The office of Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran brought their annual Conservation Tour to Colbert Hills GC in Manhattan, Kan., Thursday. Photos by Scott Hollister
For the past dozen years, the office of Kansas Senator Jerry Moran has organized what they call "Conservation Tours," a chance to connect Moran with not only his constituents back home but also the state's vitally important agriculture industry.
In the past, these tours have taken Moran and select staffers from his Washington D.C. office to farms, ranches, feed lots, watershed projects and tallgrass prairies. But when the 2017 version of Moran's Conservation Tour got underway Thursday in Manhattan, the first stop for the 50-plus people in attendance was one that had not been a part of previous tours — a golf course, specifically Colbert Hills Golf Course.
Managed by Director of Golf Course Operations Matt Gourlay, CGCS, the 18-hole layout that rolls through the Flint Hills and is affiliated with Kansas State University sits just north and west of the school's main campus. For many in attendance — a group that represented conservation organizations, farm associations and a wide array of Kansas' other agricultural interests — it was their first time on the golf course.
The opportunity to educate them on golf course management, what it has in common with agriculture and why the industry is an important one to the economic and environmental health of a community was one that Gourlay, who led the presentation, relished.
"I think it's important for people in industries closely aligned with ours and government officials like Sen. Moran to know the benefits of golf and golf courses," says Gourlay, a 15-year GCSAA member. "Even though Sen. Moran doesn't golf, I think he now has a better understanding of how we manage golf courses and the economic impact that we can have on a community."
Matt Gourlay, CGCS (left), the director of golf course operations at Colbert Hills, led a presentation on golf course management for a group that included Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran (right).
For his part, Moran acknowledged that while the addition of golf to his annual Conservation Tour was a departure from the event's normal itinerary, it was an appropriate one for both him and the audience in attendance.
"We have, in a sense, stepped outside our normal boundaries in dealing with programs related to agriculture, particularly the USDA and their relationship with farmers and ranchers in Kansas," the Republican senator explains. "But the topics have usually had some relation to water, to water quality and quantity, to the quality of soil, issues related to run-off and the quality of air.
"The Golf Course Superintendents Association (of America) have been strong advocates, have to come to see me in Washington D.C., and they encouraged us to include another aspect to this tour related to all of those things. And this visit … has been very enlightening. The issues facing farmers and ranchers are very much the same as those facing golf course superintendents. They both have a vested interest in trying to improve the environment, an incentive to try and do things in the most cost-effective manner possible, and I've seen that here at Colbert Hills."
The tour's stop at Colbert Hills included a visit to the practice putting green and the club's par-5 first hole, where Gourlay highlighted efforts at the course to conserve water, reduce erosion and improve native areas and wildlife habitat, all a product of Colbert Hills' site-specific Best Management Practice program that closely mirror the efforts of GCSAA in that same area.
"We have been able to lower water use, lower fertilizer use and lower pesticide use by following our BMPs," Gourlay says. "Golfers enjoy green golf courses, but that doesn't mean we have to use a lot of inputs to achieve that. I think we were able to illustrate it to Sen. Moran and those on the tour today."