Mountain Meadows Golf Course

In the concrete jungles of modern urban life, golfers and non-golfers alike can appreciate the welcoming green spaces that golf courses provide. Unfortunately, few know or realize the practices necessary to keep those respites green – “green” with respect to environmental stewardship, that is.

By proactively managing water conservation, organic agronomic practices and watershed protection, Los Angeles County Golf Operations is an exemplar.

Owner of the world’s largest municipal golf system, LA County has embarked upon an ambitious program to bring all of its 17 golf properties into full compliance with the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) latest National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit. This protocol requires owners and operators of landscape and recreational facilities to implement certain pollution prevention activities, including Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, to reduce the potential for storm water pollution of waterways.

More specifically, the County’s golf course “program” aims:

  • To minimize the discharge of pollutants, including pesticides, herbicides (including pre-emergents) and fertilizers , to the storm drain system and downstream receiving waters.
  • To implement procedures to encourage retention and planting of native vegetation and to reduce water, fertilizer and pesticide needs; and
  • To decrease the exposure of potential to reduce pollutant transport in storm water runoff.

The County has completed the first project of the “program” at La Mirada GC in LA County’s southeastern corner. The second project is in the design/plan phase at the Santa Anita GC in Arcadia; from there it’s on to 15 more sites in a sequence whose order is determined mostly by need. It is certainly worth noting that compliance with the Permit is not inexpensive. Thankfully, Los Angeles County currently has $15.6 million in its capital projects accounts that serve as formal trust accounts and are therefore not available to be used for any other purposes than capital improvements to the golf properties. “That fund is the lifeblood of our system’s long-term viability,” said LA County Assistant Director of Golf Gary Kossick.

La Mirada has seen a number of maintenance projects completed in recent years, including reconstruction and lighting of the driving range, refurbishment of the clubhouse, replacement of the parking lot, reconstruction of the 10th hole and construction of a lake that doubles as a key component of the irrigation system. The last project completed prior to this NPDES accommodation project was refurbishment of the course’s maintenance yard.

“My best estimate of the amount accurately ascribed to bringing La Mirada fully up to new NPDES permitting protocols would be $275,000,” said Scott Bourgeois, regional director of maintenance for the American Golf Corporation, which operates La Mirada on a long-term lease and oversaw the execution of the project.

Despite the game’s well documented slump and the uncertain nature of the economic recovery, the golf industry has not blinked at spending the resources necessary to align itself with the latest and greatest in “green” environmental practices – not just in pollution control and limited pesticide/herbicide applications, but in water conservation as well. Representatives of the industry’s regulating leadership and ownership/management organizations, including the SCGA, meet regularly with the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego to bring golf courses in line with current and future water conservation and drought restriction ordinances, a process made seamless due only to the industry’s foresight in having invested huge sums in smart irrigation, turf reduction and other water saving technologies.

None of this comes as any surprise to persons in the industry and persons familiar with the industry. But it often comes as a surprise to those unfamiliar with the industry, which becomes undoubtedly problematic when those unfamiliar happen also to be lawmakers, regulators or members of the media.

So, while the nation’s largest municipal golf system mandates weekly inspections of all hazardous material storage areas, monthly reporting of all pesticide/herbicide applications and constant updating of any and all practices to reflect new pest management research and new nontoxic green agronomic alternatives, a concurrent major challenge exists in spreading the word of these fulfillments. Unfortunately, those who make the laws, administer the laws and chronicle the record often come to conclusions based upon prejudices about the industry that are completely unsupported by fact. And while major management/ownership groups like the American Golf Corporation continue to invest large sums in “green” technologies and environmental mitigation, no one outside the confines of the industry acknowledges it.

As more than 1 billion celebrate Earth Day on the 43rd anniversary of what is now the world’s largest civic observance, the golf industry “celebrates” the environmental contributions of Los Angeles County and the American Golf Corporation.

“The golf industry has a solid environmental story to tell,” said SCGA Governmental Affairs Director Craig Kessler; “we just haven’t been as diligent telling it as we have been living it.”


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