GCSAA announces winners of 2019 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards

Top honorees include superintendents from two university-tied tracts, a course built atop a former landfill, and a facility known for its forward thinking.

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Colbert Hills Golf Course
Somewhere over the rainbow: A view of Kansas’ Colbert Hills Golf Course. Director of golf course operations Matthew Gourlay, CGCS, MG, is among the recipients of the 2019 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards. Photo courtesy of Matthew Gourlay


Twelve golf course superintendents have been named winners in the 2019 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards (ELGAs), presented annually by GCSAA and Golf Digest in partnership with Syngenta.

The awards have recognized superintendents and golf courses around the world for their commitment to environmental stewardship since 1993, but in 2018, the ELGAs were revamped to recognize 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 Natural Resource Conservation Award recognizes effective strategies for water conservation, energy conservation and sound wildlife management.
  • The Healthy Land Stewardship Award recognizes effective strategies for efficient use of pesticides and nutrients as well as pollution prevention.
  • The Communications and Outreach Award recognizes effective communication of conservation strategies with facility employees, golfers and other members of the community.
  • The Innovative Conservation Award recognizes unique and innovative strategies for conservation.

“The ELGAs reflect the golf course management industry’s continued commitment to environmental stewardship,” says GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans. “Congratulations to all the winners. They are great examples of how superintendents can manage their courses in ways that benefit the entire communities they serve.”

The ELGA winners will be recognized Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the 2020 Golf Industry Show in Orlando. Winners will also be featured in an upcoming issue of Golf Digest and in the February 2020 issue of GCSAA’s official publication, Golf Course Management magazine.

Natural Resource Conservation Award
Matthew Gourlay, CGCS, MG
Colbert Hills Golf Course
Manhattan, Kan.

Matthew Gourlay is a third-generation superintendent and the second member of his family to oversee operations at Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan, Kan., where he is director of golf course operations. The 18-hole championship golf course affiliated with Kansas State University sits in the Kansas Flint Hills.

Gourlay, a 17-year GCSAA member who also won the 2018 ELGA for Innovative Conservation, has been pushing the envelope to make Colbert Hills more environmentally sustainable for more than 15 years. In that time, he and his team have increased native areas by more than 100 acres, in turn saving 72 million gallons of water per year. In all, 206 acres of the course are native areas. In addition, Gourlay implemented an energy conservation program that has resulted in a 58 percent energy reduction and a saving of $20,000 a year.

Editor’s note: Read more about Gourlay and his low-input turf management strategy at Colbert Hills in Less is more at Colbert Hills.

First runner-up in the Natural Resource Conservation category is Jim Pavonetti, CGCS, superintendent at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. Second runner-up is Jeffrey Reich, superintendent at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.

Healthy Land Stewardship Award
Gary Ingram, CGCS
Metropolitan Golf Links
Oakland, Calif.

Gary Ingram, director of agronomy at Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland, Calif., has a long track record of environmental excellence. He was recognized with ELGAs in 2014 (in the overall and national public course categories) and 2018 (in the communications and outreach category), and is the 2020 winner of GCSAA’s President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship.

Metropolitan Golf Links, an 18-hole course that opened in 2003, sits on a former landfill and is one of the last refuges for native plants and wildlife in an industrial area. Ingram’s goal is to keep the course’s 120 acres environmentally healthy, and he manages the course through a Sustainability Action Plan and an integrated pest management program. The 39-year GCSAA member and his team consider the environment in every aspect of course management, from how they store products to how they apply products to how they wash equipment.

First runner-up in the Healthy Land Stewardship Award category is Wayne Mills, superintendent at La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara, Calif. Second runner-up is Carl D. Thompson, CGCS, superintendent at Columbia Point Golf Course in Richland, Wash.

Communications and Outreach Award
Isaac Breuer
Gustin Golf Course
Columbia, Mo.

The mission of Gustin Golf Course is to serve the students, staff and alumni of the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., and Isaac Breuer makes sure those the course serves also know that the property provides more to the community than just a recreational space.

In the past five years, Breuer has hosted course tours for more than 50 local science teachers, students from the Boys & Girls Club of Columbia, 4-H clubs, Master Gardner groups, the Missouri Department of Conservation and others. For the student groups, the tours include four educational stations that teach about wildflower identification, making seed balls and beekeeping. Breuer also works with the University of Missouri’s Sustainability Office to promote Gustin Golf Course’s environmental efforts via social media.

All of these efforts have garnered much recognition, including the Mayor’s Award for Environmental Protection, the Grow Native! Ambassador Award and the Blazing Star Award from the local chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society.

Editor’s note: Read about Breuer’s work to support the threatened monarch butterfly population in Making a way for monarchs.

First runner-up in the Communications and Outreach category is Ryan Kraushofer, superintendent and general manager at Westminster (Md.) National Golf Course. Second runner-up is Eric Verellen, superintendent at Snoqualmie Falls Golf Course in Fall City, Wash.

Innovative Conservation Award
Jay Neunsinger
Boundary Oaks Golf Course
Walnut Creek, Calif.

Set against the foothills of Mount Diablo, Boundary Oak Golf Course is an 18-hole public golf course that opened in 1969 and currently supports 67,000 rounds of golf per year. Neunsinger and his staff have implemented many large- and small-scale initiatives focused on energy conservation, including a property-wide switch to LED lights, the addition of motion detector lighting throughout the clubhouse and maintenance facility, and the installation of 1,080 solar panels in 2017.

Neunsinger will expand the course’s energy-saving footprint even more this spring with the installation of eight vehicle-charging stations. The 18-year GCSAA member won a national ELGA in 2017, and that same year was named the GCSA of Northern California’s Superintendent of the Year.

Editor’s note: Read more about Neunsinger’s environmental initiatives at Boundary Oak in Westward expansion: The 2017 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards.

First runner-up in the Innovative Conservation category is Shannon Easter, golf course maintenance director at Broken Sound Club in Boca Raton, Fla. Second runner-up is Christopher Flick, director of grounds operations at Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont, Ill.