Environmental stewardship at Little River Inn Golf and Tennis Resort

The golf course shares its water conservation, recycling, and outreach efforts

Terry Stratton, golf course superintendent
Little River Inn Golf and Tennis Resort, Little River, Calif.

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis ResortThe Little River Inn Golf and Tennis Resort includes a nine-hole golf course located along the Mendocino Coast in Northern California.

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis is a family owned business now entering its sixth generation. The course is located in an environmentally conscious area. Course operations incorporate environmental stewardship and outreach programs at different levels, including but not limited to:

  • Water conservation
  • Water quality protection
  • Pollution prevention

The golf course covers 50 sloping acres with the upper part in redwood and fir forest. The lower part is pine forest and overlooks the Pacific Ocean just a few hundred yards away. The fairways are narrow and minimally watered giving a links look even though its bordered by conifers. The course elevation is 50 feet above sea level at the pro shop and 150 feet at the highest point. The predominant soil has high clay content and presents real challenges maintaining playability with rainfall of 40-80 inches annually. Grasses are primarily old or native bentgrass species. Other unknown types include perennial ryes and newer bentgrass species that have been seeded over the years. The course, except for greens, were not irrigated until 1979.

Design and construction quirks

Built by local timber companies in 1957, the course was designed by owner Ole Hervilla. The course has a lot of design and construction quirks presenting management challenges to this day. Grading was fairly rough and greens are mostly push up style. Some greens were not pushed up, but merely mowed down on native soil. Legend has it that these greens were shaped by anchoring a large log at one end and dragging it in a circle until the ground was smooth. The area was then seeded and a green was born. Aeration and topdressing over many years have improved them, but the greens remain difficult to maintain.

Water management

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis ResortThis golf course uses very little water as compared to other golf courses. The golf course sits on approximately 50 acres including 20 acres of fairways. Greens total 1 acre and tees are 1/2 acre. The remainder contains about 15 acres of mowed rough with the balance in creeks, ponds, habitat, and wildlife corridors. Water consumption for nine holes averages 45,000 gallons per day. Our annual available supply is less than 10 million gallons. The Golf Course Environmental Profile report, “Water Use and Conservation Practices on U.S. Golf Courses,” stated that an 18-hole golf course uses an average of 152.5 acre-feet of water per year to irrigate 80.7 acres of turfgrass. That amount is approximately 50 million gallons per year. In comparison to our area, an 18-hole facility in the Pacific agronomic region irrigates with an average of 158 acre-feet annually. No groundwater is taken for course irrigation. Instead, winter rains are captured as runoff into three reservoirs and two holding ponds. Water is moved between reservoirs and holding ponds via siphons or gravity flow. Water is piped by gravity 1-1/2 miles from the reservoirs to the on-site irrigation holding pond. This finite supply is just enough to make a season in a normal year. If rains end earlier than expected in spring or start late in fall we can potentially run out of water. Because of this supply situation water conservation is a very important issue.

Water conservation

Some of the ways we conserve water include:

  • Hand watering dry spots before irrigation system is used
  • Repairing leaks immediately (usually the same day of discovery)
  • Replacing old leaking sprinklers with new efficient heads
  • Daily monitoring of pond/reservoir levels to prevent overflow loss as water is moved between them
  • Turning off all sprinklers when moist conditions prevail (sometimes 2-3 days at a time in this coastal location)
  • Keeping mower cutting heights moderate (5/32-inch greens, ¾-inch fairways, 5/8-inch collars and approaches, 2-inch roughs)
  • Aerifying all turf at least once a year (greens and tees twice or more)
  • Applying granular wetting agent to hot spots at greens and tees

The irrigation system is a classic two row with three rows on one hole. A box pattern of four heads cover greens and surrounds while two to five heads cover tees dependent on size. The 29-year-old pump station is modest (only 8-10 heads can run at a time). It is located at the highest course elevation so gravity assist increases velocity and pressure, and conserves pumping and energy consumption.

Energy conservation

Energy is conserved in a variety of ways around the golf course and inn property:

  • No electricity is used to move irrigation water between our reservoirs and holding ponds
  • Gravity or siphons do the job for free
  • A solar panel array (installed in 1999) provides 5%-10% of the electricity
  • Lights are turned off in our maintenance shop when not occupied
  • Irrigation is scheduled to maximize pump efficiency by running 8-10 sprinklers at a time
  • Mowing frequencies are reduced whenever conditions allow conserving fuel and reducing pollution

Recycling

We have a recycling program throughout the resort. Bottles and cans are recycled through our local waste disposal company. Golf course grounds staff collect bottles and cans from the course to resell for cash. In 2006, we earned enough to send myself, our mechanic, and two senior greenkeepers to the 2007 Golf Industry Show (GIS) in Anaheim, Calif. We financed a similar trip to the 2010 GIS in San Diego, Calif. We plan to continue to attend other area trade shows, turf field days, and seminars. We also recycle:

  • Old brass sprinklers
  • Valves
  • Scrap copper pipe from building remodeling projects

Many types of materials are reduced and/or recovered at our business. Virtually all used motor oil that is recovered and recycled by a licensed waste company. All oil filters, antifreeze, shop absorbents, alkaline, and automotive batteries are recovered, stored in approved containers, and then taken to the Mendocino County Environmental Health Department HAZMAT disposal days (when necessary).Grass clippings are captured in our wash rack sump and composted with green waste. Most green waste from the course and inn grounds is composted for reuse in facility landscapes. Fairway and rough clippings are left on the turf. Collected clippings from greens and tees are broadcast over rough areas around the course. Recycling is an important element for pollution prevention as well as the responsible use of pesticides. Little River Inn Golf Course uses very few pesticides.

Pesticides

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis ResortSince 1997, we have reduced our pesticide usage by 75%. Most materials used here are granular. The club does not own a spray rig. Backpack sprayers are used to treat small areas with liquid materials. Almost no pesticides are used on fairways, roughs or tees. Although weeds are generally tolerated if the playing surface is otherwise good, we do apply occasional spot treatments. Diseases and insects on tees, fairways, and roughs are untreated. Greens are scouted for diseases and pests every Tuesday. Intended actions are also recorded, including efficacy observations regarding previous applications. Greens are treated only as needed. The course had no preventive programs until the European crane fly was introduced here in 2004. We now apply the Merit 0.5G insecticide in the fall for early stage larval control. All other crane fly treatments are made with Sevin 8% G when feeding damage is evident, typically in April and July. The best treatment for crane fly larvae is birds, especially flickers, blackbirds, and robins. Pesticides cover the greens consuming thousands of larvae. In 2009, we had foregone several Sevin applications due to their predation. In 2007, anguina nematodes invaded the greens. They are controlled with Algae Green, a kelp-based product intended for plant health improvement. This product has a peripheral suppressing effect on anguina. Non-toxic controls avoid extremely toxic nematicides, most of which are outlawed in California.

Diseases

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis ResortFungal diseases on the greens are treated curatively. An application of FFII (PCNB) is usually necessary by late November for pink snow mold. In some years this is the only treatment needed with no more than three treatments necessary annually. Dollar spot and anthracnose in the summer are mostly controlled via fertilization with organic fertilizers. This includes ammonium sulfate as a natural fungicidal component. We avoided fungicide use (Andersons Fungicide VII granular) for diseases altogether. During most summers, one application is sufficient.

Weeds on greens are our biggest pesticide issue. Two insidious weeds, soliva pterosperma (burweed) and chamomilla suaveolens (pineapple weed) have invaded our greens. Most weeds flourish at green cutting height. We previously used KOG (granular Dicamba) and Trimec bentgrass formula with mixed results and have sought alternatives. We now use Lontrel, which kills these weeds completely with one application instead of several. Control is excellent and no new weeds have appeared for more than a year. Large weeds in fairways not tolerated (like buckhorn plantain and dallisgrass) are spot treated with roundup using a weed dauber or backpack sprayer.

An environmentally-friendly course

Environmental stewardship at the course goes beyond recycling and the responsible use of pesticides. Little River Inn Golf Course is located adjacent to Van Damme State Park.

It contains a protected spawning stream (Little River) for the endangered coho salmon and much of the golf course lies within its watershed, while the rest drains into the Pacific Ocean. To prevent contamination of these waters several measures are taken, including:

  • Use of a silt fence or rip-rap where runoff enters waterways
  • Replacing gravel cart paths with concrete
  • Day lighting drains over turf expanse as a biofilter before entering water features
  • Establishing 20 foot no treatment buffer zones around water features
  • Not using chemicals to maintain water features
  • Not dumping clippings in water features

Wildlife habitat

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis ResortWe maximized our habitat areas. All out of play areas have been naturalized and feature water shorelines.

Wildlife corridors link the golf course and adjacent undeveloped Little River Inn property with the neighboring state park. The undeveloped property is 60 acres of redwood forest that is sustainably logged under a long-term timber management plan. Under this plan timber is harvested periodically not to exceed re-growth rates. Native habitat is preserved with understory plants left intact and watercourses designated as no entry zones during harvest operations. Enhancements to our wildlife habitat include:

  • Installation of nest boxes and structures for mallard and wood ducks, barn owls, and osprey
  • Planting riparian natives along pond and stream banks
  • Planting native trees and shrubs
  • Selecting ornamental plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds

Honey bees

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis became a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary in 2005, was recertified in 2008, and has been an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program member since 1999. One of the interesting practices associated with the inn is the use of Bee Kind hygiene products in each room. These products use no plastic packaging, and are developed and manufactured via cruelty free processes and contain no toxic ingredients. A portion of sales from is donated to U.C. Davis' entomology department for honey bee research.

Sharing information

Little River Inn Golf and Tennis ResortCommunicating environmental stewardship through outreach efforts and education is important. We are also a part of a tight knit, environmentally aware small community, and have a high profile as one of the largest area businesses. We utilize various outlets to get our environmental message out to our community. Newsletters are one of the most effective ways to deliver information to our members and the community. We supply articles regarding our environmental activities, special animal stories, and other related topics to The Woods, a retirement and elderly care facility. The Little River Inn also produces two newsletters. We regularly contribute items to these publications regarding Audubon activities and environmental projects. Newspapers are also utilized. The columnist is very cooperative about printing environmental news from the course. Our Audubon program and environmental efforts have also received coverage in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the San Francisco Chronicle, and various periodicals over the years.

Several other outreach programs have been initiated. We support and finance a volunteer program where volunteers placed owl boxes in our area schools to help control rodents without poisons. Students learned about the benefits of owls via classroom presentation by a local wildlife expert. The golf course also provided the site and materials for an osprey nest platform. Since 2006, the golf course has hosted tours as part of Mendocino High Schools' annual topics in sustainability workshops. The two-day event brings about 40 students to our course. Students observe habitat areas, wildlife corridors, naturalized water features, nest boxes and structures, and learn about environmental programs at the course. During the tour numerous animals are typically sighted including deer, osprey, squirrels, frogs, quail and wild turkeys.

Sustainability

We participated in the Audubon Green Golfer Pledge program over the past two years. The program educates golfers about how to be green and how to support environmental programs. Our small course has collected one of the highest number of pledges in recent years. The golf course and inn have taken environmental stewardship seriously. Several practical and effective best management practices have been implemented throughout our operations. These efforts are then shared with our community to provide a better understanding of our role within the environment and society. This is truly a win-win situation for the golf course, sport, and community.

Learn more about Little River Inn Golf and Tennis Resort.