Quail Brook Golf Course achieves river-friendly certification

The golf course is the first club in the main stem of the Raritan River basin to earn this distinction

Darrell Marcinek, CGCS, director of golf maintenance
Quail Brook Golf Course, Somerset, N.J.

Quail Brook 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 Dec. 11, 2007, Quail Brook Golf Course was the commission’s first golf course certified as river-friendly in the main stem of the Raritan River area. This certification is not only a tremendous accomplishment for the park commission and its staff, but is another positive achievement for the golf industry.

Earning certification

The certification process began in 2005. Tara Petti, an assistant watershed protection specialist from the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA), contacted Thomas Grigal, golf course superintendent. The group’s goal was to develop a set of river-friendly actions specific to Quail Brook Golf Course. Quail Brook Golf Course celebrated its 25th anniversary on June 11, 2007. It is an 18-hole golf course with a driving range, designed by Edmund Ault. The course is situated on 205 acres of parkland owned by the county. The golf course encompasses 170 acres, plus an additional 35 acres of walking trails, playgrounds, and a natural grass athletic field. Since its inception, more than half of the golf course is lined by homes and condominiums, some of which encroach as close as 10 yards from greens and tees. The remaining holes are lined with indigenous trees and meandering streams and wetlands. The main purpose of this certification program was to preserve natural resources and maintain amicable relationships with our neighbors.

Water quality management

Quail Brook Golf CourseOur main goal for water quality was to reduce the fertilizer and pesticide levels within local bodies of water. This plan was already in place as part of our ongoing integrated pest management (IPM) strategy. We increased and defined vegetative buffers around surface waters on the golf course. In most cases and depending on the location, vegetative buffers were increased to a width of 20-50 feet around waterways and wetlands. The buffers that surround our streams and ponds are not treated with chemicals or fertilizers and are mowed at a minimum of once per year. The buffers surrounding wetlands are not maintained. Additional buffers significantly slow and filter stormwater runoff and any pollutants it may carry. Buffers also help reduce stream bank erosion during high water flows.

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 livesQuail Brook Golf Course
  • 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

In 2008, a new chemical storage building and wash water recycling system was scheduled for construction.

Water conservation

Our main water conservation goal was to decrease water use on the golf course. We created no mow and no spray areas on the golf course that would decrease water usage and protect ponds, wetlands, and streams without over penalizing our golfers. These natural areas reduce maintenance costs and save labor. Turfgrass accounts for approximately 90 acres of the course’s 170 acres. Greens, tees, and fairways account for 40 of the 90 acres. We wanted to convert an additional 25 acres to natural landscape.

Natural greens

After careful consideration, we let almost 20 acres grow naturally. Some of these areas surround fairway and greenside bunkers, enhancing the beauty and aesthetics of the golf course. These areas are clearly marked with signage and hazard stakes. Golf carts are strictly prohibited from entering these sections. As a result, we saved about 25% in fertilizer costs. Only 45% of our annual water allocation was used. We aggressively over-seed drought tolerant fescue species into these areas now that golfers have accepted them as an integral part of the golf course. Other water conservation methods include:

  • Hand watering and syringing
  • A fully automated irrigation system with new pumps and high density polyethylene pipe (HDPE)

This system will allow us to water the golf course more efficiently. It also significantly decreases the number of potential leaks as compared to traditional polyvinyl chloride (PVC) systems.

Nature’s best

Wildlife and habitat enhancement was perhaps our most challenging goal. The NJWSA said that 50% of the golf course had to be enhanced or preserved natural landscape. Approximately 52% of the property was either wetlands or woodlands. That was sufficient for the NJWSA, but not for us. Close to 20 acres of turfgrass was converted to natural landscapes. Blue bird houses were positioned within these areas to serve a dual purpose. They encourage blue bird nesting sites and indicate where irrigation valve boxes are located. This allows us to quickly isolate an irrigation break. It is virtually impossible to find an irrigation valve in natural areas that have tall vegetation. Wildlife inventory was created and is updated semiannually to evaluate activity, number of eggs, and locations. Entry into these areas is strictly prohibited. This prohibition is conveyed by the starter, on the scorecard, and with signage. Other habitat enhancements include:

  • Installing bat houses near the clubhouse to naturally control insect populations
  • Hand removal of invasive species rather than chemical treatments
  • Preservation of dead or fallen trees within out-of-play areas to encourage woodpeckers, hawks, and owls

Training, outreach, and education

Education and outreach is ongoing and must extend beyond golfers. This process began two years ago with clubhouse displays and verbal communication detailing the certification program to our golfers and employees.

The pro shop staff is our first line of communication. It is critical to keep them abreast of any major changes.

Quail Brook Golf Course

Proper training is also very important. An employee’s simple mistake with a weed trimmer or misuse of a pesticide can have catastrophic effects. Educating our golfers is imperative. Their opinions influence the landscape conditions. If golfers weren’t informed about our river-friendly certification program, they may not have tolerated our naturalized areas or buffers. They would have expected maintained grass up to the waters’ edge instead of the buffers. Throughout the process, status reports were given at monthly senior staff and public meetings attended by commissioners, freeholders, and the local press. Our river-friendly golf course sign is proudly displayed at the main entrance. A plaque was placed inside the pro shop, maintenance building, and performance center. The local press issued a news release, and involved local and national superintendent associations.

Commitment to excellence

Quail Brook Golf CourseThe 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 Thomas Grigal and Ed Highland from SCPC, and Kathy Hale and Tara Petti from NJWSA. Learn more about the Quail Brook Golf Course.