Growing a movement at Mistwood Golf Club

Angelica Carmen brings 8,000 square feet of pollinator-friendly plantings to the Illinois course.


The Farm at Mistwood Golf Club
The Farm at Mistwood Golf Club’s 12 raised beds cover 8,000 square feet and provide fresh produce — and more — for the patrons of the club’s McWethy’s Tavern. Photo by Ben Hutchison

Though The Farm is invisible from all the buildings at Mistwood Golf Club, it would be impossible for a golfer to play a round on the Romeoville, Ill., course and not catch sight of the 8,000-square-foot Farm.

And Angelica Carmen, Mistwood GC’s sustainability specialist and first-year GCSAA member, wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Farm’s 12 raised beds are tucked behind the club’s driving range in an area previously covered by native fescues. It’s secluded enough, Carmen says, that “I don’t feel worried when I’m out there working,” but prominent enough to be seen from any of several spots during a round.

“The differentiating factor is, we’re on the golf course. That way, we have total transparency with every single golfer,” Carmen says. “That’s a huge part of this whole thing, and it makes the educational component that much more robust.”

Carmen was the subject of an October 2020 GCM article about a similar facility, Fairway Farms at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Palos Park, Ill. The Farm at Mistwood GC is like that program turned up to 11. And Carmen, who next month will have been at her new digs for a year, helped grow it literally from scratch.

The plants at The Farm started as seedlings in the new solar-powered greenhouse located along the ninth hole’s tee box.

“We can do all sorts of things there,” says Carmen, noting that Ben Kelnhofer, Mistwood’s GCSAA Class A superintendent and 22-year association member, has his own turf nursery, “but we work together. Nothing is off the table. We’re looking at growing our annuals, rather than outsourcing it. We grew all our Mother’s Day herb giveaways there. The tavern does specialty dinners, so we’ve grown things like microgreens for those.”

The club’s McWethy’s Tavern is the beneficiary of more than microgreens.

“This year was so fun,” Carmen says. “It was so experimental. As we were finding our footing and figuring out how to work with each department, the chefs gave me a clean slate. They said, ‘Grow whatever. Surprise us. We’ll go with it as it comes.’”

The result was a cornucopia of “standard summer ingredients” — squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, greens, radishes and beets. Farm-grown gourds and pumpkins were also used around the grounds as décor.

“It was a massive learning season,” Carmen says. “What varieties make the most impact? What works well in dishes?”

Asking those questions is just part of Carmen’s biodynamic approach to growing. She uses only organic inputs with no chemicals and follows strict integrated pest management protocols, along with crop rotation and companion planting.

To highlight The Farm’s guiding principles, Carmen took one look at Mistwood’s links-style course and the club’s green and brown colorways and established a multihued swath of pollinator-friendly plantings to ring The Farm.

“I wanted it to be the Emerald City in the middle of the course,” she says.

Speaking of pollinators … The Farm has those, too. Thanks to an innovative agreement between The Farm and local beekeepers, 10 hives, with an estimated 60,000 per hive in the peak summer season, have a home near the maintenance building. The club gets the benefits of all those pollen haulers and then buys the honey they produce — 500 pounds so far this year, with another harvest coming. That honey finds its way to the tavern and is available for purchase.

“The bees are a huge component of this. They generate so much buzz for the whole program,” Carmen says with a laugh. “Having that product advertised, in your face, helped a lot. People are always asking about the bees. It’s been a great partnership for us. I can’t say enough about it for golf courses wanting to get into it. Golf courses present an awesome opportunity for beekeeping to take place. They’re so expansive. Beekeepers can face so many restrictions with townships or villages or cities, it gets to the point it’s not really worth doing it in your backyard. But the way we arranged it, we contracted with local beekeepers. We house their apiary and their equipment. We get all the benefits and buy the harvested honey from them at wholesale.”

All the tasty treats, however, are just a small part of Carmen’s overall mission. She envisions The Farm as ground zero for a community environmental movement that transforms Romeoville and beyond.

“A big part of this is the on-course programming, making this a hub for field trips, whether that’s for schools or gardening groups,” she says. “We’re building out where the greenhouse is to make that the main field-trip site. The whole point is to get this in front of people. That’s when we start making a difference.

“Where we’re located, we touch a lot of different townships. McWethy’s is open to the public and has such a large following. The golf course has a different following. This touches so many different subgroups. That’s when it gets exciting.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.