Golf’s Grand Challenge: a Q&A With Dr. Brian Horgan

Q&A With Dr. Brian Horgan

Leveraging Sustainability in the Golf Industry

Dr. Brian Horgan and the turfgrass research team at the University of Minnesota have partnered with the USGA to investigate the long-term sustainability of the golf industry and what role golf courses play in ecosystems.

The goal of the initiative is to better inform the golf industry about the importance of sustainability within the industry. Dr. Horgan took some time to explain the reasoning behind their research and where he sees opportunities for improvement. 

1. What is the primary goal of your turfgrass research at the University of Minnesota?

How to position golf in the urban greenspace. We do that in combination with the (U of M’s) business, and public policy schools. We’re not focused on the growth of the game, but the greenspace itself. 10% of urban greenspace in Minneapolis and St. Paul are golf courses. With facilities closing, we want to make sure golf courses and greenspace do not go to residential and commercial development. This can sustain a more positive environmental and social impact. 

2. What makes a golf course worth studying?

Our golf courses have character beneath the turf. That soil has lots of life to it. My colleagues and I tie in the economics with the agronomics – making sure we’re balancing player satisfaction and course quality.

Our research is data-based, not anecdotal. Golf courses in general across the United States are using 22% less water today. We’re starting to do more with less. And we should be thinking of taking less time to play (think of a 12, 8, even 4-hole course).

We’re starting golf course research trends using new technologies: Satellites. Drones. Sub-surface remote sensing. Things that allow us to look at turf health in a way our eyes can’t see. Our eyes tell us one thing about the plant, but technology can tell us how to reduce the amount of resources needed to manage it. 

3. Sounds like you’ve done some cool work in the past, what are you working on today?

We’re creating a “Greenspace Dashboard” in partnership with the United States Golf Association (USGA). Through this dashboard you can show a greenspace (say, 150 acres) then the dashboard will display positive environmental services and social benefits to the surrounding communities.  

4. Tell us about your “Science of the Green” project …

We’re studying the science of sustainability in the golf industry. We’re asking questions like, “What is the forecasted cost of water?” and “What are the economics of a golf course operation with the projected resources costs (over 10 years)?”

In addition, our research is doing comparative analysis of these same questions in Phoenix and Minneapolis-St. Paul. We know the costs are increasing at a rapid rate, and we’re exploring alternatives: Different grass species that require less water. Better genetics. A reduced footprint.

Mike Davis at the United States Golf Association wants to explore a variable distance golf ball … what would that mean for the actual platform of a golf course? If we can identify 10-20 acres of area that are never touched by golfers on a golf course, there’s potential for alternative use of that space: maybe it’s a community garden, rain garden, pollinator habitat or stormwater basin.

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5. How does Reinders support your work?

Reinders supports various U of M extension/research events to make the cost of entry feasible for all to attend.

We tend to focus in on the golf market in the Twin Cities and Reinders sponsors these events, like the MGA Spring Golf Forum, to update the industry with the newest research and solutions for their properties. We get great turnout every year – not just superintendents, but also greens committee chairs, golf pros, can all hear the same positive story and relay that back to the golfers.

To dive deeper into Dr. Horgan’s on-going initiatives and research, visit the Science of the Green blog.

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