A Study on the Sustainability of the
UW Golf Course

Table of Contents

1.0 Executive Summary
2.0 Introduction
3.0 Relation to Campus Sustainability
4.0 System Study
4.1 System Hierarchy
4.2 System Outline
4.3 System Actors
4.4 System Diagram
5.0 Background Information
5.1Value of Studying the Golf Course
5.2 UW Course History
5.3 Proposed Expansion
5.4 Map of Area Surrounding UW Golf Course
5.5 U.S. Golf Association Criteria
5.6 Audubon International Criteria
6.0 Criteria and Methods
7.0 Results
7.1 Water Use
7.2 Disposal of Grass Clippings
7.3 Waste Management
7.4 Native Species
7.5 Outreach and Education
8.0 Recommendations
8.1 Recommendations for Potential Expansion
9.0 Conclusion
10.0 Works Cited


1.0 Executive Summary

The relationship between golf and the environment has been under the microscope as of late. Intense resource use and maintenance practices have caused many golf course superintendants to evaluate their responsibility with respect to the environmental stewardship and sustainability of their courses.

The University of Waterloo (UW) Golf Course, located in Waterloo Ontario, was evaluated for its sustainability efforts on the basis of five environmental criteria recognized by the Audubon Society and the U.S. Golf Association.

Results of this assessment revealed positive results with regard to water use, disposal of grass clippings and prevalence of native trees on the course; however, improvement is recommended in the areas of waste management and outreach and education of the public at large.

Proposal for expansion of the UW course is a possibility. Included in this study is background information regarding this expansion and suggestion for sustainable transition and maintenance of an expanded system.


2.0 Introduction

The University of Waterloo's North Campus is home to a nine-hole course for a popular North American pastime- GOLF. The UW Golf Course was created in 1977 and has been a popular recreational site for staff, students and the general public ever since. However, as of late golf courses have been under scrutiny for their intensive resource use and maintenance practices. It is, therefore, necessary to address these concerns through examination of the current systems of resource use and maintenance of golf courses and provide recommendations for their improvement. Specifically, this study will focus on the UW Golf Course, measuring criteria including water use, disposal of grass clippings, waste management, native species, and programs for outreach and education for the public at large. Assessments will be made with regard to the above criteria, and suggestions will be provided on possible sustainability improvements of the system. This study will also include background information on a proposed expansion of the nine hole UW course and offer recommendations for the conservation of the current domain.


3.0 Relation to Campus Sustainability

The University of Waterloo's Golf Course, located on North Campus, has been an area of recreation for both students and the general public for a number of years. The maintenance of a golf course is highly resource and time intensive. Making sure that the greens are cut, and the general area is kept clean is the responsibility of the Campus Recreation (located in the Physical Activities Complex). Because nobody has ever studied the sustainability of the UW Golf Course, we thought it would be a prime location to carry out our study. We believe that, in order to achieve campus sutainability, we must first achieve one primary goal: attitude change.

No matter how many systems are designed or how many laws are passed, nothing will succeed without first changing the attitudes of the students and staff of UW. The UW Golf Course provides a good example with which to begin. Due to the traditional resource intensive management of golf courses, finding sustainable solutions has a far reaching effect. It shows that the University is changing its attitude towards environmentally destructive practices and it also provides a good examples for others to follow. If the golf course can change its habits, then surely so can we.

The second relationship between golf course sustainability and campus sustainability is creating an interest in and respect for the environment. If students and staff are unaware or uninterested in various campus environmental concerns, these concerns will not be given the attention they deserve. Outreach and education is the imperative next step, as it gives the students the tools to apply suistainability initiatives to their own lives. This type of environmental awareness could be fostered with informative and accurate media attention. Involvement can come from both on and off campus newspapers, the Internet, television and radio. This will provide necessary publicity of UW's outstanding effort to meet present and persistent environmental challenges.

Additionally, there is room for publicity in the classroom. Just as the Dorney Garden, located outside the Environmental Studies building, provides an interactive learning experience, so too could a sustainable golf course. As a demonstration project, students can learn from the various lessons that the golf course can teach. This can be applied to courses in a whole host of faculties, including Environmental Studies, Recreation, Biology, Earth Science and Chemistry. The possibilitiies for hands-on experimentation seem endless.


4.0 System Study

"A system is a set of components and their interrelationships. The behaviour or functioning of a system is determined by both its components and their interrelationships, and cannot be fully understood by examining just the components alone." (ERS 100 Course Notes).

This system is important for two reasons. Primarily, this system is important because using land for golf courses is a recreational activity that is extremely resource intensive. There is an incredibly high amount of maintenance involved in managing a golf course, potentially costing both students and staff a lot of money. More importantly, the fragile Laurel Creek subsystem adjacent to the golf course can be forever altered due to the practices within the golf course system.

Studying the golf course systematically enables us to examine the components, structures and people involved in the system (refer to system diagram). Below is a description of the system hierarchy, outline and major actors involved.

4.1 System Hierarchy

A system is composed of subsystems and is, itself, a subsystem of some larger system. The University of Waterloo golf course is part of the University of Waterloo system, which is a subsystem of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and so on. In order to achieve a full understanding of the system, it is important to look at the context of the system and the surrounding environment. This golf course, while not the most popular among those in the Region, represents an area where people enjoy themselves. The recreational activity of golfing has led to an industry that is both land and resource intensive. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo shares the burden of this type of activity. It is, therefore, necessary to understand the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, its shape, size and features, in order to get a full understanding of the system we are studying. Additionally, outside natural factors, such as weather, must also be considered when studying the outside environment in which our system falls.

4.2 System Outline

The University of Waterloo is the environment in which the golf course is embedded. The University does not directly fund the course but does so indirectly through Campus Recreation and Plant Operations. Campus Recreation hires a student to maintain the greens and ensures that Plant Operations supply the machinery and staff to mow the greens and fairways. Plant Operations also empties the garbage receptacles. The patrons of the course are students and staff of the University as well as various community groups. Their continued use of the course for recreation, results in waste such as pop cans and chip bags. This waste, along with grass clippings, creates employment for Campus Recreation and Plant Operations.

4.3 System Actors

Several actors are involved in this system. They include:

4.4 System Diagram


5.0 Background

5.1 Value of Studying the Golf Course

Recently, there has been a movement in the golf community to "green" the greens. Awareness of the unsustainability of traditional golf courses has led golf course architects, superintendants and golfers to change their attitude towards their resource intensive practices. The rationale for this new movement was outlined in a recent Smithsonian article. The article asked the question:

"...is carving fairways out of a forest, moving a million cubic yards of seaside sand dunes or planting thirsty Bermuda grass in desert settings - where a course can quaff up to a million gallons of water a day - an intelligent use of land? For another, is keeping courses green and free of weeds, brown spots and bugs worth the liberal use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides?" (Stuller, 58)

To environmentalists and health experts, the automatic answer would be "no". However, there is a greater issue here. One that needs to be studied in a deeper context, in order to understand why the sustainability of golf courses is a necessary topic to study, discuss and promote.

The issue is that of environmental stewardship. Environmental responsibility for the land on which golf courses are set means applying appropriate practices in order to protect the land for future use. Additionally, golf courses can provide much needed opportunities to protect wildlife habitat, and enhance watersheds. The key is to plan and manage properly so that these positive effects can be accomplished. The U.S. Golf Association and the Audubon International have taken this view of environmental stewardship and instituted joint programs in order to advance sustainability initiatives.

Of course, there are still those who contest golf courses, as they suggest that the issue is not one of environmental stewardship but one of conservation. In short, if humans were not destroying the habitat of wildlife, there would be no need to clear hundreds of thousands of acres a year, to put up a venue for recreation and call it a haven of conservation. These fundamental concerns are of merit, but as long as golf courses and golfing remain popular in Western culture, a sustainable way to improve and manage them is of great importance, as well.

A compromise between those who rally against golf courses and those that create them is necessary. No one at UW has studied the sustainability of the golf course, and our study intends to use some of the existing sustainability initiatives and apply it to the UW Golf Course.

Below is some background information on some current initiatives that reach that compromise. First, however, a brief history of the UW Golf Course, as well as its proposed expansion.

5.2 UW Golf Course History

The UW Golf Course was started by Peter Hopkins (Head of Athletics) and Brian O'Reilly (Head of Grounds) in 1977. At that time, they agreed to convert a piece of land on North Campus (see course map, for detailed location) into a golf course. The land was not being used at the time and surplus resources were taken from the campus to complete the course. All extra topsoil and sod was taken from UW's main campus to the new nine-hole course.

Campus Recreation currently manages the golf course. Headed by Bill Cook, Campus Recreation hires one high school student for the summer to mow the grass and to make sure the poles are in place to mark the holes. The greens are mowed twice a week and the fairways whenever it is deemed necessary. The grass is not sprayed with herbicides, leaving the fairways more yellow from dandelions, than green from grass. Nevertheless, the course is used throughout the summer, primarily by UW students and staff, local high school students and the retired community.

While not as popular as other area golf courses (Conestoga Golf Club, Westmount and Foxwood), many students use the course because there is no fee for golfing there. Students and staff of UW can rent out golf clubs from Campus Recreation for $1 and may use the course for as long as they wish.

5.3 Proposed Expansion

During preliminary consultations with Bill Cook of Campus Recreation, he told us about a plan to expand the UW Golf Course into an 18-hole, commerical course. The course would be co-managed with the City of Waterloo and UW students would be providing the employment through the Co-op system. The Campus Master Plan (1992) mentions the proposal, but only recommends it if the adjacent Laurel Creek watershed is protected.

The Master Plan of North Campus suggests development should involve the following four criteria:

We feel that if an expansion of the course is approved, then the above four criteria must be met. There are existing models that achieve these priniciples (see Audubon Criteria) and we feel that if the University of Waterloo wants to develop using these principles, the golf course is a prime location to develop.

Sustainable practices can be used when managing a commerical, 18-hole golf course. In addition, it can provide for restored habitat for native birds, animals and insects. Wetlands can be used as a hazard for golfers, as well as restore the habitat of the Laurel Creek Watershed.

Of course, changing the landscape of the area can severely affect existing ecosystems, leading to problems such as erosion, habitat destruction and ultimately the extirpation of species. It is important to respect these systems when changing the land use of an area. An environmental assessment will provide for a complete and objective study of the area and will allow planners to set out targets for the land use adjustment.

Below is a diagram of the system of the UW Golf Course, if the expansion is approved. Some actors have been added to the system, including the City of Waterloo, as well as those involved at Audubon International and the United States Golf Association. The main difference for outputs is the fact that education can become a major part of the new golf course. We feel that if the course is expanded and maintained in a sustainable way, then students at UW should benefit from the lessons that can be learned from it. There are also some major outputs that could damage the area (e.g. pesticide use, golf carts, added water) and these must be minimized in order to achieve the sustainability of the new course.

5.4 Map of Area Surrounding UW Golf Course

Below is a scanned map from the UW Master Plan. The golf course is in the area to the northeast of Columbia Lake.

5.5 U.S. Golf Association Criteria

A group of leading golf and environmental organizations have jointly developed a set of principles which seek to produce environmental excellence in golf course planning and siting, design, construction, maintenance, and facility operations. Under the helm of the U. S. Golf Association, the set of 58 voluntary recommendations was signed by industry groups, such as the Golf Course Superintendants Association of America, the American Society of Golf Course Architects and environmental organizations, such as Audubon International, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club. Canadian representation was provided by the Royal Canadian Golf Association.

These principles are intended to provide a framework for environmental responsibility with respect to planning, designing, constructing and maintaining golf courses. According to the rationale for the principles, the recommendations are "designed to educate and inform the public and relevant decision makers about environmental responsibility, and to help set goals for environmental performance" (Golfweb, 1997).

While not covering everything (for example, there is no mention of the use of machinery for grass cutting and pesticide application), these voluntary principles are a positive step towards golf course sustainability. They represent a dramatic step in the relationship between the environment and recreational activities. The fact that they are voluntary gives each golf course, according to specific circumstances, the chance to adopt them more easily, rather than have to meet specific guidelines. It is hoped that the principles will be widely adopted and used to improve the level of environmental awareness within the game of golf.

The principles have been incorporated in many golf course planning and management strategies already. One of them is called Desert Willow, in Palm Desert, California. Golf Course architect Michael Hurdzan has planned a challenging and fun course, which at some spots, is in the middle of the desert. His ability to manipulate over a million cubic metres of sand on the once-contaminated site, is revolutionary in the area of golf course design. Hurdzan thinks that people will play there and "they will know they've been in the desert…and with the way the course is laid out, they'll remember different shots, different holes - all the textures and elements they've seen" (Stuller, 65). Hurdzan was one of the USGA's chief consultants on the drafting of the voluntary principles. He sees a cooperation between golf course architects and environmentalists. "Environmentalists who truly care about the ecosystem are reasonable and understand that when we create biodiversity on a golf course, our objectives are mutual", Hurdzan says (Stuller, 64).

5.6 Audubon International Criteria

Another, closely related, set of criteria intended to advance sustainability initiatives on golf courses, is the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP), designed by Ron Dodson, the President of Audubon International. This group has been a strong voice for the protection of bird habitat for over two centuries. One of its latest projects is similar to the USGA voluntary principles. In fact, the two are interlinked, as the USGA provides staff support, technical publications and funding to Audubon International. Since its inception in 1991, Audubon International has been able to develop a North American-wide conservation management strategy, based on the following five criteria:

If a golf course is interested in adopting these principles, Audubon International will assist the superintendant with guidance concerning a variety of conservation activities and projects, conservation fact sheets, access to staff, and ultimately a Certification of Achievement and recognition for conservation efforts (Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System). In order to help out Audubon International staff to prioritize conservation programs, each golf course superintendant must fill out an Inventory Report, detailing the "nature" of the course. Audubon International will then prepare a Conservation Report for that golf course, and upon completion of its objectives, the golf course will be certified.

The Conestoga Golf Club in nearby Conestogo, Ontario, has recently become the third golf course in Ontario (fourth in Canada) to be certified under the program. Course superintendant, Rob Stevens, has, among other things, allowed vegetation to grow along the rivers and ponds on the course, in order to help ensure that the water is not contaminated. In addition, on the advice of Audubon International, he has naturalized many out-of-play areas by not mowing or using any chemicals or fertilizers, and set up a nesting program for many native bird species (Cudhea, 21). He has reduced his chemicals and pesticides cost from $36 000 to $19 000 in the past four years (Cudhea, 21).

The Audubon International and USGA criteria form the basis for our study of sustainable golf course maintenance. Through these principles, we will be able to determine how sustainable the UW Golf Course is. What follows is a description of the criteria we used, and the reasons why we chose those specific ones. Because of the magnitude of the two sets of criteria, we have chosen several, easily measurable criteria, in which to carry out our study.


6.0 Criteria and Methods

To undertake our study of the UW Golf Course we obtained literature from both Audubon International and the U.S. Golf Association. This literature outlined numerous criteria for golf course sustainability initiatives throughout Canada and the United States; including categories related to water use, use of pesticides, wildlife and species preservation, and several guidelines for golf course creation. For evaluation of the UW Golf Course, our group chose to assess the fundamental criteria necessary for golf course maintenance, that which could be easily measured and analysed for possible improvements. It should be noted that we did not chose to evaluate pesticide use, as the UW does not use any pesticides for maintenance of the course. The criteria and methods for evaluation are as follows:


7.0 Results

Results were obtained over a two month evaluation period and are as follows:

7.1 Water Use

UW does not choose to water the golf course. The only water the course receives is that which is natural--RAIN.

7.2 Grass Clippings

It was not necessary to measure the amount of grass clippings produced by this course because after mowing, clippings are left to decompose on the course. Fairways are mowed once a month, while the greens are mowed twice a week.

7.3 Waste Management

We decided to audit the bins with respect to content of can and glass versus other waste (anything that was not a recyclable aluminum or glass product). After starting the waste audits of the bins on the course we discovered that they were not emptied on a weekly basis. We were, therefore, unable to audit the exact number of cans and glass versus other waste. We revised our study to a visual inspection. Through visual inspection of the containers, it was estimated that approximately 80% of the contents of the bin were recyclable cans or glass. Though we do not have exact data to reinforce this estimate, from seven weekly visits to the course, we observed that the amount of refuge in the bin varied, but the composition was constant. At present, there are no recycling facilities available anywhere on the UW golf course.

7.4 Native Species

It was found that 70.8% of the trees on the golf course are native to Ontario. The results of the study follow. The following tables show the presence of specific trees in each quadrant. A * denotes that the species is not native to the area. A tree species manual was used to indentify native and non-native species (see Farrar, 1995).

Group One

Quadrant 1

Quadrant 2

Quadrant 3

Sugar Maple Basswood Choke Cherry
Choke Cherry Choke Cherry Wild Crab Apple
Wild Crab Apple Common Apple*
Native: 7

Non Native: 1

87% Native

Group 2

Quadrant 1

Quadrant 2

Quadrant 3

Scots Pine* Norway Spruce* European Larch
Scots Pine* Eastern White Pine Norway Spruce*
Scots Pine* White Spruce
Scots Pine*
Native: 2

Non Native: 7

28.6% Native

Group 3

Quadrant 1

Quadrant 2

Quadrant 3

Norway Spruce* White Spruce White Pine
Black Maple Eastern White Pine White Spruce
Pin Cherry American Beech
Black Oak
Native: 8

Non Native: 9

Native 88.9%

7.5 Outreach and Education

From our visits across campus we were unable to find any information that advertised the free use of the UW Course by the staff and students, let alone, any information describing the excellent sustainability initiative of the course. The following is a list of the 22 buildings that we observed:

There was no sign of any promotional materials concerning the golf course in any of the buildings. What is most surprising about this is the fact that not even in the PAC or Columbia Icefields are there any posters and signs telling the UW community about the golf course.

Our second criteria for determining the extent of outreach and education of the UW golf course was through promotional publications sent out by the University. Nancy Elash, the Community Relations Coordinator, told us that she "has never even thought about putting anything about the golf course in any publication about the University" (Elash, 1997). A glance at the following 12 publications shows the extent of publicity (a * denotes there is one line saying that there is a golf course on the North Campus):

This shows that 25% (3/12) of the main publications sent out for promotion purposes mention that there exists a golf course on the UW campus. The extent of Internet promotion can be found on Campus Recreation's homepage.

Our study only used outreach publications in order to determine the extent of promotion. This did not include the Imprint or the Gazette newspapers or the spring 1997 Campus Recreation brochure. This brochure does, like everything else Campus Rec offers, have a page on the golf course, complete with map and pictures. While we applaud the promotional aspect of this brochure, we still feel that as an outreach, it is not very visible to UW students.

The image to shown here is the sign that is posted on the UW golf course. It is illegible and falling down.

As a side note, a visit was made to Plant Operations and no one was able to provide us with the correct information about the UW Golf Course. Two maps were obtained, both denoting the course as being an 18-hole golf course, when it is clearly a 9-hole golf course.


8.0 Recommendations

From the results obtained from our study we conclude that the UW golf course is on the road to sustainability. The following is a list of recommendations for further sustainability of the course, derived from the results obtained in Section 7.0.

8.1 Recommendations for Expansion

We would also like to make recommendations to the City of Waterloo or any other developer interested in expanding the existing course. Our prime concern is the protection of the Laurel Creek watershed, so any expansion must take into account the principles laid out in the UW Master Plan . These recommendations are based on information from the Audubon Society and the practices of the Conestoga Golf Course, using the criteria we considered in our above evaluations.


9.0 Conclusion

With regards to the criteria evaluated in our study of the UW Golf Course, it can be concluded that overall, the course is sustainable. However, it is apparent that this sustainability is strictly by chance. Due to lack of funding and available maintenance staff, the course has few inputs (for example, pesticides, water and extensive machinery). Nevertheless, this sustainability initiative should be commended and publicized as a model for others to follow. After all, the UW Golf Course is Waterloo's best kept secret!


10.0 Works Cited

Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, factsheet, 1992.

Audubon International, "A Guide to Environmental Stweardship on the Golf Course", 1994.

Audubon International, "Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Report for Conestoga Golf and Country Club", 1995.

Berridge Lewinberg Greenberg, Ltd., "UW Master Plan", 1992.

Crudhea, Peter, "Environmentally Friendly Golf", Waterloo Chronicle, April 9, 1997, p.21-22.

Elash, Nancy, personal communication, July 15, 1997.

ERS 100 Course Notes, 1995.

Farrar, John Laird Trees in Canada Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd. 1995.

Golfweb, "What are the Principles?", 1997. URL: http://www1.golfweb.com/env/pinehurst/principles1.html

Stuller, Jay, "Golf gets back to nature, inviting everyone to play", Smithsonian, April 97, p56-66.


Last Updated, July 31, 1997, cmd, akm, reh.