The STRI Environmental Awards Dinner at Harrogate placed me at a table beside Laurence Gale, editor of Pitchcare, and a few worthy recipients of specific Environmental awards for 2010.
Machrihanish Dunes, the latest creation in Scotland by my son, David McLay Kidd, received the STRI Award for Waste Management, following on from the GEO Certificate for Environmental Excellence a few weeks previously.
The entire evening was filled with enlightening conversation centred around 'Alternative Methods' of turf grass and rootzone management.
The conversation took me back to a similar scenario, over twenty years earlier, when my team at Gleneagles, working with Jonathan Smith, Golf Course Wildlife Trust, awarded the very first Pan European Certificate For Environmental Excellence to Gleneagles Hotel and Golf Courses.
The conservation practices and procedures required to attain that particular award were reared in me from a very early age, as a young man from a farming background fascinated by microbial activity within our fields and pastures.
I saw changes that began to take place in subtle, but significant ways! I realised that the things we do, good and bad, have an eventual impact on almost everything on the planet.
At that very early age, it became evident to me that we must be very aware of the fact that everything we do affects this fragile cycle of life.
For thousands of years the only fertiliser sources available were dead plants, dead animals and manure but, when Justin Von Liebig proved that refined nutrients could support plant growth, the ability of man to grow bigger crops was realised, and the modern age of chemical, large and small scale, was born.
For many, including Golf Course Superintendents, the secrets of soil life were lost or ignored!
Small secret - huge impact!
Bacteria, the smallest of soil life, are the cornerstone of healthy rootzones and turfgrass. The creatures are frequently the most responsible for refining of nutrients. Given the opportunity, they will consume in-organic fertiliser through what we like to call a "Microbial Transfer System"
The now refined nutrients are held tightly by the negatively charged humus particles in the rootzone and made available for grass roots to 'uptake' or use as required. When the micro life is allowed to multiply, and do their special work, water will not wash the now organic nutrients away, because they are fixed or attached to the soil, thereby reducing the need for high volumes of in-organic fertilisers, that are, it has been suggested, only 20% available to the plant. The remaining 80%, especially in sand rootzones, is leached away with every water event that takes place.
As bacteria and other micro life multiply, they create colonies near plant roots, and these little farmers stockpile nutrients very efficiently. The living matter retains more moisture, which is available to the plant in times of low rainfall and drought.
The more the bacteria populations increase, the more the larger predators, like protozoa which love to eat bacteria, increase. As protozoa increase, so do the beneficial nematodes, and insects forming tunnels and microscopic burrows which aerate the rootzone, providing room for roots to flourish and grow, and moisture to be absorbed and retained. Therefore, we have a balanced ecosystem within the soil and rootzones.
This web of soil life is inter-dependent. When bacteria are killed by over use of fertilisers and chemicals, other life forms that feed on them starve and die also. This cause and effect relationship results in rootzones that are little more than dirt, containing only trace components of usable organic matter.
Ultimately, the goal of every superintendent should be to rebuild and maintain the population of micro life in their rootzones.
Substantial micro life populations naturally lead to higher residual nutrient levels, rootzones with great integrity and aeration characteristics, and increased humus content.
The STRI Awards ceremony discussion was certainly not one of 'it's the way we have done it for years! Therefore, it must be good and should stay this way, why risk a change!' They were more of a 'traditional thinking freezes your mind, blocks your progress and prevents you from developing creative power!'
I have been extremely lucky to have worked in arid deserts, lava fields, glacial valleys and reclaimed land sites over the many years since my investiture into the grand profession of turf grass management, golf course design, construction and grow-in.
At all times, I have been acutely aware of the local and broader environment of my neighbours as we strived to create the finest golf courses and maintain them within a strict code of environmental awareness and sustainability. One that makes better use of nutrients and water with reduced drought and fungal disease stress.
We all seek a return to that essential element; the creation and sustainability of a living soil.
Legislation and restrictions on water, fertiliser and chemical use are forcing change and creative thinking in our industry.
Golf course superintendents, in particular, have always been the finest policemen of their own environs.
The environs of my youth provided me with the desire to marvel at the beauty surrounding me, the creation of life from a tiny seed, a miracle only the creator himself could have perfected.
Many things excite me and send my hungry mind into a whirlwind of thought, such as the eloquent and thoughtful discussions at the STRI dinner on 'alternative methods of creating a healthy rootzone' and 'turf grass working for the superintendent as opposed to the superintendent working to control it!'