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A new 'green' for the golf course

Golfers across campus are practicing their swings, gearing up for warmer weather and the start of the season. The Ohio University Golf Course’s grounds crew is preparing as well, ready to continue “green” conservation efforts in course care.

Sustainability efforts have been taken on the nine-hole course since its rebuilding and expansion across the Hocking River in 2003. Since then, the course’s grounds crew has strived to make environmental improvements as budget allows, according to John Brant, lower campus grounds and athletic grounds supervisor.

“We’re working towards more sustainability in a budget crisis. But if we’re doing it better than we did yesterday, that’s cool,” said Brant.

According to Brant, Ohio University is striving to make environmental improvements to its golf course in six areas: environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management, and outreach and education.

These efforts have garnered positive recognition by environmentalists on campus, despite the negative environmental connotations often associated with golf courses.
“The golf course is a resource-intensive part of campus. Anything that involves a lot of resources is also a huge opportunity for conservation,” said Sonia Marcus, coordinator of the Office of Sustainability.

Perhaps the most apparent effort to golfers and bike path users is what is known as a “no mow area.” This 14,000-square-foot area between holes #7 and #8 consists of perennial flowers.

No-mow areas do not require chemicals like herbicides, and they conserve water and create a space for wildlife – such as groundhogs, butterflies and birds. For the grounds crew, this means that areas do not have to be watered, fertilized and mowed 35 weeks per year, like the rest of the course.

Seeds for the no-mow area cost a one-time fee of $450, versus the $20 it would take to plant the same size area with turf grass. But the reduced upkeep can yield savings in the long run.

"The feedback I have received on the no-mow areas has primarily been inquisitive and eventually positive," said  Director of Golf and Tennis Dustin Kilgour. "Most of our daily users do not understand its purpose, but when I explain the role it plays they are excited that John Brant and the Facilities Management crew has taken a concerted effort to operate an eco-friendly golf course."

Less visible, but perhaps most impactful is the course's irrigation system – which draws all its water from a nearby pond, fed by storm water and a recharge well. The irrigation system also supplies water to the Ping grounds and all of the inter-collegiate athletic fields down to and including Pruitt field, said Brant.

"We use no public water to irrigate those facilities," said Brant. "The irrigation system is fairly self-sustaining with our only costs aside from labor and field supplies being electric to run the pumps."

When it comes to watering, the university tends to err on the side of conservation – keeping the turf grass on the dry side because "it's healthier for the plant than too much moisture," according to Brant.

"The industry quote we use is 'Choke it till it's blue,'" he said.

When possible, localized dry spots are watered by hand. But when sprinklers are used, a decoder system allows Brant's staff to adjust different run times for each head in a particular zone, compensating for sun exposure and elevation.

Though budget cuts may slow the progress of some conservation efforts, Brant said the core objectives – to improve processes in environmentally sound ways – will not change.

"It will take time to get to where some believe we should be and we may never fully get there. That's why any improvements should be viewed as positive steps in the right direction," said Brant.

Other environmental initiatives on OHIO's golf course include:
-Planting food crop plants, like deciduous hollies, to foster wildlife
-Letting “roughs” go dormant in the summer and fall to conserve water
-Enforcing strategies to prevent over-watering
-Maintaining the course’s 34 sand traps, which reduce irrigation costs as non-grass areas
-Planting additional trees along the bike path for nutrient content and bike path user safety
-Using natural filter methods, instead of herbicides, to remediate algae and weeds in ponds and waterways
-Treating pests, like insects and fungus on turf grass, with machinery, hand labor and water practices before chemical use
-Using compost as fertilizer in plant beds and eventually on the fairways


Bluebird Trail

Bluebird Trail is a network of 36 bird nesting boxes winding throughout the grounds of the Ohio University Golf Course and branching into Emeriti Park.

Designed by late Ohio University employee and Ohio Bluebird Society member Mike Worley, the Bluebird Trail project has been entirely overseen by the Ohio University grounds department with the help of local 4H and wildlife management students.
The trail was home to 195 tree swallows and 33 bluebirds in 2009. This marked a resurgence of bluebirds in the Athens area, in comparison to past years, according to trail records.

Nesting boxes have been constructed and installed by the grounds crew, using recycled materials like PVC pipe and wood. “Predator guards,” fashioned out of recycled five-gallon paint buckets, have been installed around the boxes’ bases to protect the nesting birds.

Typically, the boxes have seen two nestings per year. Once a week during the nesting season, the student assistants survey the boxes, checking the birds’ health, nesting patterns and any mite or predator damage that may occur.

“The Bluebird Trail gives practical experience to these students and helps us out, too,” said John Brant, lower campus grounds and athletic grounds supervisor.

The Bluebird Trail’s nest reports follow the nesting schedule outlined by the Ohio Bluebird Society. Bluebirds in Ohio begin nesting in March and complete their second hatching by mid-July.

-Krista Bradley

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