by Kirsten Romaguera
UF/IFAS public relations specialist
Many Florida golf course superintendents have long followed the recommended best management practices (BMPs) from University of Florida turfgrass experts, but their certification process is now recognized in a new Florida law that took effect July 1.
“This statute broadens the voluntary certification program and affords BMP-certified golf course superintendents exemption from certain local training and ordinances relating to water and fertilizer use,” said J. Bryan Unruh, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center associate director and turfgrass scientist. “But for the most part, it’s just memorializing the environmental responsibility the golf course superintendents in our state have already taken on.”
For the past two decades, Unruh has guided the golf industry to adopt science-backed practices that are economically and environmentally friendly.
“The golf industry conducts a water use survey every five years,” said Unruh, who is also the UF/IFAS Extension state turf specialist. “Since the first survey in 2005, projected water use on golf courses has been reduced by 29%. More importantly, when you look at water use per acre, golf courses are using water more efficiently. This is largely due to the adoption of BMPs.”
In 2022, the University of Florida’s turfgrass science program marks 100 years of turfgrass research, teaching and Extension work. The team includes scientists across multiple disciplines working together to identify the best turfgrass varieties and management practices for Florida golf courses, landscapes and beyond.
Unruh was part of a group that created the first Florida golf course BMPs, published in 2007. Regularly updated, the state’s guide is now easily accessible online via the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). It covers topics from design and construction to irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide practices, and even extends to pollinator protection and energy conservation.
All of these areas are covered in the UF certification program for golf course BMPs. Under the new law, superintendents complete the certification program and renew every four years with continuing education training offered by UF/IFAS.
“When COVID hit, it really forced us into offering the certification program online,” Unruh added. Now, the program is returning to some live trainings, as well, but the $80 online course will remain available.
Unruh’s efforts grew beyond Florida, too, after GCSAA announced an initiative in 2017 to establish golf course BMPs in all 50 states. Unruh and his team used the Florida-developed guidelines as a starting point for content development through a web-based tool that allowed states to craft their BMP manuals. They met their goal in December 2020 with the 50th state’s guide finalized.
GCSAA chief executive officer Rhett Evans acknowledged Florida’s trailblazing history in golf course BMPs in a press release recognizing the passage of House Bill 967.
“The passing of Bill 967 is a testament to the dedication superintendents and others in the turf industry have to maintaining golf courses through environmental best practices,” Evans said. “Florida was one of the earliest adopters of state golf course BMPs, so it is not surprising that industry leaders in the state were committed to seeing them recognized by law. We congratulate everyone in Florida for their hard work and success.”