GCSAA announces winners of 2021 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards

Meet four superintendents whose facilities are at the forefront of environmentally responsible, community-enriching golf course management.


GCSAA Environmental Leaders in Golf
Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland, Calif. Photo courtesy of Gary Ingram

Four golf course superintendents have been named winners in the 2021 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards (ELGAs), presented annually by GCSAA and Golf Digest in partnership with Syngenta. Eight runners-up have also received recognition for their environmental work.

The ELGAs have recognized superintendents and golf courses around the world for their commitment to environmental stewardship since 1993. In 2018, the awards were updated to spotlight more superintendents in more focused areas of environmental sustainability. Rather than offering national awards based on facility type, the ELGAs are now based on environmental best management practices and honor specific areas of emphasis.

  • The Communications and Outreach Award recognizes effective communication of conservation strategies with facility employees, golfers and other members of the community.
  • The Healthy Land Stewardship Award recognizes effective strategies for efficient use of pesticides and nutrients as well as pollution prevention.
  • The Innovative Conservation Award recognizes unique strategies for conservation.
  • The Natural Resource Conservation Award recognizes effective strategies for water conservation, energy conservation and sound wildlife management.

“The winners of our Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards reflect the industry’s commitment to environmental sustainability,” says GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans. “Congratulations to all the winners who excel in their roles of providing enjoyable playing conditions while embracing sustainable practices.”

Communications and Outreach Award

Jay Randolph, CGCS
Golf course superintendent
Ben Geren Golf Course
Fort Smith, Ark.

Jay Randolph, a 26-year GCSAA member, first worked on a golf course at age 14. As superintendent of Ben Geren Golf Course, he oversees 36 holes on 350 acres, which includes 100 acres of restored native tallgrass prairie.

When Randolph began the prairie restoration project in 2016, he opened lines of communication with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas Forestry Commission, Arkansas Master Naturalists and other experts to ensure the project’s success. As the effort progressed, he also developed working relationships with the Arkansas Monarch Conservation Partnership, Arkansas Audubon, Sebastian County Conservation District, University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University.

Editor’s note: Read much more about Ben Geren Golf Course’s strategic introduction of native grasses and wildflowers in Going native in the rough at Ben Geren Golf Course.

Through Facebook and the iNaturalist app, Randolph shares information about new plants found in the restoration areas, and he has also created a photo exhibition of the project at the city library. Local FFA programs, high school classes, and those interested in bird and butterfly walks have toured the restoration areas. Randolph also engages with the community through presentations to civic groups in which he discusses the history of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and how golf courses can play an important role in the conservation of native plants and animals.

First runner-up in the Communications and Outreach category is Scott Bower, director of grounds at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif. Second runner-up is Gary Early, superintendent at Salmon Run Golf Course in Brookings, Ore.

Healthy Land Stewardship Award

Cortland Winkle, CGCS
Golf course superintendent
TPC Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club
Irving, Texas

With an uncle who was a golf pro, Cortland Winkle developed a love of golf early. He found his calling in the turfgrass program at Texas A&M and has been a GCSAA member for 11 years.

TPC Four Seasons is a 405-acre layout that’s home to native mesquite groves, 42 acres of native grasses and 128 documented species of wildlife. The facility has a sophisticated integrated pest management (IPM) program, with an on-site “war room” that includes microscopes, diagnostic tools and other resources. The maintenance department uses environmentally friendly products such as worm casting teas, biosolid organic fertilizers and micro-rate fungicide treatments.

Water conservation is another key element of Winkle’s approach. All staff members attend 24 hours of water conservation training each year, and the person who best manages water assets at the facility — through hand watering and other strategies — receives the “Golden Hose” award. Efforts to conserve water and use of 100% reclaimed water have saved the course an average of $18,375 in water costs over the past five years.

First runner-up in the Healthy Land Stewardship categoty is Matt Gourlay, CGCS, MG, director of golf course management at Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan, Kan. Second runner-up is Andrew Johnston, general manager/director of agronomy at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore.

Innovative Conservation Award

Jeff Plotts
Director of golf course operations
TPC Sawgrass
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Each year, the golf world’s eyes turn to TPC Sawgrass and Jeff Plotts’ work during The Players Championship. The 27-year GCSAA member has been at TPC Sawgrass since 2015.

Flowers play a big role in the aesthetic value of TPC Sawgrass’s landscape during The Players’ television broadcasts. Previously, annual flowers on the course had to be changed out three to four times per year. By developing a wildflower initiative with native seeds, Plotts and his staff have grown wildflowers that are hardier, require fewer inputs and can be maintained through multiple seasons or years. The flower-related savings of $75,000 each year are put toward ongoing reforestation work on the property, which suffered tree damage from hurricanes in 2017 and 2018.

In all, more than 1,500 trees have been planted at TPC Sawgrass in the past three years as part of the reforestation project. Like the wildflowers, the tree species are native to the area and include oak, pine and magnolia trees. The success of the wildflowers has also prompted the planting of native grass species to accompany the wildflowers.

First runner-up in the Innovative Conservation category is Jim Pavonetti, CGCS, superintendent at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. Second runner-up is H. Mitchell Wilkerson, CGCS, director of golf and grounds maintenance at Moss Creek Golf Club in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Natural Resource Conservation Award

Gary Ingram, CGCS
Director of agronomy
Metropolitan Golf Links
Oakland, Calif.

Gary Ingram has been named an ELGA recipient five times in eight years, and the 41-year GCSAA member was also the winner of the 2020 President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship.

Built in 2003, Metropolitan Golf Links is home to the Metropolitan Golf Links Junior Golf Program, the Oakland Turfgrass Education Initiative and more than 20 acres of wetlands. Amid ongoing drought in California, Ingram developed a Drought Management Plan, and through targeted watering, regular irrigation audits and other tactics, the course has reduced its water use. In addition, irrigation water is recaptured through the drainage system and piped into irrigation ponds for reuse.

In 2021, the facility completed the conversion of all lighting — in the clubhouse, maintenance facility, restaurant and parking lots — to LED fixtures, which will amount to an annual energy savings of 56,352 kilowatt-hours.

First runner-up in the Natural Resource Conservation category is Wayne Mills, superintendent at La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara, Calif. Second runner-up is Jay Neunsinger, superintendent at Boundary Oak Golf Course in Walnut Creek, Calif.

The winners will be recognized during the 2022 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, which will be held Feb. 5-10 in San Diego.