Mark Harper, Course Superintendent at Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, Talks About Golf Course Maintenance and the Environment
We welcome Mark Harper, Course Superintendent at Disney's Lake Buena Vista golf course, as a guest writer, to discuss his approach to course maintenance in an era when overseeing day-to-day golf course conditions and health must be done within the over-arching sensitivities to our environmental impact.
Since coming to Walt Disney World® Golf, operated by Arnold Palmer Golf Management, in 2011, it has been my pleasure and joy to be responsible for overseeing the maintenance of Disney's Lake Buena Vista golf course. We have a professional and skilled team of groundskeepers that work hard every day to ensure that we bring you, our guests, the best possible conditions for play.
Over the past 7 years, in an effort to improve the golf course conditions, and to reduce our environmental impact, we have implemented some of the most recent techniques and up to date technology recommended by our industry leaders. These are based upon extensive research conducted by various academic institutions in conjunction with golf's pre-eminent governing bodies, including the United Stated Golf Association and the Golf Course Superintendent's Association of America.
For example, in 2014 we stopped the annual practice of overseeding the course with fast growing rye grasses in the fall of each year. This practice has been used for many decades, primarily for aesthetic reasons, to continue to have green grass on the course when the dominant Bermudagrasses would go dormant and be colored yellow/gold/brown during the colder winter months.
The problem with overseeding, is that it required scalping the Bermudagrass during preparation, the need to extensively water the new rye grass seed to support germination, and while doing so, it increases the risks of disease, pests, and weed growth. Playing conditions during the fall transition were also typically wet with slow fairways and greens due to the additional watering. The dormant Bermudagrass would also be weakened after the long winter months, as a result of competing with the rye grasses for water, sunlight, and nutrients, and therefore would be more susceptible to disease, bare spots, and the increased need to re-sod damaged areas in the spring.
By not overseeding, we allow the Bermudagrass to actually strengthen over the winter months, and to become more robust to changing climate and growth conditions. We have also substantially reduced the use of water and other resources that would otherwise be associated with the maintenance of the overseeded areas during the slower growth months of winter.
Importantly, we have also significantly reduced the use of water via our irrigation systems, which in conjunction with no longer overseeding, allows us to be more sensitive to local water supplies. During the rainy season months here in Florida, we cut our water use to minimal levels, since Mother Nature helps us out. During the winter months, which coincides with slower grass growth and heavier play on the courses, we can also reduce water use. As a result of these conservation practices, we have reduced our total use of water by about 50% in the past 4 years.
Additional course management practices, such as aerification, verti-cutting greens, and varying the frequency of mowing, allow us to maintain a healthier golf course by removing organic surface materials that can clog and compact the greens and fairways, improve air exchange in the soil, and support more robust disease and weed resistant growth.
We are proud to be certified by Audubon International as a Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary, in recognition of our ongoing efforts to be sensitive to our environment, and our hard work to reduce our impact. We also operate within the larger framework of environmental stewardship championed by the Walt Disney World® Resort, and work closely with them in our golf course management approaches.
In closing, I also want to address one comment that we get periodically from our guests, related to wet course conditions that may be experienced after heavy rain storms. We value and sincerely appreciate these comments, and honestly feel your pain and frustration, however, it is important to note, that the Walt Disney World® Golf courses are generally built on native Central Florida swamp lands. While we have installed and upgraded extensive drainage systems on our courses over the years to remove large volumes of water from all parts of the courses, the underlying several inches of swampy base materials tend to retain a lot of water despite the extensive drainage systems. Think of it like a giant sponge, several inches thick, right under the surface. As a result, installing additional drainage systems would not yield much of an improvement in course conditions. Most often, we simply need to wait and allow Mother Nature, with sun, wind, and time, to dry out the course conditions for us through evaporation. As noted above, we understand your concerns and we do apologize when the courses are overwhelmed by high volumes of rain. Rest assured that we are all working very hard to do our best, to make the course conditions better for you, and as soon as possible after heavy storms.
We look forward to welcoming you to the "Happiest Place on TURF!"