthwise and eliminated fungicides on one half while using 25% less fungicides on the other. The ultimate goal isn’t to push our luck, but to push the limits of our knowledge about the way our inputs and practices dictate subsequent inputs.

The bottom line

Although Crystal Mountain is applauded for its environmental efforts, these same initiatives also have the potential to develop a better business model for long-term sustainability. The reduction of pesticides and fertilizers is great for reducing environmental impact and improving the bottom line. Our estimated savings for our efforts is approximately $4,000-$5,000. We realize the importance of tracking and documenting the economic impact of environmental stewardship and plan on implementing an accounting system to demonstrate the value of sustainable operations.

The focus on increased plant health and accepting a change in grass species will eventually lead to less inputs and costs. The key to this type of change is to effectively communicate the goal of your plan and possible short-term effects on conditions with members, ownership, and greens committees. Crystal Mountain is fortunate to have ownership committed to environmentally friendly practices.

Some may not share this belief, but every operation is certainly committed to staying in business. The bottom line savings gained from a long-term plan to reduce costs and inputs can secure the sustainability of not only the environmental quality of a property, but its long-term sustainability as a business. Change is difficult, but we must look to other options. Declining revenues and increasing fuel costs demand the adoption of new practices. It is not a matter of how much we reduce our budget, but a matter of how we change the way we do our jobs.

Learn more about Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa.