Making Golf More Green

Chris Hayes
PBG Lifestyle
June 13, 2011

In Gene Bates' thirty years as a golf course architect, he has collaborated with some of the most recognized names in golf. Though he started with his father-in-law, Ron Kirby, he has teamed up with Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Gary Player, and Fred Couples, with whom he formed Couples Bates Golf Design in 1992.

"I've been told that Fred and I have the longest relationship between a PGA tour professional and a golf course architect." Gene noted.

Today Gene is the president of Gene Bates Golf Design and vice president of Couples Bates Gold Design, which make up a portion of the Bates Golf Design Group.

Located at 5606 PGA Blvd. Suite 111 in the PGA Concourse plaza, Bates Golf Design Group has constructed and renovated courses internationally in Egypt, Ireland, South Africa and the Philippines. Local courses include Boca Raton Resort & Club, Binks Forest Gold Club, Broken Sound Club and the South Course at Ballen Isles.

However, it's not the locations that make Bates Gold Design stand out; rather, it is their approach. Since its conception, the company has consistently taken steps to institute "green" practices into their golf course construction, whether it is the construction materials, the use of land or design. This environmental approach stems from Gene's father, Bill, who was a wildlife conservation and enforcement and officer for twenty-four years.

"I grew up in an environment of being conscientious about conservation of our natural resources." Gene explained. With each passing year, Bates GDG discovers new eco-friendly practices that can be incorporated into their projects.

"It's always been a priority for us to be 'green,' to be environmentally savvy and conscious." added David Bates, Gene's 27-year-old son and design associate for Gene Bates Golf Design. "However, last decade or so, there have been some advances in technology that have made our ability to do that much better, and on a much larger scale."

It didn't take Gene very long in his architectural career to realize that no two locations are identical and not every course can be approached in the same manner. However, each course shares the same necessity: water. Running along the Red Sea in Egypt, the El Gouna Golf Club initially had no irrigation water, and Gene could only obtain "secondary water" with a salinity content that was too high for most grasses. As a result Bates Golf Design Group became the first golf course architects in the world to utilize the Seashore Paspalum variety of turf grass, which is the most tolerant to high levels of salt content in water. Today courses all around the world use this variety, including Old Palm Golf Course in Palm Beach Gardens and the Turtle Creek Club in Tequesta.

Gene explained, "Water is probably, if not first, at the top level of environmental considerations that we have to deal with not only quality, but we also have to be very conscientious of quantity."

Once that water is fed to the course it's their job to find the most effective use for it. As a result they are diligent about keeping up-to-date on the most current irrigation systems. Today's advances have made it so that instead of spewing a blanket of water, individual head controls and weather systems can make irrigation more precise.

Explained Matt Swanson, senior designer and golf course architect, "A lot of systems are radio-controlled the superintendent can be out on the golf course and see a dry spot that needs water, and in the past where he would have to turn on half or the entire fairway, now he can control that single head, and run it for a couple of minutes, and not have to waste water."

It's not just the use of resources that make a project environmentally friendly. The golf course can actually be designed to suit its natural surroundings and recapture irrigation water and rain more effectively. As well, the plants, grass and trees also play an important role - along with using turf grasses that are much more drought, cold- insect-resistant, and thus require less chemicals, Bates GDG also strives to use only native species of plants and trees in their designs, even roping off "limits of work" during construction to protect the surrounding area.

Their most "green" course to date is Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley, Idaho. Along with winning several environmental awards, it has also been voted Idaho's best course in Golfweek magazine's " Best Courses You Can Play" state-by-state rankings since 2005.

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