Winners’ circle: Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards

Past winners of GCSAA’s Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards reflect on the experience, its value, and why their peers should participate.


Winners’ circle: Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards
A green heron at Poplar Creek Golf Course in San Mateo, Calif., where past ELGA honoree Tim Powers, CGCS, oversees maintenance. Photo by Michael G. Pagano

Accolades are meaningful within any profession — they raise one’s profile in the industry, instill pride in employees and customers, and are a testament to ability, effort, dedication and excellence. For an industry that regularly bumps up against criticism and unfavorable perceptions regarding its environmental impact, however, recognition of exemplary environmental stewardship is a vital exercise. Cue GCSAA and Golf Digest’s Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards, an annual showcase of superintendents who prove top-quality golf courses needn’t come at the environment’s expense, but can actually be model green spaces and a boon to their surroundings. The application period for the 2017 ELGAs is open through Sept. 30, and full details and instructions are available here. GCM recently checked in with some past ELGA winners to reflect on the experience, its value, and why their peers should participate.

Anthony Williams, CGCS
2006 National Public + Overall Winner

The ELGA win: “My whole career really blossomed through the ELGAs,” says Williams, who earned a chapter award in 2004, was the national winner in the Resort category in 2005 while at PineIsle Resort in Lake Lanier Islands, Ga., and then notched the Overall honor the following year while at Stone Mountain (Ga.) Golf Club. Williams says the awards’ validation of his commitment to the environment opened professional doors, and he cites the development of water best management practices (BMPs) at PineIsle and Stone Mountain — which grew into work with the Georgia GCSA to establish statewide BMPs — as a project he’s particularly proud of.

Today: The 20-year GCSAA member took the reins at TPC Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Dallas at Los Colinas in Irving, Texas, in February. There he pairs a progressive environmental regimen with close tracking of the financial outcomes, an approach he calls “environomics.” A cornerstone of Williams’ sustainability-focused management in recent years has been achieving certifications through third-party programs such as Audubon International and Groundwater Guardian Green Site.

Words of wisdom: “The process of doing the ELGA application in and of itself will make you better, because you have to evaluate so many things,” says Williams, adding that his chapter award is just as special to him as the top prize. “Without that learning curve, there would have been no Overall award two years later. The feedback — both positive and negative — is critical if you’re serious about being a world-class steward. There’s no other playing field where you get that exposure and that validation. It is so worth it. Get off the fence and go get it.”

Tim Powers, CGCS
2011 National Public + Overall Winner

The ELGA win: Powers impressed with his resolve to keep Crystal Springs Golf Course in Burlingame, Calif., as chemical-free as possible, an especially important pursuit given that the course sits within a 32,000-acre wildlife refuge and north of three reservoirs that supply drinking water to the San Francisco Bay Area. A robust recycling program and numerous wildlife-welcoming strategies amplified Crystal Springs’ sparkle.

Today: Since netting ELGA honors, Powers has worked as the superintendent at Pajaro Valley Golf Club in Watsonville, Calif., and is currently settling into the superintendent role at Poplar Creek Golf Course in San Mateo, Calif., where he has been for about three months. He has continued with the initiatives that garnered recognition at Crystal Springs, and has his sights set on achieving a zero-waste operation in the future. Powers also strives to pass along his passion. “I try to teach all the guys the appreciation that I have for wildlife and the environment,” Powers says of his crew. “When the guys do things like build bluebird boxes and then see them being used, it means even more to them.”

Words of wisdom: Think applying for the ELGAs takes a ton of time and offers zero returns unless you’re among the winners? Not so, says Powers. “The process is not hard — it’s a bit of work, but it’s the record keeping we do anyway,” notes the 30-year GCSAA member. Plus, documenting the details of your environmental measures is a worthy investment of time. “You’ll use that information in other things, other reports, and you’ll have it on hand so you can immediately give to anyone who asks about it,” Powers says.

Paul L. Carter, CGCS
2013 National Public + Overall Winner

The ELGA win: Carter’s reputation precedes him. “It’s usually, ‘You know him — he’s got the eagle cam,’” says the 25-year GCSAA member of being introduced around the industry. “It’s what we’re known for.” The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay in Harrison, Tenn., is indeed known for the live stream of the bald eagle nest near its 10th green, but it also perched atop the ELGA pack thanks to its fleet of electric equipment and wealth of wildlife habitat.

Today: “We have a very nice golf course, yes, but people come here for the environment — to get out into the environment,” says Carter, who is in his 16th year at The Bear Trace. “We spend 50 percent of our time on golf course maintenance, and 50 percent on our environmental projects.” Eco-minded efforts on the horizon include installing solar panels on the maintenance facility, the addition of a solar-powered lake aeration system, and a refurbished eagle cam (the original, set up in 2011, was damaged by lightning last year).

Words of wisdom: “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that my crew is just as interested in environmental projects as I am,” says Carter. “My employees see the course more than I do. You might have people who have worked on your course for 20 years. Listen to your employees, and let them have a say.” For those just getting their feet wet with environmental initiatives, Carter recommends starting small and simple, and letting nature’s magic moments be a muse. “There is nothing like seeing a bald eagle fly overhead or a brand-new fawn walk out of the woods and look at you,” he says.

Megan Hirt is GCM’s managing editor.

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