About the Science of the Green Initiative
Recently, the Science of the Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota, in partnership with the United States Golf Association (USGA), collected data on golf pace of play to examine the impacts of green speed on pace of play at seven golf courses of differing characteristics around the United States. The implications of the data collected, however, are far greater than just measuring the time each player spent on the putting greens; the results have additional value regarding golf facility sustainability and productivity.
Golfers in the study received a small GPS device to hold in their pocket for their round. Each GPS device captured the player’s latitude, longitude, and speed every five seconds. This data then created a GPS “track” of how that player used the golf course for that round (Image 1).
Because thousands of golfers participated, the results provide profound insights on the traffic patterns and flows of a golf course. Utilizing the USGA’s new software, the Resource Management Tool, the collected data was used to generate a “heat map” (Image 2) of the University of Minnesota Les Bolstad Golf Course (and the other courses that participated in the study). High traffic areas are shown in red, while down the spectrum, low traffic areas are shown in blue. No-traffic areas (those without a color overlay) are locations where very few if any golfers visited during their round.
This green speed and pace of play data has significant implications for economic, environmental, and social sustainability of golf course management. The GPS golfer data collected gives golf facilities an overview of how their course is used. This process revealed high traffic areas that may benefit from adjustments in turf management. For instance, from an economic perspective, turf species with greater tolerance for traffic could be substituted in those spaces to prevent poor turf health and playing conditions.
The results also exposed areas with very little or no traffic that do not require continual maintenance. These low/no-traffic areas could be utilized for other uses while not negatively affecting player enjoyment, and potentially add value and community support of the golf facility. Examples of enhanced uses include pollinator habitat (Image 3 and 4) for pollination and species conservation, rain gardens for capturing stormwater, gardens for use in the food and beverage operation, or a turfgrass nursery (to name a few).
On average, the area of a golf facility is 66% turfgrass that is managed for play. The other 34% of the space is often underutilized. Collecting data on the course provides the understanding to build in additional value and quite likely reduce golf course management costs. Integrating beneficial land uses in these underutilized spaces provides opportunities to connect the golf course to the local community and environmental organizations. When more outside groups are engaged in the golf course, there is an increase in potential golfers, so in part, growing pollinator gardens on golf courses equates to growing the game. Additionally, this is not a zero-sum game, this is a win-win situation. There is no conflict between the recreational experience and no-play area utilization. In fact, the golfer enjoyment may even increase when these areas are designed successfully.
When extrapolating these ideas to an industry level, optimizing underutilized areas on golf courses transforms the golf industry and its relationship to the environment and society. In a time where significant challenges in golf participation are looming, engaging non-golfers in a discussion of the benefits of golf courses in their communities engages new golfers and in turn grows the game.
By Parker Anderson, Research Scientist, Science of the Green Initiative, University of Minnesota
In May of 2017, to address the challenges the golf industry faces, the United States Golf Association laid out their “Road Map to 2025” which sets the goals of improving golfer satisfaction by 20% while reducing critical resource consumption by 25% by 2025 (USGA, 2017b). Golf industry trends indicate that more golf courses are closing than are being opened, management costs are increasing, participation rates are flat or declining, and consumer behavior is changing (Licata and Tiger, 2010; NGF, 2017). It is critically important for golf course managers to identify factors that prevent golfers from participating in the game (Petrick, 2001). To achieve solutions to these challenges, understanding the systems and flows of a golf course, how resources are used, how golfers navigate and play the course, and how the golf course interacts with the environment, is vital.
The Science of the Green Initiative’s Green Speed and Pace of Play study is exploring how golf course conditions such as green speed impact pace of play, round times, and player experience. Pace of play and golf course conditions are key variables in the success of the golf industry (USGA, 2017a). Slow pace of play and long round times are often cited as deterrents for potential participants and create inefficiencies in the throughput of a golf course, therefore not maximizing the facility’s revenue potential (Tiger and Salzer, 2004; USGA, 2017a).
Golf facility managers are pressured to increase green speeds, but these faster greens can result in decreased turfgrass health, higher maintenance costs, decreased player enjoyment, and potentially longer round times (Danneberger, 1993; Doak and Crosby, 2017; McCarty, 2001; Sachs and Luff, 2002). Anecdotally, it is a common belief that faster green speeds result in slower pace of play, potentially because of the increased putting difficulty of fast greens or the longer amount of time a ball rolls on a faster green. If this is true, pressure placed on the superintendent to provide faster green speeds does not align with the success of a golf facility and the enjoyment of the golfer. If slow play is a factor in influencing participation, substantial effort needs to be placed in maximizing the throughput of a facility and decreasing the waiting times of golfers (Tiger and Salzer, 2004).
We hypothesized that there is a positive correlation between green speed and pace of play; as greens are managed to play faster, the time it takes to play a round of golf also increases. Therefore, our objectives were to: 1) test the pace of play (time required per player per green) against the green speed (measured by Stimpmeter in feet; see Figure 1) and 2) examine how significant green speed is in impacting pace of play. The green speeds were measured using Stimpmeter readings (Figure 2) and the pace of play was measured using GPS data (Figure 3) of time spent on each putting green for each player throughout a round of golf. Seven golf course study sites around the United States were selected to represent a cross-section of the industry with a variety of golf course characteristics (i.e. public, private, regional differentiation, etc.).
Green speed was shown to be statistically significant in impacting pace of play. An increase of one foot in Stimpmeter reading resulted in an increase of 6.39 seconds per green per player. This one foot increase equates to an increase in total round time of a foursome of 7.67 minutes. In some instances, the increase in time spent per player per green resulted in an increase of as much as 30 minutes per round for a one foot increase in green speed (25 seconds per player per green). Overall, playing experience ratings decreased as green speeds increased. This decrease, although statistically significant, was small.
In conclusion, we found that faster greens equate to longer round times. The strength of this relationship, however, is not as substantial as we had hypothesized. More research needs to be conducted in order to understand the relationship between pace of play and the many variables that impact round times. We are preparing a research paper to publish these and other results. For more information and to keep updated on the project visit scienceofthegreen.umn.edu/current-projects/green-speed-pace-play.
The Science of the Green Initiative would like to thank the organizations and facilities that participated in the 2016-2017 USGA/UMN Green Speed – Pace of Play Study as well as our research partner, the United States Golf Association. We urge and welcome you to continue this conversation. Please connect with us via Twitter at @ScienceGreenUMN, by email at mailto:email@example.com, or on our website scienceofthegreen.umn.edu.
Danneberger, Dr. T. Karl. Turfgrass Ecology & Management; Climate, Ecosystems, Predators, Soils. OH. Franzak & Foster, 1993. Print.
Doak, T., and B. Crosby. Tom Doak’s Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture. Traverse City, MI: Renaissance Golf Publishing. 2017. Print.
Licata, Jane W., and Andrew W. Tiger. "Revenue Management in the Golf Industry: Focus on Throughput and Consumer Benefits." Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management 19.5 (2010): 480-502.
McCarty, L.B. Best Golf Course Management Practices. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001. Print.
National Golf Foundation. “Golf Participation in the U.S.: 2017 Edition”, published: 2017, website, accessed: February 2017, <http://www.ngf.org/>.
Petrick, J. “Analysis of Golfer Motivations and Constraints by Experience Use History”. Journal of Leisure Research. 2001, vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 56-70.
Sachs, Paul D. and Richard T. Luff. Ecological Golf Course Management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Print.
Tiger, Andrew A., and Dave Salzer. "Daily play at a golf course: Using spreadsheet simulation to identify system constraints." INFORMS Transactions on Education 4.2 (2004): 28-35.
USGA, “Facility Survey Results”, United States Golf Association, accessed: May 2017(a). Digital file.
USGA, “North American Golf Innovation Symposium”, United States Golf Association, published: March 2017, website, accessed: June 2017(b). Website <http://www.usga.org/serving-the-game/nagis-2017.html>.
Exploring the Natural Capital Value of Golf Courses
If you randomly ask someone on a city street to describe the game of golf, odds are good that even someone unfamiliar with the nuances of the game will be able to describe what a golf course looks like—the expansive and predominantly green open space on which the sport is played.
That landscape, like all managed green spaces in cities, has a range of impacts on the surrounding environment. And while it may come as a surprise to some members of the environmental community, leaders in the golf industry are taking serious steps to better understand those impacts and how to make golf and the courses on which it is played more sustainable.
Kimberly Erusha from the United States Golf Association (USGA) is one of those leaders and key partners working on a new collaboration that formed earlier this year. USGA joined with researchers affiliated with the Natural Capital Project’s Livable Cities program based at the Institute on the Environment led by Eric Lonsdorf and with the University of Minnesota’s Science of the Green Initiative led by Brian Horgan.
“The USGA has a decades-long history supporting turfgrass and environmental research. Although it may not have been under the current terminology of natural capital or ecosystem services, the work has focused on continually improving the value of golf courses within communities,” explains Erusha. The USGA has, for example, researched the impact of golf courses on ground and surface water quality and has worked with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to evaluate golf course wildlife habitat for birds, invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians.
The new collaboration or Community Value of Golf Courses Project launched to help the golf industry understand the range of possible values and impacts that golf courses as natural capital provide to both golf facility owners and operators and the surrounding community.
In May of 2017, Kelly Uhrich, presented her capstone project titled “The University of Minnesota Les Bolstad Golf Park”. The presentation represented the culmination of her work towards a masters degree in landscape architecture. The project envisioned an alternative future for the University of Minnesota Les Bolstad Golf Course, considered an underutilized university asset in Kelly’s opinion. The “golf park” designed additional uses and values into the business of the golf course. Things like pollinator habitat, wetland restoration, community park space, educational opportunities, and gathering spaces were all tied into the golf course so that a golfer could still have a great golfing experience while also allowing for the golf course to engage a variety of other stakeholders and users, and therefore increase the value that space provides to the community. Enjoy the VIDEO.
As a significant educational resource to the university, the University of Minnesota Les Bolstad Golf Course has become the first GolfLABSM site in the country. The Science of the Green Initiative ® has begun utilizing this historic golf facility to demonstrate how a golf course can become a laboratory for sustainability; focusing on engaging the community, achieving profitable finances, and producing a net positive environmental impact.
Visit the Science of the Green GolfLAB page.
University of Minnesota Les Bolstad Golf Course
Image: Parker Anderson
It is critically important, and at the heart of what it means to be a sustainable golf course, to provide a healthy environment for human and non-human inhabitants of the course. Developing a strategy for protecting pollinators must be addressed. Reducing, and potentially eliminating, the need for chemical applications on the course will often benefit pollinators. Planning a planting plan that addresses the flowering times of plants will provide pollinators with forage year round. Additionally, keeping honeybees on a golf course is a great opportunity for a mutually benefitial relationship. Honeybees provide valuable pollination services (a significant societal value) as well as provide the valuable resource of honey. In addition to these services, honeybees are a great educational tool. People are curious about honeybees and often engage in environmental stewardship based on their peaked interest in protecting pollinators.
UMN Bee Lab
Bees and Golf in the News
An increasingly common site:
Image: Parker Anderson
Historically the golf industry has fought against the incorporation of sustainability goals into their management strategies for fear of short-term costs and risks to quality of play. This resistance is often unfounded because environmental sustainability and economic profitability in the golf industry are not mutually exclusive.
Using the definition of sustainable golf that is built around care for the earth, care for the people, and fair share, there appears to be significant opportunity for the creation of shared value. The golf industry stands at a critical juncture; incorporation, exploration, and development of these opportunities for shared value appear as a strong chance for fostering the next generation of committed, responsible golfers and mitigating the effects of climate change on the game. Holistic and long-term considerations in golf course management decisions offer an exciting, fruitful future for the sport of golf. The Science of the Green Initiative is devoted to developing research projects that explore and create innovative strategies to guide the industry towards this sustainable future.
By Parker Anderson, Research Scientist
Sustainable Golf Definition
In order to achieve sustainability in the golf industry it is important to create a working definition of sustainable golf around which to frame specific research and recommendations for the industry. As an industry with a wide range of stakeholders and influences, the golf industry requires a holistic definition of sustainability in order to capture the many facets of influence and impact. In this definition the ethics of permaculture are used as guiding parameters for defining sustainable golf.
The permaculture movement includes the integration of three main tenets (see above diagram):
- Care for the Earth: the ecological and environmental benefits and implications of incorporating potential multi-use spaces and native ecosystems in golf courses
- Care for the People: the individual and communal benefits of restorative green space offered by golf courses
- Fair Share: an investigation of the natural capital of a golf course and the societal values associated with that resource as well as possible trade-offs in economic growth and sustainability
Sustainable golf occurs at the intersection of these three tenets.
By Parker Anderson, Research Scientist
Science of the Green Initiative
The Turfgrass Science Research Lab’s Science of the Green Initiative, a research partnership between the University of Minnesota and the United States Golf Association, just completed its pilot of a nation-wide study on the impact of course conditions on pace of play. This portion of the study focuses on the variable of green speed. Green speeds not only impact player experience but also the maintenance practices of course superintendents. The pilot study was conducted at the Philadelphia Cricket Club Militia Hill Course just outside of Philadelphia, PA. A University of Minnesota Turfgrass Researcher worked with the host superintendent to adjust the speed of the greens (Image 1) in three consecutive weeks while maintaining the rest of the course consistent with the standards of their facility. Golfers participating in the study were given GPS loggers (Image 2) to carry in their pocket. The GPS loggers captured time and location of each golfer during their round. The GPS loggers were then collected at the end of the round and the data analyzed. The result for each golfer is a “track” of their path throughout their round (Image 3). Researchers can now analyze these tracks and compare the tracks from week to week focusing on the player’s interaction with the green. Future study sites for this project will be in Minnesota, Northern California, the Carolinas, and Philadelphia.
Image 1: Militia Hill Course Superintendent Curtis Harder checks green firmness, green moisture content, and green speed. (Photo: Parker Anderson)
Image 2: GPS logger, about the size of a flash drive, used to capture data during a round of golf. A golfer will receive a GPS logger on the first tee, keep it in their pocket for the round, and turn it in after their round. (Photo courtesy of the United States Golf Association)
Image 3: A visual representation of the data, or an individual golfer’s “track”, resulting from using a GPS logger for a round of golf. (Image courtesy of Google Earth)