FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 11, 2017
State College, PA – Travis Lesser, Owner and Founder of Spring Mill Solutions, LLC, will be among the educational speakers at this year’s Golf Business Conference in Orlando, Florida. Lesser’s presentation will take place on February 9th, where he will chat with members of the National Golf Course Owners’ Association to discuss the benefits and best practices when adopting a zero waste goal program at a golf facility.
“Looking forward to being in Orlando in February” said Lesser, “It is a great opportunity to engage some of the golf industry’s most important stake-holders, and figure out how we can collaboratively make golf courses more self-sustaining.”
The Golf Business Conference, hosted by the NGCOA, is the golf industry's largest gathering of owners and operators of daily fee, private, resort and municipal courses. The conference includes educational and networking opportunities, and guest speakers. It is held in conjunction with the Golf Industry Show at the San Diego Convention Center. Presented by the NGCOA and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), the Golf Industry Show highlights golf's latest products and services throughout an expansive exhibit area, and offers a wide range of educational opportunities.
The National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) is the leading authority on the business of golf course ownership and management. The Association represents key decision-makers with ultimate responsibility for golf courses throughout the world. Through advocacy, information resources, purchasing programs and networking opportunities, the NGCOA helps golf course owners and operators run more successful businesses. For more information, visit www.ngcoa.org or call 1-800-933-4262.
Founded in 2014, Spring Mill Solutions offers unprecedented services, working with your club to implement zero waste goal programs through recycling, composting and procurement assistance. For more information on Spring Mill Solutions, visit www.SpringMillSolutions.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 6, 2016
State College, PA – Travis Lesser, Owner and Founder of Spring Mill Solutions, LLC, has been confirmed to speak at the 28th Annual West Virginia Golf Course Superintendents Association & West Virginia PGA Turf Conference and Show. Lesser’s presentation will take place on November 2nd, and he will discuss the benefits and best practices when adopting a zero waste goal program at a golf facility.
“I am very much looking forward to this” said Lesser, “It will be great to get in front of GCSAA and PGA members to discuss exciting and emerging options for their courses.”
The West Virginia GCSA & West Virginia Chapter of the Tri-State PGA conduct the conference and trade show, which takes place from October 31 through November 2, 2016 at Lakeview Resort in Morgantown, WV. The annual event offers its members an opportunity to continue education, learn about emerging technologies, and participate in discussion with peers.
Founded in 2014, Spring Mill Solutions offers unprecedented services, working with your club to implement zero waste goal programs through recycling, composting and procurement assistance.
For more information on the conference, please visit http://wvga.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/WV-Turf-conference-program-2016.pdf
For more information on Spring Mill Solutions, visit SpringMillSolutions.com
Golf is an ancient game, and the legend of its origin is debated. One theory suggests the game was started by Scottish shepherds hitting rocks around a field with sticks. Their objective, of course, was to get the rock into a hole in the ground in as few attempts as possible. Regardless of how golf actually got its start, the reason the sport is alive after all of these years is clear: The game is a great way to spend the day.
Fast forward to the modern game here in the United States. Every April, the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club are pumped into our living rooms showing us The Masters. The emerald green fairways and stark white bunkers. The limited advertisements and exclusivity. Other than the advent of high-definition telecasts and extended coverage, little has changed over the years.
This is many Americans’ perception of golf. It is an old sport with dated practices and traditions. This notion is prevalent on many levels throughout the game — none more so than the industry’s attempts to be a good environmental steward.
This is not to say the industry hasn’t taken some steps in the right direction. A recent Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) study shows significant reduction in nitrogen, potassium and potash use across the industry over the past 10 years. Additionally, superintendents are finding ways to reduce water usage, especially in places like California where drought conditions prevail.
But these positive actions are not enough. It is clear that more needs to be done in the area of environmental stewardship across the industry — notably in the areas of water conservation, fertilizer and pesticide use, and waste management.
To get insight into just how far golf is lagging behind, we should look at how it compares to other sports. To do so, you need only to look back to late June in Houston, Texas. TheGreen Sports Alliance (GSA) conducted its sixth annual GSA Summit at Minute Maid Park, home to the Houston Astros. Several sports were featured, and lauded, for their contributions to the environmental sports movement. Most notably, facilities, ownership and players for Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League were prominently featured throughout the program as leaders in this movement. Taking steps in advocacy, stadium lighting efficiency, food waste reduction, and recycling program adoption were some attributes of these successful programs.
In past years, golf had been noticeably absent from the Summit, and for the most part other GSA endeavors as well. But this year’s program included people with ties to golf in two separate panel discussions. One was entitled “Going Global: An International Sports & Sustainability Fireside Chat,” and included Golf Environment Organization Chief Executive Jonathan Smith. Smith’s message was clear that golf wants to play its part in the green sports movement. The closing panel topic “Chatting with the Champs,” included former LPGA Tour player Anya Alvarez, who offered the player’s prospective.
In addition, one panel discussion was solely dedicated to golf for the first time in the Summit’s history, entitled “Golf’s Sustainability Agenda: The Power of Collaboration.” The experts included executives from industry associations such as the GCSAA, the Club Managers Association of America and the Colorado Section of the PGA. They discussed steps being taken within the industry, such as the first corporate social responsibility report dedicated to a golf course, as well as considerations for future endeavors.
It was a great starting point and good to see leaders in our industry on the same page. However, as noted during the golf panel discussion, there were several people absent who could have offered even greater insight into the pain points that the industry faces. Much value could have been added by including representatives from the United States Golf Association, the PGA Tour, and professionals from the industry who are already putting environmentally-sound principles into practice. Having these additional people in the room will lead to a deeper discussion on how to improve and implement better processes throughout the industry.
I am more convinced than ever that we are all merely scratching the surface of what is going to be a large, global effort. It is my belief that golf’s environmental and social responsibility movement is about to reach a tipping point. And doing so will also carry with it other benefits. By communicating that golf is becoming more progressive as an industry, it is possible that we can open the door to a new segment of clientele. With an industry desperately looking for ways to jumpstart stagnant growth in participation, it is time to look for other solutions. Simply stating “the game is too expensive” and that it “takes too long” is not solving anything.
In order to encourage this drive, it is imperative that golf have a larger presence in the green sports movement going forward. By bringing together leaders in golf with leaders in the greening of sports, we will encourage informed, open-minded conversations. These types of talks can lead to positive steps not only on an industry level, but on a global level as well.
Attending the Summit showed me just how far we as an industry have lagged behind. While we are late to the party, my hope is that golf has a bigger presence at next year’s Summit. I know I will be there, and I encourage all of my fellow colleagues to join me. More panel discussions and a larger golf presence at the 2017 GSA Summit in Sacramento in June could go a long way to ensuring this great game will still be around for future generations to come.
And the good news is, by taking on a leadership role and moving to the forefront of the green sports movement, we will ensure a legacy of which we can be proud.
Image credits: 1) Pixabay; 2) Courtesy of the author
This article originally appeared on Triple Pundit at www.triplepundit.com/2016/07/making-golf-greener-in-the-21st-century/
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 28, 2016
Spring Mill Solutions Founder Travis Lesser Slated to Speak at CMAA National Conference
State College, PA – Travis Lesser (pictured), Owner and Founder of Spring Mill Solutions, LLC, has been confirmed to speak at the 2016 Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) Mid-Management Conference in Washington D.C. on September 25th. Lesser’s presentation will discuss the benefits and best practices when adopting a zero waste goal program at a golf facility.
“This is a very exciting opportunity” said Lesser, “not only from the company’s standpoint, but it also shows the hospitality industry is moving in a positive direction. Environmental sustainability is becoming just as important as financial sustainability, and it is imperative that these two concepts be communicated together.”
The Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) is the professional Association for managers of membership clubs. CMAA has close to 6,500 members across all classifications. Our manager members operate more than 2,500 country, golf, athletic, city, faculty, military, town and yacht clubs. The objectives of the Association are to promote and advance friendly relations among persons connected with the management of clubs and other associations of similar character; to encourage the education and advancement of members; and to assist club officers and members, through their managers, to secure the utmost in efficient and successful operations. CMAA is headquartered in Alexandria, VA, with 30 staff, 45 professional chapters and more than 45 student chapters and colonies.
According to the CMAA website the CMAA Mid-Management Conference (formerly the Assistant Managers Conference) was started as a grass-roots effort by the Greater Chicago Chapter in 1991 as a way to provide quality educational and networking opportunities for club managers who do not serve in the general manager or chief operating officer capacity at their club. Starting in 2016, CMAA National will host the event annually in cities throughout the nation with the support of the local chapters.
Founded in 2014, Spring Mill Solutions offers unprecedented services, working with your club to implement zero waste goal programs through recycling, composting and procurement assistance.
For more information on the CMAA, and the Mid-Management Conference, visit cmaa.org
For more information on Spring Mill Solutions, visit SpringMillSolutions.com
I am very pleased to say that one evening last week I began to work on a zero waste project for the Penn State Golf Courses in State College, Pennsylvania. The ultimate goal of this project, and Spring Mill Solutions’ expertise is to find ways to reduce waste, while at the same time adding environmentally sound and efficient course and club management practices to the operation. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the proper labeling of containers is imperative to make such a project work. In addition, the location and number of containers must also be considered in order to reach a zero waste goal.
As part of my initial assessment, I rode around the Blue and White golf courses, inspecting the current waste container layout and determining how players were using them. While riding around in a golf cart without my clubs and peering into every trash can and recycling bin may have resulted in some strange looks from players, it felt great to be out there on such a beautiful May evening.
It took me approximately ninety minutes to ride around the golf courses. While this was less time than I had anticipated it would take to conduct the assessment, I attribute that to the fact that I am very familiar with both layouts and knew the various “cut-through” paths the grounds crew uses to get around the course in a manner that does not interfere with play. However, this initial tour did reveal a way for the course to save some time in their operations, which may be the most valuable benefit to a grounds crew during the season. But more on that later.
One of the first pieces of useful information I gathered occurred when I drove up to my first water station, which happened to be next to the eighth tee of the Blue Course. I was pleased to see a blue, “slim jim” recycling container placed next to the water cooler kiosk. Unfortunately, that pleasure quickly went away when I stood next to it and looked inside. Two paper, cone-shaped cups from the dispenser attached to the water cooler were sitting inside. While this shows an understanding that these paper cups are recyclable, my concern is that this is not the intended can for those cups. If the course only recycles certain items, or if the items need to be separated, wrong inputs could result in contamination issues rendering those items unrecyclable.
Contamination is a major problem when it comes to recycling. In an August 2015 USA Today interview, Waste Management director of of public affairs Susan Robinson estimated that the recycling the company processes is 16% contaminated. The same article goes on to say this number has doubled in the past ten years. Paper cups by themselves are likely not going to create a contamination problem, but concern is warranted if other items are placed into the container with recyclable products. The takeaway from this is that receptacles need to be properly labeled indicating proper inputs, as this eliminates many problems before they happen.
The biggest takeaway from my initial assessment has to do with the number and location of receptacles on the golf course. Across the 36 holes at Penn State, there are 51 containers ranging in size from small cans to a couple of large 95 gallon rolling containers, most of these are staged at or near the teeing ground of each hole. That’s 51 containers that must be checked each morning by a staff member. Even if the container is empty, that employee must take a moment to check it in order to be sure. Any time saved by consolidating the number of receptacles and strategically placing them at select areas around the course would most certainly be beneficial. In my mind, the best places for these receptacles would be at water stations and/or at strategic “cross-over” points where players pass by multiple times during the round. I don’t think there is a superintendent anywhere that does not want to reduce staff hours for a daily task, and this is a rather simple solution to reach that end.
I will be continuing to post updates, including results from the waste audits being performed with the assistance of Penn State startup ReDi Index. Also, I will chronicle steps taken for procurement assistance to reduce the amount of the facility’s packaging being thrown out. This project will also be looking into recycling of golf course and clubhouse organic waste and utilizing these materials into the course’s maintenance regiment. So be sure to check back for regular updates on our progress on these fronts as well.
This is a very exciting time for Spring Mil Solutions, with even more news coming soon! Stay up to date on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and be sure to check the website. Finally, as always, please contact us if you would like to have your facility’s waste management practices assessed. With golf season in full swing, the sooner we set up your assessment, the sooner you can reduce costs, and improve your course operation efficiency and its environmental footprint.
It is officially golf season in Pennsylvania, and this past week has afforded me two unique and rewarding opportunities when it comes to the growth of Spring Mill Solutions.
On Friday, May 6th, I attended a workshop conducted by the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania (PROP) at Toftrees Resort in State College, PA on Zero Waste Programs. This was the second day of a two day conference, and the day-long session was led by Joanne Shafer, Deputy Executive Director/Recycling Coordinator for Centre County, PA.
Joanne began the session by writing a phrase on an easel in the front of the room, “The road to zero waste starts at the beginning, not the end.” What this means is that the key to any zero waste program’s success is looking at what is coming in to your facility. The old adage “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” is still important, however, the emphasis must be put on the reduction and, when possible, reusing of items that will eventually end up in the landfill. By focusing upstream through actions such as optimizing amounts of items purchased in order to reduce waste, you should be able to see a difference in the amount of times your waste service provider has to pull your dumpster.
Furthermore, Joanne introduced the term “extended producer responsibility”. This means that some suppliers will work with you to not only reduce the amount of packaging they are sending you, but they may even take back some of the packaging. Not only could this allow them to keep their costs lower by possibly reusing packaging, but at the very least it helps to keep the waste out of your dumpster. Who wouldn’t want to work with a company like that?
Another valuable component of the workshop was the networking aspect. There were approximately twenty waste professionals from central and eastern Pennsylvania in the room that day. Most of them work for municipalities and were present to earn continuing education credits toward their certification. Having them in the room was truly valuable for me, as I was able to get real insight into how the industry functions. Also, it is always nice to be around other like-minded people to make you feel as though what you are doing carries merit and has a purpose.
My second opportunity came four days later, on Tuesday May 10th. I was afforded the opportunity to speak about zero waste at clubs in an educational capacity to the Philadelphia and Vicinity Chapter of the Club Managers Association of America educational seminars at Llanerch Country Club in Havertown, PA. , I obviously jumped at the chance.
While I have gotten used to standing in front of people and teaching, this was a different animal altogether. Now I was an “expert” speaking to accomplished men and women who had risen to the ranks of General Manager or Assistant General Manager at their respective clubs throughout the years. And here I was standing in front of them telling them how they could, and should, change their operations to become more efficient. It is a thin line to walk, telling someone how to run their business, but I felt as though it went quite well.
I was able to utilize much of the information I had learned at the PROP conference, and add it to existing slides and knowledge that I have accrued over the past two years. The group was attentive and participatory, and I walked out of the clubhouse feeling encouraged that my message got through.
Overall, the past week has been a good learning experience for me as I move Spring Mill Solutions forward. I have a couple of special announcements to make in the coming weeks, and I am very excited to share them with you once everything is finalized. So, please be on the lookout on our website, as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages.
If you would like to have me come to speak at your club or association meeting about the benefits of a zero waste program, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been some time since I have written a post, and one of the reasons for that is my teaching schedule and other responsibilities here at Penn State has been quite hectic this semester. I am however preparing for speaking to the Philadelphia Chapter of the Club Managers’ Association of America in May. The group would like me to focus on sustainability, and I am looking to focus my talk on three major points:
I am continuing to work on the structure and content of the presentation, but I would like to hear from some of you out there. Whether you manage or work at a golf facility, or you are someone who just enjoys playing the game, how would you like to see your course be better from an environmental standpoint? I have 45 minutes to fill, and would love to hear from you out there.
Feel free to comment, re-tweet, share, etc. at will. You can also email me your thoughts at email@example.com
Thank you in advance for your input!
In previous posts, I have discussed the value of recycling in terms of cost savings. In the current golf economy, it is important to find new ways to increase your margin at a time when raising greens fees or dues may not be options. But what is a club to do when a reduction in expenses could sacrifice resources and quality?
There is a way to bring in a slight stream of revenue by making a small upfront investment. Some clubs have started using balers to compact their cardboard or plastic. The immediate benefits can be seen from saving space in dumpsters if you must throw your cardboard in a dumpster.
Kim Vandbaek, Executive Vice President of Mil-tek USA Recycling and Waste Solutions states that customers who have used his company’s balers have seen a reduction in pick-ups of 25-40%, depending on the customer’s waste profile. What’s more, there are many recyclers who will not only purchase the baled cardboard from you, they will come to your club and pick it up! And while the revenue seen from selling off your old boxes may not subsidize a brand new irrigation system for the golf course, it could ultimately pay for the baler itself.
Bob Mueller, General Manager of Cedar Hill Country Club in Livingston, New Jersey, echoes these sentiments. When I spoke with Bob, he said over the past eight months that they have utilized the Mil-tek baler, they are happy with the results. While they do not sell the baled cardboard to a recycler, they do recycle it.
“We do not have as many pickups.” said Mueller, as the baled cardboard does not take up as much space in the dedicated cardboard dumpster. “We are trying to do the right thing (by recycling),” he continued. And because they do not have stray boxes lying around waiting to be broken down, having the baler “makes things cleaner than normal.”
Vandbaek elaborates by saying the reduced “eye-sore” of not having loose cardboard piled in a corner of the kitchen is an advantage that many clubs who have purchased the balers communicate. Furthermore, the reduction in man-hours by not having to break boxes down reaps its own rewards, allowing staff to be allocated to other tasks.
He goes on to discuss how his company works with the club during the entire set-up process. From agreeing on the optimum location for the baler at the club, to two stages of training with key staff, steps will be taken to improve the club’s chances at success.
It should be pointed out that Mil-tek does not get involved in the “money flow” between the customer and recycler. “All we do is to help get a fair price for the services/materials and then make the introduction between the parties. Housekeeping/processes will be arranged between the two parties without involvement from Mil-tek (unless requested). If for some reason the customer is not happy with the recycler we will appoint another partner.”
Another benefit to having a baler readily available at your club is that you are also able to bale plastic. While the baled plastic is generally not sellable at the limited volume your club would generate, it does help increase space in your plastics recycling container or, if you must, landfill dumpster.
The relatively small footprint of the baler does not take up a significant amount of space. At 8 feet high, 2 feet 5 inches wide, and 1 foot 9 inches deep, the machine will fit in most kitchens or maintenance barns. Furthermore, the size and weight of the bales make it easier for staff to move to the cardboard dumpster or pick-up area.
Whether or not your club is able to sell the baled cardboard is something that will have to be researched, but the value in having a baler at your club is apparent. Getting members and staff involved with the initiative will make all stakeholders at the club feel good about what they are doing, and encourage the initiative’s success. Furthermore, cutting long-term operating costs and simultaneously earning revenue will help create some much needed breathing room to your club's bottom line.
When I arrived at Penn State in August of 2012 for business school orientation, I felt out of place and without any real direction. Making a change at that point in my life was imperative, and earning an MBA would certainly make me more competitive in the job market. But the idea of stepping this far out of my comfort zone did not sit well with me. In fact, I can still vividly remember sitting in the business building auditorium during the first week of orientation, thinking to myself, “If I just walk out the door right now and drive home, I will only lose my deposit.”
Luckily, I toughed it out and graduated on schedule with experiences and knowledge that I never would have gained had I listened to myself that day in the auditorium. One such experience was my graduate assistantship during the fall semester of my second year of school. Beyond (happily) ending my seven and a half week stint bartending, the opportunity ultimately led me down the path I am on now.
My primary responsibilities in the assistantship involved attending every Penn State home football game during the 2013 season as a part of the Penn State Mobius Initiative. The overarching goal of the project is to close the waste loop and make Penn State a totally zero-waste campus. This included a goal of diverting all landfill waste from Beaver Stadium, the university’s 107,000 seat football facility, by the 2016 football season. As a lifelong Penn State football fan, this was not a tall ask of me, especially since I would be spending the majority of the games in the President’s and Governor’s hospitality suites promoting the project, interacting with game attendees, and privy to all the Penn State Creamery Ice Cream I could eat.
My experience ultimately catalyzed by desire to work with golf facilities to be more self-sustaining. As far as I see it, there are two major issues that need to be covered when it comes to any project where the goal is ultimately to divert 100% of all waste from the landfill. One of these is not necessarily more important than the other. I believe that both are integral and need to be executed in order to meet that “zero-waste” goal.
The educational aspect of such an endeavor is crucial. By ensuring receptacles are well placed in easy-to-access areas, with the proper signage indicating what item should be placed in that particular receptacle, you are increasing the chances of your project’s success. Furthermore, by putting receptacles in higher-traffic areas, you bring more awareness to what you are trying to accomplish.
An example for on-course recycling at your club would be to not only have recycling bins on each tee, but to also have a bank of receptacles outside the pro-shop and at one or two cross-over areas where multiple “green-to-tee” paths intersect. Beside aiding in the afore mentioned benefits of creating awareness and knowledge, the bank of receptacles also eases the burden of the smaller bins on the teeing grounds. And your maintenance staff will thank you for that!
With the project in the suites at the stadium, we were lucky because there are two exits in the President’s box, and only one in the Governor’s suite. Therefore, it was an easy choice to place receptacles inside each door. In addition, we had one or two representatives at each bank assisting and engaging people in conversation to help promote the initiative.
Proper signage is not only necessary for the promotion of the project. Being able to clearly show members and guests which items should be thrown in which canister makes them feel as though they are directly involved and automatically become invested in the outcome. This also encourages a quicker transition when incorporating a new behavior into someone’s waste disposal habits. Simply put, the easier you make it for someone to get that plastic bottle into the “plastics” canister as opposed to the “trash” can, the more likely they are to continue that habit and encourage others to follow suit.
Clearly the educational component of this project is significant. However, what good is having all of this signage and well-placed receptacles if you don’t have control of what is ultimately being thrown out at your club?
Luckily, clubs tend to be their own eco-systems when it comes to waste disposal. Of course, you will inevitably have the handful of folks who sneak food and drink onto the course with them in their golf bags. But that can of Bud Light which Jim Bob hid in his golf bag is still an aluminum can when it is finished, and it just as easily can be tossed into the recycling bin as the can purchased from the “halfway house”.
I am not condoning smuggling beer onto the course; however this does lead me to my second point. You have the ability to ensure that the products you are purchasing for your club, notably for the food and beverage components of the facility, are all either reusable, recyclable or compostable. Offering reusable water bottles adorned with the club logo for members (and even as a “tee gift” for guests) to refill at on-course water coolers is both cost-effective and reduces the amount of waste your club goes through.
Another example of how your club’s inputs can be optimized to foster the success of your waste-reduction is to look at your “to-go” containers. Many clubs utilize plastic food containers which can be recycled. However, the emissions that go into recycling that plastic container may cause more harm than good. Further, most plastic containers can only be recycled once, condemning a once recycled container to the landfill at the end of its useful life.
Other clubs use the less-expensive polystyrene containers and cups. While some factions argue that polystyrene is recyclable, many of these factions can be closely tied to the manufacturer of these products. Generally speaking, these items are expensive to recycle and therefore will likely just end up in a landfill. Luckily, there are viable alternatives.
One of those alternatives I discovered while working in Beaver Stadium. I was introduced to cups, bowls, plates and flatware made from bagasse, which is a by-product of the sugar manufacturing process. Similar products use other plant-based materials such as corn, which means they can be composted along with your food waste, grass clippings and the like. While the upfront costs for these products may be a bit higher than the polystyrene or plastic options, the long-term cost savings from reducing or eliminating tipping fees for garbage pick-up in conjunction with incorporating the used product ultimately into your course’s maintenance practices outweigh that initial hit to the pocketbook.
Golf clubs provide the perfect venue for creating a self-sustaining business. By closing the waste loop at your club, you increase the value of membership because you are planning for the future life of your club. In addition, the progressive mindset this portrays paints a positive picture in the eyes of non-golfers, opening up the potential for that previous naysayer to take up the game.
In my last post, I referenced some tests that I had run during the 2014 golf season in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. It was subsequently brought to my attention from a former co-worker with an over-whelming wealth of expertise in golf course maintenance and turf grass management that I should go into more depth about the tests in particular. It should be pointed out that these tests should not be interpreted as “research”, per say. My hope for this was, and still remains, to bolster my experience with the medium of compost tea, while at the same time determine its efficacy with regard to turf grass. The key word used by my colleague that stuck out to me regarding my tests was, “observational”.
I first became interested in the prospect of golf courses incorporating compost tea and other “homemade” soil amendments into maintenance practices near the end of my third semester of business school in late 2013. My friend Mark had been working for about a year with vermicompost, and was beginning to experiment with organic gardening and fermenting foods. During this same time period, I was working on an idea for an entrepreneurship class project. I wanted to find ways to make golf courses more self-sustaining. Because of the state of the golf economy, I felt that compost tea may be a step in the right direction.
I was not exactly sure where to take this idea. I halfheartedly decided to enter a national sustainability business plan competition sponsored by Wal-Mart. Much to my surprise, my idea was selected to compete against student teams from three other universities at the regional round of the competition at George Washington University in February of 2014. I still was not sure how I could incorporate an entire business model around compost tea, but I was pretty much forced to figure it out at this point.
To make a long story, well, less long, I was fortunate enough to advance past the regional round, only to come up short in the national finals held in Bentonville, Arkansas. While I did not take home any of the cash prizes awarded, I did leave “The Natural State” with a feeling of optimism and excitement. I had convinced enough people to believe that this was a viable venture to get me to that point. Now I just needed to find a way to convince someone to buy it.
The time had come for me to put this stuff to the test. Spring had sprung in Pennsylvania and I was chomping at the bit to apply (literally) what I had been talking about all winter. I started the following week by taking some EM™ that Mark had made and sprayed it on some snow mold areas that had popped up at Bavarian Hills Golf Course. I did not see any results, and I did not expect to. It was already late in the season for snow mold, and one application likely had little to no effect.
Two weeks later I returned with a batch of compost tea that Mark and I had started brewing the day before. I decided I would buy a sprayer on the way into St. Marys that morning, and picked up a nifty little backpack sprayer as opposed to the less-expensive, more practical two gallon version. I have since relented to taking back the larger sprayer, and getting the more preferable latter model, but I digress.
In the middle of July, I decided to buy a low-end moisture probe with some of the store credit I had received from returning the backpack sprayer months before. The probe also has features for pH and light, and after a few uses I realized that only the useful readings for this practice were pH and moisture, since each test area had full sun virtually all day.
My process for each application would go as such:
· I would brew a batch of tea in the morning the day before I wanted to spray. Approximately 24 hours later, I would fill a travel mug full of coffee, fill the sprayer with compost tea (the remainder going into a sealed five-gallon bucket), and load my car for the hour and half drive north to St. Marys.
· Upon arriving at Bavarian Hills, I would stop by the pro shop for a cart key, take the cart to my car, load up and head to the sod farm at the back of the driving range.
· Before spraying, I would take moisture and pH readings at the same spot in the treated area, followed by the untreated area. The probe would be sunk approximately 2-3 inches into the soil.
· I would then apply two gallons of the tea on to the sod farm.
· The process would be repeated on an area near the 100 yard marker in the 18th fairway (one gallon), and then again to a section of the practice putting green (2 gallons).
· After a few weeks, I began taking readings from an untreated area on an upper quadrant of the practice green as well. I postulated that my untreated practice green readings may be skewed because the area from which I had been taking readings was the lowest point on the green. I thought taking a second reading elsewhere may be useful.
For the first few applications, I was only permitted to spray a section of the sod farm. It was only after I had successfully NOT killed the grass, did I gain access to other spots.
Over the course of the summer, I continued the project. I tried to make sure that I replicated the tests each time as best as I could. Unfortunately, life happened in September, so after August 29th, I was not able to make another spray (or take another reading) to all three areas until October 24th. I made one more spray to the practice green on October 30th, but that was as far as I got since the course was closed by that time meaning there were no carts for me to get to the other two areas.
Admittedly, I was not as consistent on my regiment as I would have liked. Factors such as trying to pay the bills and the commitment of basically an entire day without pay to make the trip to and from St. Marys did not allow me to be as flexible as I would have liked with my schedule. However, the results are promising, and do show improvement. The data from my tests in conjunction with other programs from around the country that utilize compost tea show similar results.
Above is a chart of the readings I had taken from the sod farm, which is the area that had been treated the longest. The moisture feature on the probe gauges on a scale of 1 to 10, with “moist” falling between 3 and 7. The readings from all sections are encouraging, but because the sod farm had the most thorough treatment, I feel as though it is the most accurate representation.
Admittedly, the results aren’t overwhelming, but I think they do paint a positive picture. One reason why the stats could have been better may be that my tea recipe was not optimized to the turf grass or soil conditions at Bavarian Hills. Among some other things, I would have liked to have toyed with more bacterial-dominant and fungal-dominant recipes, and also taken some core samples both at the beginning and end of the season.
That being said, I felt some confidence in November when course superintendent Jim Dornish outright stated in a board meeting that one could see the difference on the sod farm. I had noticed something similar, but before Jim’s comments I wondered if I was too biased to be objective. The treated area simply looked healthier.
As I am writing this, I have a batch of compost tea brewing, destined to be sprayed onto my house plants and garden beds in the morning. Then, it’s off to St. Marys where I hope to actually play some golf at Bavarian Hills; for once.
Travis Lesser is an Entrepreneurship Instructor at Penn State University, and is also the Owner and Founder of Spring Mill Solutions.