As golf courses nationwide continue to struggle to turn a profit with what I claim is a business model that needs further reinvention to survive in the 21st Century, let me make a proposal. Let’s begin to solve a few environmental issues like the reduction of green waste, water reclamation and creating safe livestock feed with a shelf life of 5 years in the hopes of creating additional profits. This value-added business model can pay dividends while reinventing golf course ownership.
Current Business Model
Golf course owners are selling tee times in grocery store bag stuffer, online booking agents and even payment books to attract players. In the southern US, owners have begun over seeding their courses with Ryegrass in the fall to offer a green course during the winter after the warm season grasses go dormant. This over seeding process involves scalping the Bermuda grass down short to prepare a seedbed. Last fall, one of the courses I visited paid $17,000 to throw away their 360 tons of “Bermuda grass scalping waste”. This land-filling of grass clippings, appeared to be the norm and not the extreme, as I visited dozens of additional green golf courses in January of this year with the same expense.
Other revenue generating ideas that have been used over the last 20 years have included turning the golf course into a Golf Resort offering nightly lodging. Last month I was offered an executive room at one of the golf resorts for $69 bucks a night, discounted down from $300/night. How about the wedding craze where vows are exchanged on the Eighteenth green with a reception to follow in the Club House. Tournaments are still the method of choice and several tournaments a season are required to keep many golf course owners, in the golf course business. If you are not an owner of a “Major’s” course, but rather a small private or public course located in rural America, tournaments only serve as a lifeline, not a goldmine.
In the northern USA the season is short and revenues are even lower. How can these courses with seasons of 6 months of play create additional revenue outside the current business model? Did you know that NASA surveyed the United States by satellite to discover that golf courses, lawns and parks cover 35,000,000 million acres, surpassing even irrigated corn as the #1 irrigated crop in the USA? What does this mean for golf courses or turfgrass managers in general? An Opportunity?
The turfgrass interests, along with the golf course industry will need to reinvent themselves or continue to suffer the continued fate of the list of golf course closures seen on almost a weekly basis. A new revenue source or business model is certainly required and Yellowstone Compact & Commodities Corp. of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, makers of the BioPac’r, have a solution to reinvent golf course ownership by creating a new revenue source and the infrastructure has been under golfer’s feet all this time.
Introducing Grass Clipping Silage™
Dannebrog, Nebraska Golf Club is the home of the Annual Bull Pin Open. This course was incorporated into a cattle pasture to increase revenue for the farmer. All the greens are surrounded by fences that have a gated entrance to keep the cattle from ruining the greens. The difficulty of the rough depends on the time of year, or whether or not the rough has been hayed.
The greatest asset a golf course has is its turfgrass, but until now clippings have been viewed as a waste product. Increasing human population will begin to stretch the water resources we have and unless the turf itself becomes more of an important resource than just a surface where a little white ball is hit around on, recreation will simply not outweigh the necessity of the water demands of an ever growing population. Therefore, golf course owners should start to view their turfgrass as an agricultural crop. If golf courses are going to continue to exist, a reinvention of how we look at turf and its uses will be required.
Fortunately, there is a new concept currently poised on the horizon. One way to make the turfgrass growing on a golf course or even homeowner lawns more relevant over the next 35 years, is to convert the grass clippings themselves into a stabilized livestock feed. In doing so, this would also have the ability to reclaim a portion of the irrigation water used to grow the crop. A new patent pending process that packages and pickles the freshly harvested clippings, (and water that is locked up inside the grass blades), into a specialized bag.
This new product is called Lawn Clipping Silage™ and since 2013, it has been safely fed to sheep, hogs, goats, chickens and cattle. The Feed Analysis when tested by the University of Wyoming and at an independent Feed Analysis testing lab in Nebraska, yielded a protein of 23%, alfalfa hay is 14% and corn silage rarely exceeds 10%. Corn silage however has a TDN of 75% an close behind is Grass Clipping Silage at 71.1%. Biomass Ensiling, is an incredible biological process where in the absence of oxygen, lactic acid is produced which acts just like the vinegar we use to preserve cucumbers when making pickles. As early as the 1950’s, research on how fast pesticides could breakdown and degrade during the ensiling process were documented. Thankfully, pesticides that are used today by turf managers are nowhere as persistent as pesticides from the 50’s like DDT or 2,4,5-T (Agent Orange). In one study, DDT was 65% degraded after the first 2 hours of the onset of the biological ensiling process. In other words, the grass pickling process renders contaminated grass clippings safe within 30 days of packaging and processing.
There is potentially, enough Grass Clipping Silage™ plus current hay & grain inventories to feed all the “cattle on feed” (950,000 head) in the USA, three times over. This paradigm shift of how we view grass clippings could dramatically drop the price of meat in our supermarkets, increase the profitability of our farmers through cheaper feed rations, and yes, position golf courses for the 21st century while earning a good profit for golf course owners.
Reclaiming Irrigation Water
It’s a well-known fact that at one time, golf courses produced their fair share of green waste in the form of grass clippings. To survive, a few courses in the Southwest are all looking for water to irrigate their fairways. I would suggest a form of water credits where a golf course can acquire some of the water rights from a partnering business. In the United States “experts” have concluded that there is over 35,000,000 million acre feet of encapsulated irrigation water available for a secondary use contained in all the waste clippings throughout the season.
Grass blades are 85% water according to Clemson University (or 65% as silage) which means that water is locked up inside the cells of a grass blade. The problem however is that once the grass blades are mulched or recycled back into the fairways, the water evaporates rapidly and along with it goes the possibility of reclaiming that previously applied irrigation water. Moisture loss was one of the many acceptable consequences of recycling grass clippings back into the turf along with increased occurrences of turf diseases. As water becomes more of a future commodity, ways of capturing and retaining it will separate those with golf courses from those without.
These 2000 lb. bales of silage are equal in biomass to a round bale of hay except this silage includes 150 gallons of reclaimed irrigation water. If there is 35 million areas of grass growing in the USA, an argument can be made that it may be possible to reclaim 150 million acre feet of water annually or enough water to fill five (5) Hoover Dams (Lake Mead) by using cropping methods to capitalize on the nation’s turfgrass growing on golf courses, lawns and parks.
Sustainability Outside the Box
3 Creek Ranch Golf Resort in Jackson Hole Wyoming was the first golf course in the world to use a BioPac'r, adding to their personal sustainability goals. Superintendent Dan Tolson is creating Grass Clipping Silage from the courses putting green clippings as a new winter feed supply for his goat-herd. During the summer they eat the noxious weeds in the native areas this spring. In the fall of 2015, silage created by 3 Creek Ranch Golf Resort was delivered to a nearby rancher to be fed to a cow/calf operation located up on the Gros Ventre and Snake Rivers north of Jackson.
New Revenue Stream for Southern Courses
Remember the course I visited that spent $17,000 to throw away their clippings? Had these clippings instead been packaged and converted into Grass Clipping Silage™, they could have been sold to a local livestock farmer for as much as $35,000 dollars, or a swing on the golf courses books of $52,000. How big could the swing be if the owners view their fairways as a crop and capture hundreds or even thousands of tons of added clippings throughout the growing season from their own course?
If golf courses can offer water to farmers in their silage, maybe in return, farmers can offer water allotments to golf courses as a symbiotic relationship of good will. Yellowstone Compact & Commodities already brokers this safe silage product between golf courses, landscapers and sod growers to farmers, so there is no need to deal with livestock folks directly. Once a facility has 22 bags ready to ship out, a truck will show up, load up and haul the silage off to a farmer and in a few weeks the bookkeeper gets a commodities check.
If golf course owners want to become more sustainable and survive into the 21st Century, they too might need to reinvent the purpose of their investment and look to the horizon and begin to take part in animal agriculture. When golf courses become more important than just a recreational surface to play on, receiving future water allotments will be much easier sell. When grass clippings start to become the solution, rather than the challenge, we can be well on our way to reinventing golf course ownership in America.
Until Next Time...