October 3, 2015 – Natural is not often a word that comes to mind when you think about golf courses.
#The grass is often so immaculate and bright green that it more closely resembles a cosmic bowling lane than something that can be found in nature.
#Duluth resident and Rivermont Country Club golf course superintendent Mark Hoban is hoping to change that. Hoban is leading the charge in the southeast for golf courses to take a more organic approach to turf management.
#Rather than using a host of chemicals to keep the fairways green, Hoban and his staff use a compost tea they brew at the Johns Creek club. They started three years ago when a salesman approached Hoban about compositing and managing the tea for him. The compost comes from soil in worm beds that he keeps in the golf course management shed.
#Composting always interested Hoban but he felt it was something he and his staff could handle rather than outsourcing it. With the blessing of general manager Chris Cupit, Hoban purchased the club’s own compost brewer.
#The initial investment was about $4,500, but Hoban felt the natural approach to turf care would save the club money in the long run.
#“We had 40-year-old fairways and I felt like there were a lot of nutrients in the soil that just needed mining out,” he said. “Chris allowed me to do that and I think it was really good year, we went from 200 pounds of nitrogen a year on our fairway to like 60 pounds, which was a good 60 to 70 percent reduction in fertilizer. Then on the greens we typically sprayed 15 fungicide applications, that’s what I was doing the last seven years there, and we went to three applications of the fungicides.
#“Each application is around $1,500, so we really saved incredible amounts there. Just started going further and further and deeper and deeper into it.”
#Cupit said Hoban provided him with plenty of research about why he thought the natural approach to the course would work for Rivermont, and at the end of the day it boiled down to his trust in his superintendent.
#Hoban joined Rivermont in 2005 after working at the Standard Club. He’s a two-time Georgia Golf Superintendent of the Year, and just one year after he was hired at Rivermont, he and Cupit oversaw a 3.6 million re-design of the course by Mike Riley.
#The new look is a more natural one. The sand bunkers are brown rather than white and the rough areas were converted to natural strains of grass rather than Bermuda. That’s why the compost fertilizer made sense to Cupit.
#“I guess the danger was do you not keep up with your competition, that’s frankly pounding the plant with chemicals, herbicides and pesticides to make it look green and perfect,” Cupit said. “That really was never (us). Our club when we re-did it was kind of a throwback. We wanted an old-timey looking golf course with native areas, native vegetation, brown sand in our bunkers. We were really going for textures rather than colors. It was possible to do what Mark was doing because we weren’t looking for that Augusta National look, we were looking for the Pinehurst look. So it was easier to do that with that goal in mind.”
#While Hoban is always conducting more research on his methods, including a current study done with the help of the University of Georgia, he’s confident that he’s on the right path.
#In fact he’s begun to incorporate more natural elements to the course. Each day he and his German Shepherd puppy Berkley walk the course to check on birdhouses, bee boxes and monarch butterfly gardens placed throughout the course to help create a more natural ecosystem. In July the course changed the greens to an Ultra Dwarf Bermuda blade that won’t require the club to run fans on the green during the day to keep the grass from wilting in the Georgia heat.
#The members have bought in, even taking on the responsibility of being in charge of cleaning and managing the birdhouses.
#Hoban started working on golf courses as a junior in high school before attending Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College in Tifton and then working with legendary superintendent Palmer Maples, who worked at Summit Chase in Snellville prior to the Standard Club.
#Leading the charge for more organic turf care wasn’t something he ever envisioned, but he believes in the next few years, more and more clubs will follow.
#“Talking with some of big chemical companies, they’re doing a lot of research on this end of the spectrum because they can see the future as well,” he said. “I just feel like we’re ahead of the curve. You’ve really got to see it (coming) with the California water restrictions, they’re already paying clubs to take out acres of turf and put in native (grasses) that don’t have the water and nutrient input so they can cut back on their water usage … It’s coming, it’s just when do people want to do it.
#“Frankly the real question in my mind is why aren’t these low-end clubs doing it. Certainly these owners that have very limited resources, why are they not doing this type of thing because they can save so much money and put their dollars towards where it is of value, you know into their greens and the playing areas and not so much manicuring these other areas. I’m always baffled, but it seems to be very, very slow.”