Revamped Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards recognize first winners

The awards’ new format showcases superintendents’ achievements in targeted facets of environmental stewardship.


Broken Sound Club
Broken Sound Club in Boca Raton, Fla. The club’s golf course maintenance director, Shannon Easter, is among the 2018 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards honorees. Photo by Kyle Asbury

Twelve golf course superintendents have been named winners in the 2018 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards (ELGAs), which are presented annually by GCSAA and Golf Digest in partnership with Syngenta.

Since 1993, the awards have recognized superintendents and golf courses around the world for their commitment to environmental stewardship, but in 2018, the ELGAs were updated to commend more superintendents in more focused areas of environmental sustainability. Instead of offering national awards based on facility type, the new version of the ELGAs is based on environmental best management practices and honors areas of emphasis.

  • The Natural Resource Conservation Award recognizes effective strategies for water conservation, energy conservation and sound wildlife management.
  • The Healthy Land Stewardship Award recognizes effective strategies for efficient use of pesticides and nutrients as well as pollution prevention.
  • The Communications and Outreach Award recognizes effective communication of conservation strategies with facility employees, golfers and other members of the community.
  • The Innovative Conservation Award recognizes unique and innovative strategies for conservation.

“The ELGAs evolved to meet the changing practices and areas of expertise of superintendents,” says GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans. “Congratulations to all the winners. They reflect the golf course management industry’s continued commitment to environmental stewardship.”

The changes were determined by the GCSAA Board of Directors and the Environmental Awards and Education Task Group. Ron Whitten, architecture editor for Golf Digest and a member of the task group, says the adjustments provide an opportunity to recognize those superintendents whose practices in a certain area set a high bar.

“It’s very difficult to excel in every category with limited time or resources,” Whitten says. “Some courses are strong on water, others on recycling. What we really wanted to do was honor those who are doing the very best in each category.”

The ELGA winners will be recognized Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the 2019 Golf Industry Show in San Diego. Winners will also be featured in an upcoming issue of Golf Digest and in the February issue of GCSAA’s official publication, Golf Course Management magazine.

Natural Resource Conservation Award
Carl D. Thompson, CGCS
Columbia Point Golf Course
Richland, Wash.

Columbia Point Golf Course, where 26-year GCSAA member Carl D. Thompson is the Certified Golf Course Superintendent, is not only owned by the city of Richland, Wash., but is also a vital attraction on the city’s waterfront. Water conservation and management are key concerns given the course’s proximity to the Columbia and Yakima rivers as well as its desert climate, which gets less than 9 inches of precipitation per year.

Thompson’s irrigation system and weather station allow for exact water replenishment, while the use of wetting agents and night watering have cut water use even further. A commitment to pollution prevention through the safe use and storage of inputs, fuels and hazardous materials prevents ground contamination. The course’s intentionally designed minimum-12-foot no-spray/no-mow buffer strips safeguard ponds.

In addition, Columbia Point’s energy conservation program aims to reduce consumption by 6 percent every year. Wildlife and habitat management is also a focus at Columbia Point, where 2,000 square feet of wildflowers have been established to attract pollinators. Nesting areas for the local population of painted turtles were improved with the additions of sand along shorelines and logs in two ponds. Columbia Point is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

First runner-up in the Natural Resource Conservation category is Jim Pavonetti, CGCS, superintendent at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. The second runner-up is Franz W. Workman, CGCS, superintendent at Cateechee Golf Club in Hartwell, Ga.

Healthy Land Stewardship Award
Shannon Easter
Broken Sound Club
Boca Raton, Fla.

As golf course maintenance director at Broken Sound Club in Boca Raton, Fla., Shannon Easter considers “healthy land” to have five healthy components: soil, plants, lakes, wildlife and members. Easter and his staff at the private club are “dedicated to following sustainable practices to protect the environment and reduce our carbon footprint.”

The 21-year GCSAA member’s soil program incorporates organic, biological and carbon-based products to improve soil health while repurposing the organic waste material from the club’s two courses into reusable compost that is then spread on the courses. The integrated pest management (IPM) plan at Broken Sound employs proper cultural practices, mechanical controls or biological controls first, with chemicals used only as a last resort.

The property features many lakes, providing potential habitat for wading birds. By adding more than 20,000 plants along the lake beds in the past five years, the course’s population of wading birds has increased by 75 percent. The property also includes 30 snags to attract large birds of prey, 30 birdhouses, seven butterfly gardens and 22 beehives that have produced 1,500 gallons of honey. Club members at Broken Sound can participate in bird counts and nature tours and are kept up to date on conservation activities in monthly newsletter articles. (Read more about environmental stewardship at Broken Sound Club.)

First runner-up in the Healthy Land Stewardship category is Jeff Reich, superintendent at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. Second runner-up is Wayne Mills, superintendent at La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Communications and Outreach Award
Gary Ingram, CGCS
Metropolitan Golf Links
Oakland, Calif.

A golf course in an industrial area near the Oakland, Calif., airport may seem an unlikely place for an environmental leader, but Gary Ingram, director of agronomy at Metropolitan Golf Links, and his staff are making it happen.

The 18-hole golf course, which sits on a former landfill, opened in 2003 and was certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary in 2005. Ingram keeps Metropolitan Golf Links in the public’s mind by collaborating with numerous community organizations, including the Police Athletics League, Spanish Unity Council, Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland City Council. Ingram, a 38-year GCSAA member, also serves on the Oakland High Environmental Academy board and participates on the local water district’s landscape advisory committee.

Outreach to the next generation of golfers comes through Metropolitan Golf Links’ nonprofit organization, the Oakland Turfgrass Educational Initiative, which provides STEAM field trips (science, technology, engineering, art and math) to 200 area students each year.

First runner-up in the Communications and Outreach category is Jay Neunsinger, superintendent at Boundary Oak Golf Course in Walnut Creek, Calif., with second runner-up honors going to Jason Haines, superintendent at Pender Harbour Golf Club in Madeira Park, British Columbia.

Innovative Conservation Award
Matthew Gourlay, CGCS
Colbert Hills Golf Course
Manhattan, Kan.

Matthew Gourlay is a third-generation superintendent and the second member of his family to oversee operations at Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan, Kan., where he is director of golf course operations. The 18-hole championship golf course affiliated with Kansas State University sits in the Kansas Flint Hills.

Gourlay, a 16-year GCSAA member, found a unique way to deal with the course’s low fertility. Gourlay had his staff remove the buckets from the greens mowers to reincorporate the clippings back into the soil. This not only reduced the need to fertilize by 25 percent, but it also drastically reduced the need for aerification and mowing. These reduced actions in turn decreased labor costs, fuel consumption, and wear and tear on machinery. Meanwhile, revenue increased with fewer interruptions to golfers.

Gourlay has received inquiries from all over the world about the practice, and he has given presentations at local and regional trade shows to share the information with other superintendents.

First runner-up in the Innovative Conservation category is Rick Slattery, superintendent at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. Second runner-up is Andrew J. Jorgensen, CGCS, superintendent at Candler Hills Golf Club in Ocala, Fla.