If you watched any of last weekend’s U.S. Open golf tournament at the famed Pinehurst No. 2, you witnessed history. Not because of Martin Kaymer’s eight-shot win, or even because both men and women are playing the same venue in back-to-back weeks (although that is a historical record). History was made because, for once, a major championship venue focused more on environmental sustainability than on aesthetics. Representing a true philosophical shift in management, Pinehurst is leading championship golf courses to think of environmental stewardship.

Follow the numbers:

• Twenty-six acres of managed turf removed.

• Number of irrigation heads reduced from 1,150 to 450.

• Water usage reduced from 55 million gallons to 15 million gallons.

This event was about sustainability and the long-term future of golf. Not every golf facility can do exactly what Pinehurst did, but this was a good start to a much-needed discussion.

Golf courses need a sustainable business and agronomic paradigm shift that provides long-term environmental benefits to the communities and ecosystems where they are located. This change must start at the industry’s very foundation — the physical land on which the game is played. With virtually no new courses being sited nationwide, a growing focus is on the renovation of existing facilities to address environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic viability.

The golf industry needs a Pinehurst of the north, because what works for a golf course in North Carolina will not necessarily translate to golf courses in the Upper Midwest or the northeastern U.S. We see an opportunity here.

While the effort is still in the planning process, the University of Minnesota plans to transform its Les Bolstad Golf Course into a living laboratory to conduct research that defines core principles, integrates science and advances sustainability goals of environmental stewardship through innovation. In other words, this initiative — known as Science of (the) Green — is about renovating a golf course that culturally, philosophically, practically and conceptually will lead golf into the future through research using the full assets of a land-grant university.

The Science of (the) Green initiative will be successful when golf courses have a blueprint and innovative solutions that make each property a community asset while using fewer resources, enhancing the natural environment and recharging aquifers.

What was witnessed on television this past weekend was a dramatic change from the usual lush golf courses we have come to expect. The University of Minnesota embraces the challenges ahead for the golf industry and, through its leadership, will define innovative solutions that yield agronomic, economic and environmental sustainability.

 

Brian Horgan, of St. Paul, is a professor at the University of Minnesota.