Golfing Green on the Seacoast

blade of grass

ecstaticist @ flickr

At the Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club in North Hampton, maintaining grass is a science. And that’s a very good thing. Did you know there are six golf courses in just the Winnicut River watershed alone?  And that’s just one small portion of the estuary.

It should come as no surprise that fertilizer is considered one of the major sources of nitrogen pollution. Homeowners – along with farmers – are the biggest users of fertilizer in the watershed. Fertilizer is also used on athletic fields and golf courses.

As Waterkeeper, part of my job is to educate people on how they, as individuals, can help protect the Great Bay estuary from pollution. As documented in PREP’s 2013 State of the Estuaries report, there are increasing nitrogen concentrations in Great Bay. The loss of eelgrass – the cornerstone of the Great Bay ecosystem – is a major cause of concern. Reducing sources of nitrogen pollution – along with other pollutants such as pesticides – is essential to improving water quality.

Sagamore-Hampton is setting an example for other golf courses and the rest of us to follow. According to Richard Luff, President and co-owner, “The Golf Club has been naturally maintained since its inception in the early 60’s, perfecting a maintenance program that is nearly 90% independent of chemically-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.”

On the greens, the weeds are hand-picked instead of using herbicides.  On the fairways they cultivate multiple grass species as opposed to a mono culture.  This creates a patchwork of grass species that are less susceptible to disease, drought, and pests.  They also allow clover, a nitrogen fixing plant, to grow freely on the fairways, tees, and in the rough.  When fertilizer is applied they only use an organic, slow release nitrogen mix that is up to 70-90 percent water insoluble.    As Richard noted, the key to low input course management is often waiting and seeing, not over reacting and treating.

Last year, the Club decided to go one step further and join the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. Audubon provides information to help golf course personnel with the key environmental components including chemical use reduction, water quality management and conservation, wildlife and habitat management, and outreach and education. Audubon’s real goal is to make us better stewards of our natural resources. As noted in their program statement, “The strongest part of the certification process is that it forces us to rethink our methods and manner of conducting business. It challenges our “status quo” by directing our thoughts and actions toward environmental awareness and changes our definitions of responsibility.”

To qualify for the program, the club had to initiate a comprehensive water quality monitoring program that looked at physical parameters, nutrients, and the presence of macro invertebrates. With the certification process now complete, the club is required to conduct periodic water quality testing. I’ll be working with the UNH Sea Grant Citizen Research Volunteer (CRV) program to implement testing three times a year.

If you play golf, I highly encourage you to check out the course and learn more about their environmental practices (like CLF, they also are a member of the Green Alliance). And if you are a homeowner and would like to reduce your impacts through better management practices, you can read my previous blog on Lawn Tips for a Healthy Great Bay. You can also read about New Castle’s Lawn to Lobsters program that is designed to assist homeowners in managing their properties.

For more information about the Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper and my work to protect the Great Bay estuary, visit: You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.



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