The history of The Briars is steeped in a dedication to conservation. The 18 hole golf course that skirts Lake Simcoe and is within a short walk of The Briars Resort and Spa recently celebrated 90 years of being in business. Course Superintendent Patrick Greenman says the introduction of Integrated Pest Management requirements in 2009 didn’t really change practices because course operators were already using those principles. The biggest change was the requirement for golf course operators to report on what they were doing. IPM practices make good business sense and revolve around minimizing the use of chemicals—something that golf course operators are always striving to do.
Cultural practices make up the core of what golf course operators do to maintain plant and soil health. A healthy grass plant is more able to fight disease and cope with harsh climate conditions and fluctuations in water availability. Thus, practices like verticutting, topdressing, aerating and manually protecting the turf in winter from extreme snow conditions are essential. Of interest, The Briars is in the process of reconstructing the course tees to seed them with a hardy grass variety (dwarf bluegrass) which is very resistant to disease and requires less inputs. So far, the performance of this turf has been excellent and has reduced costs.
Making sure the plants receive the nutrients they require is an essential piece of the puzzle, and once strong root growth is established, other steps are taken to identify needed nutrients. At The Briars, one third of the greens receive a soil test every year (resulting in all greens being tested during a 3 year time period). This allows operators to tailor fertilizer application to include only the nutrients missing in the soil. For example, recent soil samples have shown no need for phosphorus and very little need for potash. Not only does this help control costs, but it also eliminates runoff of excessive nutrients into the lake. Working with the natural cycle of the plant, fertilizer is applied specifically when plants need it–in spring to prepare the plant for growth, and in the fall to help it store nutrients to survive the winter. The Briars also works with an agronomist –a plant specialist—for soil and plant testing and advice around how to keep turf healthy.
Naturalized areas have been expanded around the holes on The Briars course and they only receive minimal maintenance. Milkweed is left to spread in these areas. Many turtles, frogs, herons, birds, deer, coyotes live and thrive on the course. A few years ago, there was even a fox den on the property. New this year is a planted pollinator garden. Operators at The Briars always work in conjunction with the Conservation Authority when erosion or streambank work is necessary.
Irrigation water is drawn from the stream and careful records are kept around what is used. Handwatering can conserve water by about 75% if only small areas need watering. Moisture probes, historic knowledge of the property and close observation of wind speeds, current conditions, and weather predictions help conserve water even further.
Plans for the future include exploration of the possibility of seeking Audubon certification.