TPC Twin Cities improves the bottom line

The golf course highlights its environmental stewardship practices

Roger Stewart Jr., CGCS
TPC Twin Cities, Minneapolis
Publication date: February 2010

TPC Twin Cities is a private 18-hole golf course in Minneapolis. The course hosts the annual 3M Championship of the Champions Tour. It was built on 250 acres of a 543 acre housing development site.

The course consists of:

  • Four acres of bentgrass L-93 greens
  • Forty acres of Southshore bentgrass tees and fairways
  • Forty acres of bluegrass-fescue rough
  • One hundred acres of native grass areas

There are 27 bodies of water, encompassing 60 acres of which 14 acres are protected wetlands. TPC Twin Cities is an Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary. Water conservation, integrated pest management (IPM), resource conservation, and outreach education are key elements of the golf course’s operations. These environmental stewardship practices have had a significant and positive impact on the golf course’s bottom line.

Water management challenges
TPC Twin Cities

TPC Twin Cities faces some difficult challenges with regard to water management because it was constructed from soil with a high sand content. The golf course acreage is approximately 250 acres of which 86 are regularly irrigated. Considerably more acreage is covered by our irrigation system, but we refrain from irrigating these areas. Instead each area is maintained as un-mowed, non-play naturalized areas. We utilize several tools and techniques to use water more efficiently. To eliminate watering during or immediately after rainfall, we use a rain sensor that automatically places scheduled irrigation on hold until we manually override it. To assist us in irrigation scheduling, we track daily evapotranspiration rates, use portable moisture meters to determine soil moisture content, and closely monitor weather forecasts. In the spring of 2009, we purchased two new soil moisture meters that measure the volumetric water content (VWC). The VWC is the ratio of the volume of water in the soil to the total soil volume. We use a 3-inch rod to accurately measure the VWC in our root zone. A built-in data logger and GPS unit allows data to be downloaded onto spreadsheets and maps. The new moisture meters determined that we can maintain healthy turf at a VWC of 10%. Our older and less accurate moisture meters maintained the moisture content around 20%-25%. This encourages healthy turf growth and helps to reduce our water usage.

Updates to our irrigation system

TPC Twin CitiesWe are continually replacing full circle irrigation heads with part circle irrigation heads. We have reduced our water usage by 50,000 gallons in a typical irrigation cycle simply by installing part circle heads and limiting irrigation coverage to primary mowed areas only. Sprinklers next to bodies of water limit watering to turf areas only. Local water sources are protected from runoff by controlling the irrigation rate. This ensures that irrigation precipitation rates are not higher than the soil's infiltration capacity. The capability to individually customize irrigation heads to eliminate over watering has significantly increased our water use efficiency and is updated on a continual basis. We utilize an acid injection system to lower bicarbonate levels in the irrigation water. The acidified water improves infiltration, percolation rates, and reduces the occurrence of localized dry spots. The treated water provides improved performance from fertilizers resulting in less fertilizer being needed. In conjunction with the injection system, the use of wetting agents on greens, tees, and fairways further reduces the occurrence of hydrophobic soils. In 2008, we reduced our water usage by 28%. We continued to be impacted by a long-term drought. We were 7 inches below normal precipitation at the end of September 2008. This resulted in a savings of 32 million gallons of water.

Water infiltration improvements

TPC Twin CitiesIn 2009, we began an aggressive aerification and verticutting program to reduce thatch levels to help improve water infiltration. Even though the drought worsened and we were 8 inches below normal precipitation at the end of September, we were able to keep our water usage at 2008 levels. The combination of acidifying irrigation water and injecting wetting agents has significantly reduced our need for hand-watering localized dry spots. Man-hours needed for this task were also reduced. Cost savings have proven especially valuable in these challenging economic times.

Limiting the use of pesticides

Like water conservation and efficiency, IPM and professional fertilization management are important aspects of our course operations and environmental stewardship efforts. Using sound cultural practices throughout the golf course, we are constantly working on ways to limit the use of all pesticides.

Pesticides are utilized as a tool within the entire management program. Fungicide applications during growing season are based upon an active scouting program. Several indicator areas show that the first signs of disease are closely monitored prior to chemical application. The greens are L-93 bentgrass that have a relatively high resistance to diseases and lessens the amount of fungicide. Dollar spot is the most challenging summer disease. The disease is limited as much as possible through cultural means prior to fungicide application.

Managing winter turf disease

In the upper Midwest, control of winter turf diseases is a priority. Significant damage from winter diseases can occur because the winter climate is favorable for their growth and development. We utilize newer chemistries because they have a narrower spectrum of activity and less of a chance of bioaccumulation, especially in water bodies. Herbicide use is also limited. The majority of our efforts are focused on noxious weeds such as:

  • Spotted knapweed
  • Common lambs-quarters
  • Bull thistle
  • Musk thistle
  • Canada thistle
  • Field bindweed
  • Leafy spurge

Other invasive species controlled include:

  • Yellow toadflax
  • Clover
  • Reed canarygrass
  • Purple loosestrife

Spot spraying is used to control noxious weeds in riparian buffer zones and native areas. Our fertility program utilizes products that contain stabilized urea for slow release of nitrogen on greens, tees, and fairways. In the rough, we use a sulfur coated product that is formulated with a minimum of 70% slow release to slow down the solubility of the nitrogen. These products encourage slower nutrient release primarily through microbial decomposition and moisture. As a result we can limit potential turf burn and nutrient leaching. By implementing these changes, we have reduced our nitrogen fertilizer input by 16%. Pond nitrification is limited by paying extra attention to ponds while fertilizing. In order to ensure that fertilizer is not broadcast into ponds, fertilizer application is done with walk spreaders. Fertilizers containing phosphorus are only used as indicated by periodic soil tests and during establishment of new turf. The carefully targeted applications allow us to prevent unnecessary environmental impacts.

Water quality protection

Our IPM and fertilization programs help to ensure water quality protection in ponds and wetlands. In addition, one of our primary goals is to establish sustainable wetland ecosystems in each of our ponds. We are continuously working to stabilize pond banks, provide a food source for wildlife, and increase the quality of our wetland areas. During the past three years, pond banks have been stabilized with the use of coconut bio-logs and wetland species of plants. Wetland species planted include:

  • Pickerel plant
  • Blue and yellow iris
  • Boneset
  • Common rush
  • Blunt rush
  • Swamp milkweed
  • Broadleaf arrowhead
  • Wild rice
  • Joe-pye weed
  • Soft stem bulrush
  • Giant bur-reed
  • Common cattail
  • Water lilies

As the aquatic plants mature, they help filter water, absorb nutrients, and lower the amount of visible algae. The ponds on holes 10, 11, and 12, and a portion of holes six and 14 are considered wetlands by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Chemicals to control algae measures are prohibited by law. Algae blooms have occurred during certain periods of the year and usually dissipate within seven to 10 days.

Resource conservation
TPC Twin Cities

Conserving water and judiciously using pesticides and fertilizers are not the only sustainable practices on the golf course. Resource conservation at TPC Twin Cities is a multifaceted approach. All employees, including golf course maintenance, golf shop, clubhouse, and food and beverage staff, participated. TPC Twin Cities realizes almost 50% in energy savings to heat and cool the clubhouse. This is accomplished with a geothermal environmental control system which that uses nine heat pumps. Coolant is pumped to and from a radiator that is submerged 45 feet below the surface of a constructed pond. The pond is a heat sink or source depending on the seasons due to its relatively constant temperature at that depth. Energy is also conserved by turning off lights in unoccupied rooms and buildings. All facility restrooms have motion-activated lighting. Our club is currently ranked second among golf courses with the lowest use of energy in the metropolitan Minneapolis area. This is due to an elevated awareness by staff and members to conserve energy whenever possible. The irrigation system is computer controlled and includes a rain sensor shutoff that aborts scheduled irrigation when rainfall reaches a specified level. This system saves power by not running the irrigation system unnecessarily. The use of a state-of-the-art Flowtronex PSI pumping station (with variable frequency drive turbines) reduces electricity use by 15%-20% over a comparable fixed speed pumping station. We continue to upgrade our irrigation system on a yearly basis. Recycling efforts focus on major organic waste products on the golf course, such as:

  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Small twigs
  • Various herbaceous plant materials

These items are collected in a large roll off container for off-site composting. Waste oil and filters generated through equipment use and maintenance are also picked up for recycling. All burned out fluorescent bulbs are recycled. Recycling receptacles are available for paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum, and tin cans. Clubhouse administrative offices and the maintenance department have implemented a policy to recycle 100% of the waste paper generated.

Fuel efficient equipment

By rolling over its equipment inventory every four years, TPC Twin Cities utilizes new, cleaner burning, more fuel efficient equipment. The club's fleet of 75 golf cars is entirely electric. The golf car fleet and equipment rollover help minimize detrimental effects to air quality and conserve fossil fuels. The 3M Championship, hosted by TPC Twin Cities, uses 120 cubic yards of mulch for accents and paths around the course. The mulch is made from recycled pallets rather than new wood. Leftover mulch is then utilized by the golf course for its landscaping needs. Recovery efforts focus on wash water treatment. Wash water generated by cleaning equipment is filtered of particulates and insoluble organic matter prior to entering the sewer system. New screens were added to increase the amount of particulates prevented from entering the sewer system in 2009. The remaining sludge is processed offsite.

Wildlife habitat

TPC Twin CitiesAt TPC Twin Cities, we encourage a variety of wildlife by providing suitable habitat. We added supplemental structures for wildlife such as nest boxes and wildlife piles to enhance our ability to meet the needs of certain species.

One such species is the Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis). Through our partnership with the Bluebird Recovery Program, we set up a bluebird trail consisting of 24 bluebird houses. The houses were scattered throughout the golf course in strategic locations to benefit and promote bluebird nesting. Their nests are monitored at regular intervals by golf course staff on a weekly basis. Additional nesting sites are provided for wood ducks (Aix sponsa) and bats. In 2009, a family of Great Horned Owls arrived on the golf course and took over an abandoned Red Tailed Hawk nest. Three chicks hatched and entertained our members and guests for most of the season. Ospreys and bald eagles fishing in the lakes have also been spotted. Wildlife piles are created throughout TPC Twin Cities. These piles of brush and logs provide valuable habitat for wildlife on our golf course. Wildlife such as foxes, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and other animals benefit from these sanctuaries. Prairie areas, established throughout the golf course, were seeded with native grasses and flowers, and are carefully maintained to prevent invasion by undesirable species. Thanks to our efforts, a site that was once a flat sod farm with little wildlife habitat is now a more diverse landscape with different types of aquatic and terrestrial habitat. We continually work to improve the quality of existing wildlife habitat and add new habitat whenever possible.

Communication, outreach and education

Outreach communication and education efforts are important parts of the golf course environmental management plan. We use a variety of media to educate our staff and members. On our club website, a weekly maintenance article updates members on course happenings. Articles also address golf course conditioning practices with an emphasis on environmental implications. In addition to these articles, posters were hung to communicate the status on various projects concerning the environment such as bluebird houses and our native grass restoration plan. A scrapbook containing pictures of wildlife, various awards, and our environmental achievements, is also available.

Open houses

TPC Twin Cities

Every year TPC Twin Cities hosts an open house to signal the start of the golf season. In 2009, we focused our strategies and techniques for our Prairie Restoration projects. In addition to environmental education, we worked closely with Anoka Technical College (ATC). ATC uses our facility in the fall and spring for golf course classes. ATC offers a two-year associate degree program in horticulture with a turfgrass emphasis. The professors use this tour to teach about various grass species, chemical usage, equipment repair and maintenance, reel grinding, and golf course conditioning.

In association with the John Deere Co., TPC Twin Cities has hosted various seminars on proper equipment maintenance and repair. Our modern maintenance facility with chemical containment and mixing areas, wash pad system, and overall maintenance program is a perfect example of how a properly constructed facility is an asset to the environment. Annually, golf course maintenance staff members visit a local elementary school to teach fifth graders about the basics of turf grasses and seed biology. As part of the project, students grew pots of grass and decorated them for Easter. Materials were provided so students were able to observe the differences between turfgrass seeds under microscopes.

Environmental stewardship

TPC Twin Cities continues to be an active member of the Anoka County Airport Wildlife Commission. This commission was established to develop and implement a comprehensive and proactive wildlife hazard management plan for the airport corridor of the Anoka County Airport. This plan is being developed with input from the USDA/Wildlife Services staff and will be regularly monitored and evaluated for effectiveness. This has been a comprehensive program involving the FAA, the city of Blaine, TPC Twin Cities, the Airport Commission, and the National Sports Center. Environmental stewardship at TPC Twin Cities is incorporated into many levels of operations and has had a significant impact on the bottom line as well. These efforts are an important part of our communications that portray the golf course’s values to our members and within the community.

Learn more about the TPC Twin Cities.