The Sea Pines Resort

GEO Certified® 09/2015
Hilton Head,
South Carolina, United States
Telephone: 866-561-8802

Executive summary (English & local language)

Hilton Head Island is a unique coastal community in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, and is home to 22 golf courses. It has hosted the RBC Heritage PGA TOUR event at Harbour Town Golf Links in the Sea Pines Resort since 1969, when Arnold Palmer won the inaugural event. However, it’s a golf community like no other, and it all started with the vision of Charles Fraser and the development of Sea Pines. All design and development prioritizes the natural environment and places built structures as secondary to the beauty of the serene marshes, beach, lush tree canopy, wildlife and more. While environmental preservation has always been an Island-wide priority, leadership by the Sea Pines Resort is helping transform the community ethos from a preservation focus to long term sustainability. The Resort’s offerings include three 18 hole golf courses, 6 restaurants, a 60 room Inn, management of 425 homes and villas, a marina, and miles of beaches and bike trails. Sustainability efforts are championed by Tony Wartko, Director of Facilities Services, under the supervision of Cary Corbitt, VP of Golf and Operations, and with the strong support of Nick Keller, Safety and Sustainability Coordinator. Sea Pines’ founding principle of prioritizing the environment has guided golf course design and practices to harmonize with nature and provide many experiences for the golfer. However, since 2009 the Resort’s sustainable initiatives are gaining tremendous momentum and yielding measurable results.


The seamless blending of pristinely manicured golf courses with complex ecosystems grab and keep your attention, providing multi-sensory experiences for golfers and non-golfers alike. The winding lagoon system is home to shorebirds, alligators, fish, turtles and lush vegetation, offering beauty and habitat for many permanent and seasonal species. While there is a flurry of activity in the early morning to prepare for the day, by mid-day and into the evening, the courses become a serene and quiet respite for all ages of golfers, walkers, bird watchers, bike riders and fishermen.

A notable theme is connectivity of the human and natural environment. Everywhere you look is an example of how shared environments can succeed. The entire food chain exists in every lagoon, from the fierce alligator to the small, petite snowy egret. While there is interdependency for survival, there is a constant calm and peaceful ambience. And then, only a few steps away are clubhouses and restaurants with stellar service, delightful delicacies and every possible amenity for the golfer.

Initial development prioritized the natural environment; current operations have a strong foundation to maintain and build on.

Extensive areas for natural habitat were incorporated in the original master plan for Sea Pines and contribute to the design, challenge, and experience of each course. Lagoons and marshes with ecosystems wind through every course, alligators sun in the rough, two rookeries host snowy egrets and with more than 95 bird boxes, bluebirds and martins are seen often. It is almost fair to describe the golf courses as designated habitats.

Maintenance efforts have engaged environmentally sensitive practices even before the EPA was formed to regulate them.

The amount of maintained turf aligns with providing the appropriate playing experience for the Resort clientele. All golf holes are bordered by trees, containing all open, maintained space.

Celebration Bermuda is used due to its resiliency and compatibility for an extended warm season. It responds well to needs for maintenance, mowing heights and playability, and is suited to the soil constitution. Shade can be a challenge for the Resort with the many live oaks on the property; the Celebration species is also more shade tolerant.

The Resort regularly welcomes the local Audubon Society chapter that engages volunteers to conduct regular bird counts. In pursuit of a closed loop system, food waste and vegetative waste from maintenance efforts is mulched and/or composted and applied back on the property as appropriate. This practice diverts waste from the landfill, but also enhances soil structure to help prevent erosion, runoff and protect habitats and water bodies.

The Resort partnered with Experience Green, a local nonprofit organization, to host a Community Walk on the Ocean Course and beach in 2014. It included participants’ canine companions and a scavenger hunt to raise awareness about the positive contributions a golf course makes to the environment and the community. Stations included facts about wildlife and its habitat, buffers to protect water quality, a demonstration bee hive and more.


Sustainability of the Hilton Head Island community, environment and economy rely on water. While many assume that golf courses strain water resources, this is not so in the unique operation of Hilton Head Island, SC. Courses are a necessary sponge to absorb rainfall, prevent flooding, recharge the aquifer, and are a critical component for filtering wastewater for reuse. The Island was developed with a complex recycled water system that relies on man-made lagoons and golf courses.

The Resort’s golf courses are irrigated completely with treated effluent water, and its lagoon system links to the South Island Public Service District’s (PSD) treatment operation. The process is a “tertiary treatment,” which is aeration, clarification, and disinfection. The recycled water is used only for irrigation or is released back into monitored wetland areas.

All properties must be permitted by the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to use recycled water. The South Island PSD is mandated by the state to monitor the lagoon water quality daily.

The lagoon systems provide wildlife habitat and beauty, but also function to sustain water supply and water quality for all.

The water bodies throughout the three Resort golf courses blend recycled, fresh, brackish and salt water that connect to the Atlantic Ocean via the Calibogue Sound, the backdrop to the finishing hole of Harbour Town Golf Links. The impressive process works because the Resort prioritizes harmonizing human efforts with those of the natural environment.

Though using recycled water to irrigate all three golf courses, the Resort staff works continuously to reduce consumption, and there was a decrease from 2013 to 2014 at the clubhouses and for golf course irrigation.

Immediately following the 2015 RBC Heritage, the Harbour Town Golf Links installed a new irrigation system. Under the supervision of Cary Corbitt, VP of Golf and Operations, and the guidance of Jonathan Wright, Superintendent, and Ryan Dehlinger, Assistant Superintendent, an experienced team chose a state of the art system. Smith Turf and Irrigation, A.S. Altum and Associates, and McCurrach Golf worked closely with the Resort, start to finish. The project included new infrastructure to maximize water flow, a Flowtronex pump station with Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) technology and a Lynx Control System with individual head control. It also incorporates Toro Turf Guard wireless sensors to report volumetric moisture content of soil along with salinity and temperature. This system will also be installed as part of the Resort’s Ocean Course renovation 2016.

The staff is trained to immediately identify malfunctions with the irrigation system and inspects sprinkler heads daily. Preventive maintenance is scheduled regularly for pumps, and recalibration is performed quarterly. All meters are checked regularly and leaks are repaired immediately. The Resort facilities also have low flow and dual flush toilets.


The Sea Pines Resort is constantly in improvement mode. The Heron Point golf course was renovated in 2009, the Plantation Golf Club and LEED Certified Beach Club were completed in 2014, the new Harbour Town Golf Club was completed in 2015, and the Ocean Course will undergo a full renovation in 2016. Despite the added duties to oversee new projects, the staff continually looks for ways to reduce energy consumption.

The newly constructed Harbour Town Clubhouse was completed just prior to the 2015 RBC Heritage, and is approximately 50,000’ square. The design provides guests with a plush, but traditional Lowcountry ambience, yet includes advanced technology, including precision control of energy use. Temperatures can be programmed per room with wider ranges of fluctuation. The building has a partial Building Automation System, a TRANE Tracer system, and hot water temperatures can be monitored and programmed. Insights from Facilities Director, Tony Wartko, dictated separating kitchen equipment components, placing condensers outside, away from the refrigerators, eliminating excess heat to the interior space. While the clubhouse has doubled in size, its energy efficiency is greatly improved.

The Harbour Town Golf Links’ new irrigation system will reduce resource consumption in many ways. The system includes a new Flowtronex pump station with Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) technology, as well as a Lynx Control System with individual head control. This will increase precision with less pumping, power, water and labor needed.

Additionally, in 2015, the Resort worked with Smith Turf and Irrigation on the investment of high performance, high efficiency Toro turf maintenance equipment. The decision to purchase 20 pieces of equipment considered capabilities and performance, but also technology that utilizes a hybrid of fuel and electric power. Many pieces include Toro’s Energy Smart design and technology, as well as XP options for increased precision and productivity, and decreased energy consumption.

2015 marked the sixth year in a row that the RBC Heritage was powered with 100 percent Green Power. Through Palmetto Electric Cooperative, Santee Cooper offers energy from clean, renewable energy sources including landfill biogas, solar power and wind power within South Carolina.

The Resort utilized a small amount of bio-fuels in 2014. From 2013 to 2014 it decreased petroleum and diesel use somewhat. Kilowatt hours increased in the same time frame due to the new, larger Plantation Golf Club.

As renovation projects are in process and completed, the staff plans to integrate direct solar power for some smaller projects. It is also exploring an onsite operation to convert used cooking oil to biodiesel that can be used in maintenance vehicles.

There is evidence throughout the property that every effort is being made to reduce energy consumption. All exterior and some interior lighting is on timers or sensors, and golf carts are charged during off peak hours when demand allows. Skylights provide natural light and ridge vents and garage doors increase ventilation in maintenance buildings. All buildings contain spray foam insulation and all light bulbs are being converted to LED’s. Mowing patterns and processes are assessed constantly to minimize labor, time and fuel use. Due to the warm climate, growth controllers are often applied to reduce mowing needs. Programmable thermostats reduce power use, and continuous monitoring of consumption data helps identify trends, poorly performing equipment and more.

Supply Chain

The Resort’s location automatically adds travel miles for supplies and products. While produce, food and service needs can often be met by local suppliers, the majority of sourcing is from national suppliers. While sourcing may have its limitations, the Resort is demonstrating stellar success with management of its outputs cross departmentally, even operating its Welcome Center as Zero Waste.

All Resort take-out food is packaged in Bottle Boxes. These take-out containers are made from recycled plastic bottles and can be recycled over and over again, a closed loop system that eliminates waste.

Accurate data records and tracking systems demonstrate the value and business case for sustainability for the Resort. i2recycle, a local waste solutions company, works closely with the Resort on innovative pilot projects, employee training, as well as handling ongoing waste management needs and tracking. i2recycle’s detailed records validate the exceptional return on investment for recycling alone. All entities collectively diverted 90 tons of waste in 2011 and that increased to 400 tons in 2014. Regular reports detail weights, volumes, commodity rates and more per item, supporting increased investment in future projects.

The “green guru” of Sea Pines Resort, Tony Wartko, Director of Facilities Services, has a personal passion for sustainability, and he priorities communication, training and engaging interns and employees to grow a culture of sustainability and develop more “ambassadors for sustainability”.

While the Sea Pines Resort has only recently implemented an environmental purchasing policy, it will require annual reporting by all purchasing agents. A collective analysis of the reports can prioritize focus areas and promote cross departmental planning and collaboration.

The Resort purchases large volumes of many products; cost and value must be a high priority. Many nonperishable items and national brands are purchased through distributors. However, in an interview with Ryan Hicks, Executive Chef, he shared that the Resort’s food offerings include approximately 60% locally sourced products.

Many strategies are used to minimize course inputs, including spot spraying, hand pulling of weeds, and daily and deliberate timing of turf scouting for pest indicators. The weather is closely monitored and considered when scheduling application of products to optimize effectiveness and reduce runoff.

I learned from Ocean Course/Heron Point Superintendent Brook Sentell and Rick Stafford, Assistant Superintendent that the 2016 Ocean Course renovation will include reduced areas of maintained turf and increased native areas with Spartina grass and Coquina shells. Brook intends to work more closely with the Harbour Town Golf Links staff on bulk ordering of supplies to reduce waste.

The Resort’s waste minimization system is among the most advanced. Recycling is available for all guests and golfers, and staff follows an advanced protocol to divert almost all waste from the landfill; so much so, that neither clubhouse has a trash dumpster. This decreases waste hauling costs, bugs, odor and other nuisances associated with food waste. Pre and post-consumer food waste is run through a dehydrator or is composted with vermin culture (a worm herd of approximately 10-15k). The worm castings are applied to flower and herb gardens as soil enhancers. Each clubhouse has a cardboard baler and a machine to “cube” what remains as trash into “bales” for efficient and sanitary disposal. Glass, paper, plastic, aluminum, batteries, light bulbs, grass clippings, landscape trimmings, and pallets are reused or recycled. The Resort partners with the SC Dept of Natural Resources to replant collected oyster shells. These innovative efforts are projected to eventually generate profit, proving that there is “cash in the trash” while diverting from the landfill.

Pollution Control

All maintenance practices and operations have strict protocol and monitoring to ensure safety and cleanliness, including multi-lingual instructional signage to minimize mistakes.

All water bodies in the Resort are under authority and standards of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The property’s lagoon system is linked to the South Island PSD treatment operation that is mandated by the state to monitor the lagoon water quality daily.

Maintaining a PGA TOUR golf venue in addition to two Resort golf courses requires a lot of equipment, personnel and products. All three courses share a high tech wash pad system; grass clippings rinsed from equipment are caught by a first filter and go back on the golf course. Three more filter stations separate and remove remaining grass, sediment, silt and pollutants utilizing microbes to further clean the water. It is then treated with UV light to kill bacteria and injected with Hydrogen Peroxide. This output can be used as a liquid mix for applications or dispersed into the lagoon system.

Hazardous materials are securely stored in a designated building on a two-level impervious surface pad to prevent leakage into the ground or storm water drains. Materials are clearly organized to avoid misuse, emergency wash stations are readily assessable, and an Emergency Incident Plan is in place.

With three golf courses serviced from one maintenance area, coordinated systemic efforts for source prevention are prioritized. Spill and emergency preparedness plans are in place and white boards in the break rooms alert staff about issues of concern.

A signature feature of all the Resort’s courses is the lush, vegetative buffers along the banks of water bodies and the marsh areas that blend with the course designs. These tall grasses are ideal wildlife habitat, but also protect the water from pollutant runoff. Where tall cord grasses do not buffer the water, the turf is kept at a taller height. 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.


The Sea Pines Resort is the premier attraction on Hilton Head Island with its signature red and white striped lighthouse. As the Resort is seen by millions through international media coverage of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, it is also viewed as a leader in the local community.

While the Resort caters to providing high value experiences for its guests, it also prioritizes its relationship with the residents of the shared geographic boundaries of the Sea Pines Plantation and the Town. Resort representatives serve in many civic groups and on committees within the Town of Hilton Head Island’s government structure.

The Resort is one of the area’s largest employers, working with several intern programs and hosting international students for seasonal engagement. Orientation for new employees includes education about natural resource management, waste minimization, energy conservation, and encourages all to contribute to the health and wellness of the property and organization.

Tony Wartko, Director of Facilities, was a guest presenter at the Zero Waste workshop at the 2014 Sustainability in Golf Symposium, sharing his knowledge and experience with golf and hospitality leaders.

An extended Sustainability Team is being formed to include representatives from each of the Resort’s departments. It is hopeful that this effort will promote collaboration, increased efficiency, and discovery of additional sustainable solutions.

Sea Pines Resort sponsors many efforts of Experience Green, a local nonprofit organization that promotes sustainability, and was host to the 2013 and 2014 nationally recognized Sustainability in Golf symposium and Zero Waste Workshop with Community Walk on the Ocean Course.

All land use is carefully planned and regulated with the Town of Hilton Head Island standards. The Resort’s golf course properties do not include any historical sites or cultural heritage.

Tony Wartko, Director of Facility Services, gives regular reports at executive meetings on success of initiatives and proposed projects. Periodic employee newsletters include sustainability successes.

The Environment section of the Resort website has a comprehensive listing of sustainability successes and the translation to natural resource savings. A communications piece to be placed in every rental villa, home and hotel room is in the works to educate guests about sustainability successes of the Resort, and how they can go green at home.

Documentation Reviewed


Upon thorough review of the OnCourse application, a comprehensive onsite visit of the facilities and interviews with leadership from relative departments, I recommend that The Sea Pines Resort’s Harbour Town Golf Links, Heron Point and Ocean Course receive full GEO Certification.

Certification Highlights

- Integrated waste management processes include recycling, composting, commodity mining, vermin culture, oyster replanting, sustainable purchasing and education
- Recent investment in high efficiency technology for the clubhouses, irrigation systems and course maintenance equipment
- Decreased water consumption for golf course irrigation and in the clubhouses
- Measurement and data tracking to support the business case for sustainability
- Lagoon systems provide wildlife habitat and beauty, but also link to the Island-wide water recycling system to provide treated effluent water for irrigation
- Strong community leadership through partner efforts to promote sustainability in golf