Research Spotlight – Conservation Plantings on Golf Courses (Spring 2023)

Creating a Roadmap for Establishing Conservation Plantings on Golf Courses


There is broad and growing interest in the development of tactics to improve the sustainability of golf courses. In general, these efforts focus largely on practices that reduce inputs and increase ecosystem services. Among these efforts, the renovation of out-of-play areas to native or low-maintenance vegetation (conservation plantings) has received increased attention. The underlying reasons include a combination of economic, aesthetic, and ecological considerations that depend on the unique constraints and goals of golf course staff, their clientele, and the surrounding community. But, success can often hinge on the ability of golf course staff to confidently carry out the renovation process and accurately communicate expected outcomes to their clientele and other stakeholders. At present, there is virtually no road map available to guide installation efforts or set realistic expectations for golf course staff interested in undertaking such conservation efforts.


Given the lack of decision-making support available to golf courses interested in renovating out-of-play areas to conservation plantings, our lab is leading a 3-year, USGA-funded project to understand the economic, aesthetic, and ecological outcomes stemming from the establishment of native, prairie vegetation. However, in reality, this project represents a much larger multiparty effort supported in part by Purdue University (Department of Entomology and Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (National Wildlife Refuge System), two wildlife conservations organizations (National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever), a well-established local native plant nursery and seed supplier (Stantec), and one of the most experienced prairie establishment companies in the State (Martin Seed).


The first phase of the project will allow us to compare the effects of seeding time (winter dormant vs. spring) and seeding method (broadcast vs. drill seeding) on plant community establishment and begin to quantify ecosystem services by characterizing resulting pollinator communities. Several large, out-of-play areas on the Kampen Golf Course at Purdue University’s Birk Boilermaker Gold Complex are being converted using these different seeding times and techniques, and resulting plant and pollinator communities will be characterized over the next several growing seasons. We are also partnering with others across Purdue’s College of Agriculture to make these plantings available to be leveraged by others as a living laboratory for experiential learning and Extension.


If you play the Kampen course, you have undoubtedly noticed these areas since site preparation, mainly the removal of existing vegetation, began in the fall of 2021. But, stay tuned over the next several growing seasons as the vegetation and natural beauty of these areas unfold in real-time.


Doug Richmond, Ph.D.

Department of Entomology

Purdue University

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