Purdue's Golf Course, A Lesson in Water Quality and Sustainability

Golf Hole #5, Par 3, 230 Yards

I just received a few new photos of Purdue Universities Kampen Golf Course, which we remodeled in 1998 (I was the project architect for Pete Dye). It is great to see these wonderful photos of the golf course as it matures. This project is unique as the golf course is used to filter contaminants in storm water as it flows from an upland urban area, traverses the golf course and then reaches a sensitive nature area downstream. Testing was competed by Purdue University to document the results. 

The following is an excerpt from an article in Purdue News in 1988 by Dr. Zac Reicher, then Professor of agronomy at Purdue (find article here) and now at the University of Nebraska and Dr. Clark Throssell, currently the Director of Research of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).

When Purdue's newly renovated Kampen Golf Course opened June 27, most golfers focused on how renowned golf course architects Dye and Tim Liddy have looped the course around a marsh known as the Celery Bog. But for some Purdue scientists, the course is a unique opportunity to study environmental and agronomic problems of urban America.

"There are a lot of university golf courses, but what makes this course unique is the amount of interaction between the golf course and researchers and students," says Clark Throssell, professor of agronomy.

Here are four of the initial research projects taking place on the golf course:

Using golf courses to filter water

Research in the 1990s at several institutions has shown that golf courses are environmentally neutral. Many of them use herbicides and chemical fertilizers, but the studies have shown that these chemicals don't run off the course and into the local surface water.

Researchers at Purdue, however, think that they can take this one significant step further. As construction on the new golf course began, they theorized that they could actually improve the quality of surface water by building the golf course so that it acts as a filter for pollution.

Golf Hole #12, Par 4, 477 Yards

"Research has shown over and over how well golf courses can clean up the chemicals that are used on them," says Zac Reicher, assistant professor of agronomy. "But nobody has looked at how well golf courses can clean up the water that is coming across them. That's what we're trying to do."

Turf and plants have a remarkable ability to break down and eliminate chemicals from the environment, a process known as bioremediation. Some of the chemicals are caught in the thatch layer of the turf, where microbes digest them and break them down. Other chemicals in the water in the soil are taken up by the roots of the plants. When these plants die, the plant material, along with the chemicals, is broken down by the microbes.

The Purdue Kampen course borders a four-lane highway, and across the highway is a mix of businesses and residences, including a gas station and a motel. As rain falls, the runoff moves from the neighborhood through the ground under the golf course. "All of that drains right across the golf course," Reicher says. "Before the golf course was built, everything went directly into the bog. We assume that antifreeze, petroleum products, road salt and household chemicals were all going into the bog."

The water from the neighborhood now is filtered by the golf course as it flows toward the bog; many of the pollutants break down into harmless components. The water that passes through the course is drained into 15 acres of man-made wetlands that border the Celery Bog. From there, the water is used to irrigate the course, giving it another chance to be filtered by the turf.

Golf Hole #5, Par 3, 230 Yards

The researchers are setting up seven testing sites, with the first one on hole No. 16, which runs parallel to the highway, and the last one next to hole 14, which runs parallel to the marsh. "We're testing the surface water right after it comes off the highway and then as it is coming off the golf course. In the next three to four years we'll be able to have a better idea of how well this works," Reicher says.

The results of the water protection were highlights in a March 2001 Golf Course Management article by Mendenhall Scholarship winner Aaron Patton.  The article may be found here.


Golf Hole #3, Par 4, 482 Yards