P.G.A National Resort & Spa

GEO Certified® 04/2015
Palm Beach Gardens,
Florida, United States
Telephone: 561.627.1883
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Executive summary (English & local language)

The Champion golf course at PGA National Resort & Spa lies in the southeastern corner of subtropical Florida. The course’s many ponds and wetlands with associated uplands are directly connected to the Loxahatchee Slough – the headwaters of the National Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee River that feeds the Florida Everglades, a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. Lush, flowering plants, abundant birds, and reptiles of every size are found at every turn of PGA National. The golf team plans to improve guest interactions with nature by planting gardens that attract wildlife.
The turfgrass cultural practices at The Champion course are stellar. The excellent firm and fast playing conditions are created from a combination of high mowing height and minimal watering. Numerous sustainable benefits such as low inputs, reduced runoff, and low disease and pest pressure are built on the foundation of this turf management program.
While PGA National uses surface water for irrigation, the course uses less than half of the volume of water of the average US golf course. The course lies in a nexus of plentiful surface drainage that comes from neighboring communities. Regular reviews by water regulatory agencies confirm that switching to treated waste water for ‘disposal’ as irrigation could potentially upend the current limited watering program and negatively affect the sensitive river downstream.
Energy reduction at PGA National has been accomplished through installing pump station variable frequency drives, HVAC systems with multiple set points, and lighting updates. Diversification of energy sources beyond fossil fuels appears to be a more distant goal as these sources of energy are cheap and plentiful in Florida.
PGA National earns high marks for conservation, reuse and recycling of turf inputs and relying primarily on local and regional Florida suppliers. Recycling and reuse are also easy choices in the clubhouse, but helping guests and staff choose the recycling bin over the refuse bin remains the biggest challenge.
Pollution prevention and control measures are taken seriously at PGA National. Multiple best practices, starting with reducing the use of hazardous materials, then putting protections in place, and finally monitoring for any releases into on- and off-site water bodies, makes for an excellent ‘treatment train’ of pollution control.
With a focused sustainability manager on staff and a varied set of community points of interaction, PGA National has a solid community program. Future efforts to reach out to the community could include nature and sustainability as points of interest which may appeal to more diverse members of the community.

Nature

The ponds, wetlands, and out-of-play uplands at PGA National are directly connected to the Loxahatchee Slough – the headwaters of the National Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee River and then to the Everglades. I enjoyed seeing orchids and airplants, alligators and numerous shorebirds during my visit. With an abundance of well-managed rough and ponds, wildlife are plentiful here. The team is excited about improving opportunities for golfer interactions with nature by planting gardens that attract wildlife.

Bald eagles and sandhill cranes have been documented and occasionally nest on site. There are waterfowl surveys conducted along PGA National’s ponds and wetlands by the Northern Palm Beach Improvement District.

While the property itself does not have any special designations, PGA National is alongside the >12,000-acre Loxahatchee Slough that has been recently restored. The >40 acres of ponds, wetlands and woodlands are ecologically connected to this nationally recognized important headwater.

The greens at PGA National are grassed with TifEagle Bermudagrass and the other playing surfaces with Celebration Bermudagrass. These warm-season cultivars are excellent for the climate and soil conditions and are particularly well suited to the management philosophy promoting quality, fast playing conditions over lush ‘greenness’. I was especially impressed with the superintendent’s culturing of healthy, deep-rooted turf by pushing the boundaries of a low watering regime.

The PGA National team is aware and respectful of the connection of the course’s waterways to the offsite Loxahatchee and then to the Everglades. Staff work closely with the South Florida Water Management District on management of water quality and quantity. I noticed many pond banks and out-of-play areas that have been converted to Florida native plantings of shrub and grasses. It was obvious that this has been an ongoing effort for some time. Aquatic and littoral shelf non-native plants are well monitored and managed, as this can be a problem in south Florida.

Water

PGA National is a positive contradiction of water use. Unlike most Florida golf courses that use treated wastewater as their irrigation source, PGA National uses surface water. The property lies in a low area that receives abundant surface runoff water from the neighboring community and therefore uses this as its sole source for irrigation. Regular reviews of this system result in no changes being made because switching to a treated wastewater source would increase the potential for negative downstream effects on water quality. In addition, PGA National uses less than half of the volume of water of the average US golf course.

The source for irrigation water was verified to be surface ponds that receive storm water from neighboring communities. While treated wastewater and wells are available water sources, neither of these are used because of the potential for negative impacts to downstream surface water and aquifers. The consumption of potable water is relatively low for a Clubhouse that serves 160,000 rounds a year, and this reflects several efficiency measures that have been put in place.

Measures for irrigation efficiency are well done. The turfgrasses have been recently replaced with better cultivars that require less inputs of water and fertilizer. The course is very well aerified (1-inch cores at 6-inches depth) and fairways are kept at more than 0.5-inch mowing height. Under this regime, firm and fast playing surfaces are maintained only through minimal watering – keeping the healthy turf just above a drought condition.

Reduction of water consumption is a focus at the Clubhouse through selection of low-flow appliances and fixtures. Maintenance of plumbing fixtures is a daily inspection item and no leaky or wasteful fixtures were observed during my visit.

Energy

While fossil-fuel sources of energy are relatively cheap and plentiful in Florida, PGA National has made efforts to reduce energy use. Lighting and HVAC systems have been a focus, with more energy-efficient appliances and fuel source diversification being excellent goals for the future.

At this time, all energy comes from fossil fuel sources. This consumption has been steady except for a rise in diesel which is most likely related to increased vehicle and equipment use for turfgrass conversion.

Alternative sources of energy, such as wind and solar, are available, but the cost of alternative energy versus fossil-fuel energy is still prohibitive to diversification in this part of the US. However, solar is attracting more attention in south Florida and capital costs for solar installations are slowly decreasing.

I noted that some lighting was converted to efficient CFL, likely some years ago and many have now been converted to even more efficient LED fixtures. I did not observe any incandescent lighting. Likewise, low-energy heating and air conditioning has also been installed. Variable frequency drives were installed on irrigation pumps which saved $18,000 per year in electrical energy consumption.

Supply Chain

PGA National earns high marks for conservation, reuse and recycling of turf inputs and relying primarily on local and regional Florida suppliers. The most challenging supply chain element is helping staff and golfers choose the recycling bin over the ‘landfill’ bin.

PGA National has recently instituted a targeted and comprehensive purchasing policy that focuses on supporting local and regional businesses, minimizing waste, and selecting suppliers with accredited manufacturing practices. Elements of this policy, such as prioritizing quality local suppliers, has been used for some time but now is more diverse.

Of the facility’s major suppliers, half are very local and the other half are regional. For suppliers that include natural resources such as sod and sand, this is an excellent local supply chain.

The cultural practices of very low watering and high mowing heights combined with the turfgrass conversion to TifEagle and Celebration create excellent conditions for minimizing inputs. Approximately 25% of fertilizer input is organic and 60% of pesticide application is spot treatment, which illustrate the focus on ‘less is more’ when it comes to managing turf at PGA National.

The reuse or recycling of course natural resources is superb at PGA National. Likewise, other wastes such as plastic jugs are also collected and recycled in a well-run program as I saw firsthand. For golfers, visitors, and staff, there are plenty of opportunities to choose to recycle. PGA National is beginning to communicate gently with golfers on waste minimization behaviors such as reusing beverage containers versus just buying and tossing plastic bottles.

Pollution Control

Pollution prevention and control measures are taken seriously at PGA National. The multiple practices, starting with reducing the use of hazardous materials, then putting protections in place, and monitoring for any releases into on and off site water bodies, makes for an excellent ‘treatment train’ of pollution control.

There is regular sampling and analysis of surface water both on and off site. The sampling is thorough and in place partially to protect the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River that drains into the Florida Everglades. These chemical and biological analyses administered by the Northern Palm Beach Improvement District has found no pollution impacts from PGA National.

Waste water generated from potable water use at PGA National as well as some individual drains in the maintenance facility are properly disposed of to the municipal treatment plant. All wash pad water, where mowers and all other equipment are cleaned, is treated through an on-site closed loop recycling unit.

PGA National appears to run a ‘tight ship’ at the maintenance facility. Potential hazardous materials appeared to be well contained and used containers were cleaned, stored and properly shipped out for recycling.

All potentially polluting activities appeared to be performed using Best Management Practices. Parts are washed using microbial cleaners as opposed to hazardous solvents. Used oil and batteries were well stored for proper disposal or recycling.

The low watering regime on this course helps to reduce unwanted movement of fertilizers and pesticides into golf ponds and off site. I noted that turfgrass closest to most ponds was slightly lighter green in color than the adjacent more upland rough, indicating that buffers are in use at PGA National.

Community

With a focused sustainability manager on staff and a varied set of community points of interaction, PGA National has a solid community program in place.

It is most notable that PGA National has a Sustainable Development Manager on staff. Training and education for staff and guests was verified firsthand.

A sustainability working group has been formed and helps make decisions on sustainability priorities and actions.

PGA National appears to be involved with its community on several levels. It supports numerous worldwide, national and state environmental and social causes through donating facilities and partial services. It interacts with surrounding neighbors through a monthly newsletter and works closely with the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District on water quality. The parking lot provides three electric vehicle charging stations that offer free charging for guests and members.

While culturally or historically significant resources are not known from the PGA National site, the entire property borders the Loxahatchee Slough on its western border. This headwater is a regionally significant water that drains to the Florida Everglades, an internationally significant subtropical wilderness.

Staff are trained and educated on sustainability topics regularly. There are also numerous reminders of sustainability action items posted on staff memo boards.

Sustainability events and actions are shared through press releases, local media, and website. There are brochures and postings in guest gathering areas at PGA National. There is also a plan to start a blog that may include articles on sustainability topics in addition to other golf-related topics.

Documentation Reviewed

Conclusion

Based on a detailed review of the On Course application and a comprehensive on-site review of the documents, facilities and the course, I recommend The Champion golf course at PGA National Resort & Spa to be GEO Certified.

Certification Highlights

Results of regular, comprehensive water quality sampling both on- and off-site support that the course is protective of the Loxahatchee River that drains into the Florida Everglades World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.
The stellar firm and fast playing conditions are created from a combination of high mowing height and minimal watering - less than half the irrigation volume of the average US golf course.
PGA National has achieved many sustainability goals through leadership of an on-staff sustainable development manager.
The maintenance team earn high marks for conservation, reuse and recycling of turf inputs and relying primarily on local and regional Florida suppliers.