Old South Golf Links
Executive summary (English & local language)
In an area densely populated with some of the most spectacular private, semi-private and resort courses in the United States, Old South Golf Links had a certain level to live up to when it was built. At the opening ceremonies in 1992, award-winning architect, Clyde Johnston, predicted that this seeming anomaly—a “public” course in the high-end golf mecca of Hilton Head Island—would become a favorite of all golfers, with or without memberships at private clubs. The facility has fulfilled that prediction.
Though Old South has struggled economically since the world economy shift started in 2001, its staff has steadfastly fulfilled the mission of the organization, “…to provide the ultimate golf experience for which our guests will return.” The team’s dedication to the “hometown course” has also built a culture of “family” among the staff. Old South has a solid element of sustainable community and social engagement, and works daily to improve operational efficiencies and increase environmental stewardship to optimize resources. The operations and accounting staff keeps meticulous records of inputs, costs, etc., always reviewing the data for spikes or inconsistencies that may affect environmental and economic costs.
Old South is consistently decreasing water use and energy consumption each year, using a combination of technology and grass roots, “common sense”, proactive and preventative practices. It is engaged in many programs to benefit the community, and is often recognized as the locals’ golf course: locally owned, locally designed and locally operated. Even when the club faces challenges, the team holds its head high with pride in how Old South contributes to the comprehensive community (economy, society and environment), and assures its stakeholders that it will continue to provide a high value experience for all, that can make an impact locally and globally.
“I had no idea it was this beautiful.” That’s the reaction Head Professional, Jim Uremovich, hears most often from golfers who’ve just played Old South Golf Links for the first time. Old South Golf Links’ design optimizes its many natural landscape variations and harmonizes intricately with the complex surrounding ecosystem. The course is adjacent to tidal marshes as well as the Calibogue Sound that provide breathtaking views, but the design also incorporates the fresh and brackish water elements in its filtering and irrigation processes. Hole designs feature wide open fairways, as well as tight shots to navigate lush vegetation and waterways. Not only do these variations require strategic play, but provide rich habitat for wildlife. Course views also include a patch of adjacent farm land that is still used for corn and other crops that attract wild turkey, contributing to a diverse multi-sensory experience for the golfer.
Beaufort County, SC has stringent environmental preservation codes for land development. Initial design and development prioritized the natural environment; current operations have a strong foundation to maintain and build on.
As you take the path around the pond to the first tee, there is a floating green for golfers to pitch to in the pond. However, it is almost always occupied by an unofficial “welcome ambassador” to the course, a sunning alligator. The property is also home to a healthy population of wood storks, alligators, white ibis, white-tailed deer, cormorants, raccoons, owls, egrets, fox squirrels and more. Wildflowers have been planted in wetland areas to promote bee pollination, and the course has future plans for additional wildflower plantings in the upcoming season in locations to also provide aesthetic value. One can fully immerse in nature during a visit to Old South Golf Links, as there is only a small section of homes on the course, but more than 100 acres of native woodlands, wetlands and open water features in addition to the 80 acres of maintained area of play. No fragmentation of habitat has occurred since the course was built in 1991.
Bermuda turf grass (cynodon transvaalensis) is the choice grass for Old South Golf Links which is adequate for the region due to its climate hardiness, tolerance for effluent and brackish water, and its ability to maintain healthy conditions with fewer inputs than other grass varieties. The club´s strategy to maintain the original turfgrass planted, along with the use of native vegetation has helped the course maintain a natural synergy with its surroundings. The course only over seeds its tees and greens; other areas are allowed to go off-color during the winter months to avoid unnecessary inputs. Evapotranspiration rates and “as needed” considerations determine fertilizer application for a green color that is visually pleasing, but not excessively lush.
The Live Oak is the signature tree of the Lowcountry region. Many Live Oaks were identified during the course design process, protected during construction, and ongoing maintenance efforts limit agronomic inputs near them. A conservation easement surrounds a majority of the property, set in place by the original owners, the Ulmer brothers, allowing indefinite preservation of the natural surroundings. Clyde Johnston, the course architect said, “The conservation easement protects invaluable assets for guests, and helps sustain our natural and human communities. I think the owners saw the golfers enjoying themselves, and didn’t want to risk ruining that value.” Another unique feature that celebrates local heritage is that the property was once home to transient Native American Indian campgrounds. A study on the area resulted in recovery of more than 30,000 artifacts; a report of the findings is on file with the State of South Carolina Department of History and Archives.
Old South Golf Links has been privileged with sufficient onsite water resources and no course irrigation relies on potable water. The facility’s Superintendent and accounting department maintain impressive and detailed records of water use, dating back to 1991 when the course opened. This documentation provides valuable insights to plan strategies, optimize resources and reduce risk associated with regulations and other compliance issues.
The course is irrigated by water collected in its ponds and lakes that are supplied by a combination of surface water, runoff and groundwater. However, the clubhouse and maintenance buildings use potable water provided by Beaufort Jasper Water Authority. Although water for irrigation is readily available to the course, the staff continues efforts to decrease consumption. There has been an impressive reduction of at least one million gallons of water applied to the course per year since 2010.
The property has an interconnected system of lakes and ponds that provide all irrigation to the course via a Rainbird VFD pump system that was purchased used in 2015 from a neighboring golf facility. Purchasing the pre-owned unit provided tremendous cost savings for the facility and the pump has 16-20 years of performance capability remaining. The VFD pump is computer controlled and programmable to consider rainfall, evapotranspiration rates and other weather conditions; it is serviced and the sprinkler heads re-calibrated and checked annually. The facility has no vegetation that requires excessive water, and the tees, fairways and roughs are aerified and verticut on an as-needed basis only. All watering takes place in the evenings and overnight to optimize absorption. Irrigation practices are adjusted seasonally based on daylight hours, soil probe and moisture meter readings, the weather, monthly evapotranspiration rates and turf needs. John Cooler, Superintendent, and part of the Old South team for more than 23 years, has kept a detailed record of rain days and inches, as well as frost days per month since 2002, allowing for precise forecasting of resource needs and developing sustainable management strategies.
With the ongoing need to wash down equipment while prioritizing water conservation, Old South’s maintenance staff has implemented an innovative process to first blow clippings and debris from equipment before rinsing it with water; hence, reducing water consumption. The clubhouse and maintenance buildings have low-flow urinals, and a recently purchased dishwasher in the clubhouse kitchen is a water saving model. As efforts to decrease the quantity of fertilizer and other additives to the turf continue, associated water reduction is also predicted.
The staff at Old South Golf Links is always seeking ways to do more with less. Scott Adams, GM is currently researching feasible solar power opportunities for the facility, but until alternative sources can be secured, the facility implements as many conservation practices as possible to reduce energy consumption. Additionally, the accounting department maintains detailed records to accurately monitor various facility areas’ energy consumption.
The facility currently operates on electric power as well as propane gas in the clubhouse kitchen. Energy consumption for irrigation has reduced since March 2015 when the Rainbird VFD pump system was installed; the improved technology has drastically reduced the kilowatt of power used per gallon pumped.
Solar energy options are currently being researched by Scott Adams, GM. He is also working with Palmetto Electric, the local energy utility, to determine the technology upgrades needed to charge carts during off peak hours.
As light bulbs need replacing, LED’s that use only 9 kilowatts per hour are installed versus CFL’s that consume 65 kilowatts per hour. To date, 50% of clubhouse lighting is with LED bulbs. The heating and air conditioning systems are serviced every six months to optimize performance. While adding insulation to the clubhouse attic is a future project for the facility, it recently added four exhaust fans with thermostat control, as well as door dividers to reduce heat. Timers and motion sensors reduce energy use in multiple areas of the facility; the cart barn area is open on three of four sides for natural air flow and ventilation. Additionally, skylights provide natural lighting in the office building as well as the course restroom and storage space in the clubhouse attic.
One of the many attributes of the Old South facility is its attention to organization and cleanliness. All areas of the facility are neat with clearly labeled inventory for optimal familiarity with product availability. This simple practice lends to more efficient processes because of easier access to equipment parts, supplies and more, as well as an increased understanding of needs for optimal procurement decision making. The facility’s location dictates unavoidable travel miles for many supplies and products. While produce, food and service needs can often be met by local suppliers, the majority of sourcing is from regional and national suppliers.
The facility has a Green Purchasing Policy, and procures most products, such as fertilizers, pesticides, sand and fuel, and facility services from local sources. Food and beverage needs are met by local suppliers when possible. However, most retail offerings in the pro shop as well as maintenance equipment must come from many miles away from the facility.
Products are purchased in bulk when possible to reduce costs and packaging. However, the locally owned, locally designed and locally operated facility has only 18 holes of golf, making economy of scale negotiating a challenge. The facility does have ample storage area for housing nonperishable items should large quantity purchases allow for a high value cost savings opportunities.
Priority considerations for the chosen Bermuda turfgrass at Old South include resiliency to drought, shade, disease and weeds. Multiple strategies are used to minimize course inputs, including spot spraying, hand pulling of weeds, and deliberate timing of turf scouting for pest indicators. The weather is closely monitored and evaluated when scheduling application of products to increase effectiveness and reduce runoff. Scott Adams, GM insists that operations focus on continual improvement and preventative efforts to reduce reactive practices. Included in these guiding principles is an ongoing effort to increase application of organic and reduce inorganic inputs. The Superintendent’s detailed records show reductions in those applications from 2014 to 2015. Additionally, maintenance practices follow a specific plan for increased buffer and no spray zones in more environmentally sensitive areas. Large posters with images of pest creatures and vegetation are posted in the break room to help staff identify and best address pest challenges. A future project for the course is to resurface the greens in order to lower all chemical use on those areas.
Old South Golf Links has a solid waste diversion program. It has single stream recycling for glass, plastic, aluminum, paper and cardboard, but also designates items such as tires, pallets, waste cooking oil, equipment parts and more for reuse or repurposing. It reuses grass clippings, sand, cores and turf, and is always looking for ways to reduce waste overall. The well managed waste strategies help eliminate unsightly pile up of unusable materials and equipment, and promotes a clean, organized work environment.
The culture among the staff at Old South is one of loyalty and teamwork for the good of each other and the organization. Its commitment to this focus places safety for the natural and human environments as a high priority. The facility’s emergency action plan, evacuation map, fire prevention and hazardous materials policies are prominently displayed in the staff break room. Maintenance protocols and operations are closely monitored to ensure accuracy, safety and cleanliness, including strategically placed bi-lingual instructional signage to minimize mistakes. Additionally, floor mats with messages promoting “safety first” are in various locations throughout the maintenance building.
The facility visually monitors inflow, on-site, and outflow water quality on a weekly basis.
All water used on the golf course filters naturally through the surrounding property’s ecosystem. There are formal discharge agreements in place for water that is disposed of in a septic tank or into the sewer system (from the on course restroom, clubhouse and maintenance building). Water from the wash pad goes to a detention pond where nature takes care of filtering and cleaning.
Hazardous materials are securely stored in a designated building on an impervious surface pad to prevent leakage into the ground or storm water drains. Materials are organized to avoid misuse, and chemical and fuel spill absorption kits and emergency action instructions and supplies are readily accessible.
Old South’s chemical mix area is on asphalt, but not under cover. Therefore, the weather is closely monitored prior to mixing chemicals. All equipment is stored or repaired on impervious surface so any spills can be cleaned up without risk of leakage into the ground. The protocol for cleaning equipment entails an initial blowing of clippings and other debris before rinsing in the wash area. A filtration swale collects clippings and other leftovers washed from the equipment. Golf cart batteries have a closed fill system that eliminates spillage and waste.
The property’s diverse landscape features allowed the architect to create a unique experience for the golfer, but also to capitalize on various natural tools for pollution prevention. For example, an undisturbed patch of cattails in a creek of brackish water filters water as it enters and exits the property with the tidal shifts from the Calibogue Sound. Additionally, swales slow and direct run-off through appropriate drainage systems. Vegetative buffers along the banks of water bodies and the marsh areas blend with the course design and also help with pollution prevention. Minimization of product application is an ongoing strategic consideration, as well as irrigation schedules and monitoring for weather events to not coincide with product application; all lakebanks are pesticide-free zones.
Old South Golf Links, Southern Beaufort County’s “hometown course”, was designed by a local golf course architect; it is owned by locals (plus relatives and friends), and it is run by locals. With a strong focus on being part of the community, it has received multiple awards as the “favorite of locals”. The facility offers a reward program to encourage repeat play and loyalty, and maintains a well-stocked pro shop to help meet all a golfers’ needs. When asked about how the Old South facility impacts visitors, Clyde Johnston, the course architect said, “You get a very comfortable feeling there; just walk in the door and you feel like you belong.”
As the world economy started its drastic change in 2001, Old South had to make drastic changes to its budget and staff while maintaining the pristine conditions that golfers expected in an increasingly competitive industry. Although the organization is optimistic to improve its position of economic sustainability, the hard work and dedication of the staff has not wavered; their commitment is impressive and inspiring. Old South’s mission statement is posted in the welcome area of the clubhouse, referencing its cohesive “team” effort to provide experiences for which golfers will return; and they do. The team of 20 full time, 24 part time, and two seasonal employees includes four individuals that have been at Old South for more than 20 years and six for more than 15 years. Scott Adams, GM, references the group as “family”; and that loyalty and resiliency has paid off.
The leadership team participates regularly and earns continuing education credits through programs produced by local nonprofit organization Experience Green. Experience Green’s Sustainability in Golf program brings together leading experts to share insights on sustainable golf practices, expand the green network, offer resources and more. Additionally, Scott Adams, GM, is one of only 39 participants to complete the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s Environmental Management program with courses that focused on IPM Specialization, Golf Course Development Specialization, Employee Safety and Right-to-Know Specialization, Water Quality and Application Specialization, Storage, and Disposal and Recycling Specialization. Two staff members are licensed by the state for storage, application and disposal of insecticides; ongoing education is required to maintain those licenses. Leonard Zywick has been on the Old South team for 22 years and is a professionally trained irrigation specialist.
The sustainability working group is currently made up of Scott Adams, GM and John Cooler, Superintendent, with support by Joy Glover-Coe in the accounting department. As the facility advances its sustainability efforts, it hopes to expand staff engagement.
In addition to participating in the Sustainability in Golf initiatives of Experience Green, a local nonprofit organization that promotes sustainability, Old South Golf Links works closely with the Hilton Head Island Humane Society to help control the local cat population. Overpopulation of feral cats can impact the natural balance for healthy wildlife systems due to competition for food sources. Old South provides a safe environment for feral cat colonies, and provides some food supply and neuter/spay procedures; the platform indirectly promotes adoption of some cats. For 14 years, Old South has hosted the Palmetto Electric Million Dollar Shoot Out to benefit the Bright Ideas program that purchases school supplies for local school teachers. There is a three day live radio broadcast from the site during the event, as well as a Media Day for local media representatives to experience the golf course. Old South hopes to make the 2017 Million Dollar Shoot Out event a Zero Waste effort. It also supports Junior Golf by hosting a local program that is operated by the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center. The Professional Golfers Career College is just down the road, and Old South currently utilizes two interns from the college that could develop into full time hires.
Old South recently added Fling golf to its offerings to attract a new segment of visitors; this activity doesn’t require altering the course setup and one can play 18 holes in a shorter amount of time than a traditional round of golf. Regular farming of corn and other crops on a segment of the property promote continuation of traditional agricultural activities. There is rich history and heritage on the property, as a portion of the land was once home to transient Native American Indian campgrounds. A study on the area resulted in recovery of more than 30,000 artifacts and a report of the findings that is on file with the State of South Carolina Department of History and Archives.
The maintenance facility provides identification displays for dangerous and invasive snake species to aid staff in their removal from playing areas. With many stakeholders engaged in the leadership of the facility, the GM is working to increase communication cross departmentally on various platforms to increase support of sustainable practices.
Yardage guides from the pro shop and tee signs assist golfers with determining strategy for playing each hole. Bonnie Ridgely, Merchandise Manager and Marketing Coordinator ensures that the Old South website provides a wealth of information about the facility to the prospective visitor, as well as current information about events, rewards and more. The well-designed site includes the course layout with yardage and slope/rating information for the five tee box options. There is an engaging virtual tour of the facility posted on the site that showcases the breathtaking beauty of the course and environment, with aerial views of the property and golf holes, insights on play strategy, detailed information about the course, clubhouse and pro shop offerings, and emphasizes the friendliness of the course to players of all skill levels.
- Awareness Raising Materials
- Certification Report
- Emergency Incident Plan
- Environmental Data
- Environmental Policy
- Internal Reports
Old South Golf Links continues to evolve in its operation methods to accommodate for internal and external factors which affect its performance and its journey to sustainability. Even when it experiences major setbacks, the team remains steadfast to providing an exceptional value to its stakeholders, prioritizing environmental stewardship and exploring innovative sustainable golf practices to increase efficiency and reduce resource consumption. This commitment proves that they can do well by doing things right.
- The facility has decreased water use by at least one million gallons per year since 2010
- Recent investment in a pre-owned but high performing Rainbird VFD pump is reducing energy use
- There are detailed records of weather conditions by the day and resource consumption by the month dating back to 1991
- Course design utilizes the diverse natural landscape to aid sustainable maintenance practices and provide a memorable experience to visitors
- All areas of the facility are exceptionally clean and organized
- A culture of dedication and “family” exists among the staff, boasting four employees with a 20+ year tenure and six at 15+ years with the organization