Neshanic Valley Golf Course achieves river-friendly certification

The golf course earns river-friendly status in four basic steps

Darrell Marcinek, CGCS, director of golf maintenance
Neshanic Valley Golf Course, Branchburg, N.J.
Publication date: April 2009

Neshanic Valley Golf CourseThe Somerset County Park Commission (SCPC) operates five golf courses, located on more than 1,000 acres of preserved parkland in Somerset County, N.J. On July 24, 2008, Neshanic Valley Golf Course was the commission’s second golf course certified as “river-friendly” in the main stem Raritan River area. Neshanic Valley celebrated its five-year anniversary on September 3, 2009. It is a 36-hole golf course designed by Hurdzan/Fry and is situated on 485 acres of rolling farmland.

About us

The golf course itself encompasses 315 acres and is surrounded by two, 85 acre parcels. This area acts as open space, preserving animal corridors and migration routes, as well as buffer for the south branch of the Raritan River. The course is comprised of 27 championship holes, an academy nine, and a learning center that includes a double-ended driving range, chipping facility, practice putting green, and two practice holes. A Callaway Performance Center is located at the learning center. Our center is the No. 1 green grass account in the world. The river-friendly certification process began in 2005. It was streamlined by Kathy Hale and Tara Petti from the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA), and by Neshanic Valley’s dedicated staff.

New Jersey Water Supply Authority

Neshanic Valley Golf CourseThe NJWSA was established in 1981 to operate and protect water supply facilities in the Raritan basin system. This system includes 11 waterways spread over 1,100 square miles, serving 1.3 million residents in more than five counties. Development in the watersheds, compounded by the loss of wetlands and riparian buffers, has dramatically increased stormwater flows and non-point source pollution. This infringement poses a serious threat to our water quality, wildlife, wetland plant, and animal species. In response to these threats the NJWSA, in conjunction with two local watershed associations, applied for and received a Targeted Watersheds Grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The River-friendly Golf Course Program was developed to provide large landowners with the chance to become local stewards.

Earning river-friendly certification

Neshanic Valley Golf CourseThe certification process involves four major categories:

  1. Water quality management
  2. Water conservation techniques
  3. Wildlife and habitat enhancement
  4. Education and outreach

Each category has (at a minimum) one main goal set forth by the NJWSA. Goals are specific to each course. Our main goal for water quality management was to limit fertilizer and pesticide runoff, as well as other potential pollutants in local bodies of water.

Step 1: Water quality management

Thanks to the extensive studies that went into the design of Neshanic Valley, a water quality plan was already in place. Here is an example of our water plan: Bio-retention areas were created at drainage outfalls to preserve water quality, but not limit or deny natural runoff into onsite and adjacent wetlands. A 10-25 foot buffer exists around each of the four manmade ponds. A minimum of 50 feet was maintained along all wetland areas (ESA) and state-open waters. There is a 500-foot buffer between the golf course and South Branch of the Raritan River, our primary water source for golf course irrigation. The riparian buffer footage significantly slows and filters stormwater runoff and any pollutants it may carry. Other water quality management practices include:

  • Using slow release and organic fertilizers
  • Ensuring the proper timing of plant protectant applications
  • Using products with low rates, low toxicity, and short half lives
  • Establishing acceptable pest thresholds
  • Documenting and mapping hot spots that need treatment
  • Recycling grass clippings (clippings are collected on greens only)
  • Testing soils annually to determine nutrient requirements
  • Stocking grass eating carp in our ponds
  • Testing pond water annually

Step 2: Water conservation techniques

Neshanic Valley Golf CourseIrrigation water is taken from the South Branch of the Raritan River only if water flow is above a specific cubic feet per minute (cfm) as determined by the state. Our only other source is harvesting water runoff into holding ponds. City or well water is not used for golf course irrigation, minimizing depletion of groundwater reserves. More than 75 acres of fescue has been established on this links-style course, none of which is irrigated. The irrigation system consists of a fully automated, computerized system. It’s also equipped with a weather station to monitor site conditions and irrigate according to those conditions. Part circle heads are located along the perimeter of wetlands, ponds, cart paths, and fescue areas to minimize overwatering. A water maze recycling system is located in the maintenance building, saving an estimated 500-1,000 gallons of water per day during the season. This self-contained, closed system circulates and recycles water over and over, separating grass clippings and sanitizing the water. Other conservation techniques include:

  • Catching rainwater and using it for clubhouse plantings
  • Monitoring the irrigation system daily
  • Fixing and documenting leaks
  • Using wetting agents in conjunction with hand watering
  • Removing cattails manually, when more than 60% of pond is dominated
  • Installing sensors on all bathroom fixtures in maintenance building, clubhouse and learning center

Step 3: Wildlife and habitat enhancement

Neshanic Valley Golf CourseTwo-thirds of the Neshanic Valley Golf Course is preserved open space consisting of wetlands, open waters, ponds, or fescue. A vigorous wetland restoration project took place in spring 2007, removing invasive and undesirable plant species. More than 4,500 native plant species were planted. Entry into these areas is strictly prohibited. It is conveyed by the starter, on the scorecard and thru signage on the golf course. In fescue areas, blue bird houses were positioned strategically to serve a dual purpose. They encourage blue bird nesting sites and indicate where irrigation valve boxes are located, allowing us to quickly isolate an irrigation break. A wildlife inventory was created and is updated semiannually to evaluate activity, number of eggs, and locations. Other actions include:

  • Installing bat houses near the clubhouse to naturally control insect populations
  • Installing wood duck boxes along the river and in wetland areas
  • Placing five purple martin houses
  • Removing invasive species by hand

Step 4: Education and outreach

Neshanic Valley Golf CourseEducation and outreach is ongoing and must extend beyond golfers. This process began three years ago with clubhouse displays and verbal communication detailing the certification program to our golfers and employees. As a result, the wood duck box installation was spearheaded by the park rangers and local eagle scouts. Yardage booklets were created to describe, in detail, each golf hole and the significance of the area surrounding it. All golfers are informed about sensitive areas on the course by the starter and on the scorecard. Throughout the entire certification process, status reports were given monthly at senior staff meetings, and public meetings held with commissioners, freeholders and press. Our river-friendly golf course sign is proudly displayed at the main entrance. A plaque was placed inside the proshop, maintenance building, and performance center. The local press issued a news release, and involved local and national superintendent associations.

Cultural resource conservation

Neshanic Valley Golf CourseNot included in river-friendly goals or activities, but unique to Neshanic Valley, is our ongoing cultural resource conservation program. During the course’s construction, three historical buildings consisting of a farmhouse, carriage house and Dutch barn were moved approximately ½ mile to an area adjacent to the golf course. The original site is preserved and marked as environmentally sensitive to discourage curious golfers from entering the site. We plan to restore these structures to their original condition and allow the public to view them.

Commitment to excellence

The Somerset County Park Commission’s motto states that we are “committed to excellence in promoting stewardship of land and resources, providing outstanding recreational opportunities and leisure services, and fostering an environment which is service oriented and responsive to public needs.” Although we have established Quail Brook and Neshanic Valley as river-friendly golf courses, our job has just begun. Our long-term objective is to have five river-friendly golf courses and five Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. The prerequisites for Audubon are similar to those that the NJWSA set. We look forward to pursuing certification and striving for only the highest standards. Additional information provided by Andrew Hojnowski and Ed Highland from SCPC, and Kathy Hale and Tara Petti from NJWSA. Learn more about the Neshanic Valley Golf Course.