CommonGround hosts pesticide regulators

Mitch Savage, CGCS, welcomed a group of EPA regulators to discuss his team's approach to pest control.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Mitch Savage, CGCS, (left) director of agronomy at CommonGround Golf Course, speaks to a group of pesticide regulators during their visit to the Aurora, Colo., facility. Photo by Michael Lee

When a professional acquaintance first asked Mitch Savage, CGCS, if he’d be interested in hosting a group of pesticide regulators at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, Colo., he didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Then a realization dawned.

“Honestly, I think some of my naivete showed through,” says Savage, CommonGround’s director of agronomy and 21-year GCSAA member. “I said, ‘Yes, I’d be happy to host a group,’ before I really understood what people were going to be making up the group. I realized that there were people coming out of EPA headquarters in D.C.

‘I started to wonder, ‘What did I get myself into?’”

Was he intimidated?

“Absolutely. Yes,” Savage says with a laugh. “But I shifted the mindset to the idea that this was a cool opportunity to really welcome people in who probably don’t have a lot of friends in the world. When you’re a pesticide regulator and enforcer, there aren’t a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, yeah, come on over.’ But I thought this was an opportunity to shine a light on our golf course, but also a good opportunity to shine a positive light on the golf management profession as a whole.”

Savage, a 2019 winner of GCSAA’s Grassroots Ambassador Leadership Award, is no stranger to advocating for that profession. He regularly testifies about topics critical to golf course management to local and state governing bodies and meets with local, state and national legislators to champion golf’s cause. Savage is paired with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., as part of GCSAA’s Grassroots Ambassador Program.

But inviting a bunch of pesticide pros for a site visit is a far cry from talking up politicos and their staffs, primarily since many of the latter have little — if any — firsthand knowledge about what goes on behind the scenes at a golf course.

“Sometimes when you go to the state capitol to testify in front of those people, they’re relying on your testimony. A lot of times, they don’t know anything about it,” Savage says. “This was a different crowd. They understood things differently than the legislators might.”

Legislative testimony is how Savage came to be in this situation. During earlier trips to the state capitol, he crossed paths with Lisa Blecker, a Colorado State University faculty member.

“We were on the same side, since the hearings usually had to do with local control rules, pesticide safety, that kind of stuff,” Savage says, “but we never really took the time to get to know each other. We were just exchanging pleasantries.”

Blecker regularly hosts Pesticide Regulatory Education Program (PREP) compliance and enforcement management courses for CSU, and she mentioned to Savage that, occasionally, she likes to arrange field trips to get participants out of the classroom. She wondered if Savage would consider hosting a trip to CommonGround, which is also the home of the Colorado Golf Association.

“We’re always looking for ways to use the golf course as a laboratory,” Savage says. “That was stressed to me from the first day I sat in the chair for my job interview. One of the goals is to use CommonGround as a laboratory.”

Savage said he’d host but didn’t hear back for another six or seven months. On Aug. 30, just under 50 members of Blecker’s class arrived for a three-plus-hour visit to CommonGround. Savage spoke to the group — representing various EPA regions, state departments of agriculture and tribal regions — primarily about his approach at CommonGround and its unusual location at the junction of several jurisdictions. Michael Lee, GCSAA’s senior manager of government affairs, talked about the association’s best management practices (BMPs) initiatives. And Becky Hufft, Ph.D., associate director of applied conservation for Denver Botanic Gardens, spoke about work she’d begun at CommonGround to inventory and ultimately improve wildlife habitat on the course.

“It was a very engaging crowd,” Savage says. “This wasn’t a group of high schoolers. They weren’t standoffish. They were very engaging and asked a lot of good questions. It was a good discussion. And I think they appreciated being out on the golf course. Thankfully, it was a nice day. The initial plan was just to hang out up around the clubhouse, but you can’t see much of the golf course. After we did introductions, I asked if everyone was OK to walk a few hundred yards out to the 18th hole. From there, you can see the lay of the land, and then we can come back to the shade. We walked over and found a shady area and I asked them to take a mental image of what they were looking act to keep in mind when we were discussing BMPs. I asked, ‘Do you want to go back?’ They said, ‘No. This is a great view.’ They kind of just laid back on the grass and said, ‘Let’s just be out here.’ It was cool to see that.

“My biggest takeaway was, there’s really no need to fear these people,” Savage says. “If you’re trying to do things right, if you’re trying to be a good environmental steward as we say we are, you shouldn’t fear these people. You should work alongside them.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.