Bees, Bears, Bio-Diesel, and Birds – New Golf Course Management

It’s been my pleasure to watch Greg Holden and the management team at Clear Lake Golf Course over the last 16 years shift the management regime from a traditional turf management approach to one that integrates all aspects of sustainability into its operations. Today, May 1, 201o, the Globe & Mail featured the Clear Lake Golf Course in Riding Mountain National Park in article about four top “green golf courses” in Canada.

Brain Kendall, author of the article writes..”…All across Canada, courses are dramatically cutting back on the use of water and pesticides, welcoming home birds and animals once regarded as pests, restocking ponds with indigenous fish and coming up with ingenious initiatives to transform the image of a sport long under attack by environmentalists… ” He tees up his article on Canadian environmentally friendly golf courses by featuring Tees With Bees (Bell Bay, Cape Breton); Make Way With Bear (Stewart Creek Golf & C0untry Club, in Alberta’s Bow Valley); Cravings At Clear Lake (Clear Lake Golf Course, Manitoba); and Birdies and Birdwatching (Victoria’s Cordova Bay Golf Course).

Greg won a Manitoba Eco-Network‘s top environmental award in 2009 for the work that they have been doing. And, the Clear Lake Golf Course was also a finalist in last year’s Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s national awards of excellence in the category of “sustainable tourism”.

Earth Rhythms (a Riding Mountain-based learning adventure company) offers a personalized behind-the-scenes electric golf cart experience for small groups by advance reservation.  Turning Green Into Gold – featuring Greg’s stories about thousands of gallons of water saved, innovative gardening tips, use of natural pest fighting agents, an understanding of bio-diesel used in golf course maintenance vehicles, and short excursions to his favorite clipping’s nutrient piles, being at the heart of his “gold compost” resource stream production centre, and seeing some of  innovations in sustainable best practices are featured. This short, 2-hour program will turn your head, inspire you, and hopefully enable you to follow this up with a new appreciation for the history, ecology, and outstanding golf that is offered at Riding Mountain’s Clear Lake Golf Course.

Way to go Greg and team! It seems appropriate to tip our hats to Greg as the new 2010 President of the Canadian Golf Course Superintendent’s Association. This modest leader and pioneer in best practices of sustainable golf course management has much to offer visitors, golfers and the golf industry. He’d be the first to be cautious in handing out advice – but, he is willing to share his own experiences. His are first-class stories of carbon footprint reduction, recycling, and turning waste into resource streams.

An excerpt from this unique “experiential tourism program” will be experienced by 15 international travel buyers from India, China, Japan, the UK and Korea during the first week of May, 2010 as part of Travel Manitoba’s hosting of Rendezvous Canada – an international marketplace for travel buyers of distinctive Canadian experiences.

Clear Lake Golf Course - a Canadian leader in sustainability


Sonics and Sojourns delivers quality and incredible variety

Ticket headquarters - Sonics and Sojourns

Ticket headquarters for Sonics and Sojourns - Poor Michael's Bookshop, Art and Café

One of the things about small towns is that they often are the most amazing places to find people who choose to live there, enjoy living there, and find unique ways to be entrepreneurs, artists, or community contributors.   They are family people, singles, couples, and sometimes retired.

Onanole is no exception – as a gateway community to the national park, it harbors artists, musicians and songwriters, a talented teaching staff at the local elementary school, the world’s greatest escape artist (Dean Gunnarson), the wonderfully talented Murray Evans (Dust Poets), environmental award-winning golf course superintendent Greg Holden and many others.  These people are all presentors or providing workshops or sessions at this year’s edition of Sonics and Sojourns, a festival of learning and music.

We hope that you will be able to make it out to see some of these talented folks.  Tomorrow night (Tuesday, Sept. 22), Dean Gunnarson puts on an amazing evening of Tricks, Treats and Tales of Adventure ending in a dramatic escape from underwater at the Onanole Community Centre.   Time:  7:00 PM.  Tickets:  $10

We hope to see you at the festival!  Check out Flickr photos on our Flickr Photostream.

Clear Lake Golf Course environmental management approach praised

August 22, 2009  – Great article in the Brandon Sun about the responsible environmental management approach at the Clear Lake Golf Course, in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba.  Canada.  Read the article here.

In a really good tribute to triple bottom line accounting, the Clear Lake Golf Course is demonstrating that environmental leadership, profitability, and social responsibility work together as a sound business management practice.  There are lots of nay-sayers out there who keep saying that “green jobs” or the new green economy or a strong government policy framework that reduces carbon emissions will cost our economy.  I don’t believe it, not for a moment.  As with any shifts in business management or economic frameworks, it involves sound research, a commitment to sound business principles, and a systematic approach based on underlying principles or core values that are about care for our planet.

Clivus Compost toilet at Clear Lake Golf Course

Clivus Compost toilet at Clear Lake Golf Course

The Clear Lake Golf Course, because of a strong commitment from Parks Canada management over 16 years ago, in which Riding Mountain National Park required the bids for the 25-year management of the Clear Lake Golf Course to include an operational plan for environmentally sound management, shifted things.  Instead of “business as usual”, the golf course had to demonstrate major improvements in management of water, chemicals, turf management as well as being fiscally sound and turning a good profit that was in the interests of golfers, the management company of the golf course, and Parks Canada as the lessor.

The management team including Ian and Lydia Sarna and recent Manitoba Eco-Network award winning golf course superintendent Greg Holden have done all of that and much more. So have many of their other team members in the kitchen, the restaurant, the grounds operation, the bio-diesel, and in the pro shop.  Our hats off to this team.

Read this excellent two-page spread by Joanne Villeneuve, in the Brandon Sun that profiles all of the many environmentally responsible tactics that are being used on the Clear Lake Golf Course.  This course is a demonstration to the rest of the world of how golf courses should be operated, in my view.  As a long-time golfer, environmentalist, and business owner, I am proud to have this golf course in my backyard.  Earth Rhythms regularly features Greg Holden in our customized group programs.

Greg Holden shares his appreciation for 2009 Environmental Award


Greg Holden, Superintendent of Clear Lake Golf Course receives Environmental Award

Greg Holden, Superintendent of Clear Lake Golf Course receives Environmental Award

On June 9th, in Winnipeg, Greg Holden from the Clear Lake Golf Course was awarded the 2009 Manitoba Eco-Network environmental award in the Special Category, recognizing his leadership and commitment to environmental sustainability.  Anne Lindsey, the Executive Director introduced the awards.  Celes Davar shared a few words about why he nominated Greg, and introduced Greg.  

The inscription on the award reads…

“The Manitoba Eco-Network Environmental Award presented to Greg Holden, Given in recognition of significant contributions to the awareness and protection of Manitoba’s environment.  June 9, 2009”

Congratulations Greg…from everyone in this community!

See and listen to Greg’s thoughts and appreciation at the award ceremony in this short video highlight.

Greg Holden receives provincial environmental award


Greg Holden-champion innovator for environmental practices at Clear Lake Golf Course

Greg Holden-champion innovator for environmental practices at Clear Lake Golf Course


The Manitoba Eco-Network is pleased to announce the winners of the 2009 Manitoba Eco-Network Environmental Award.  

Greg Holden is presented with this award June 9, 2009 at the headquarters of the Manitoba Eco-Network in Winnipeg.

Award winners are chosen each year in three categories from amongst nominations submitted by the general public. The award is given “in recognition of significant contributions to the protection and awareness of Manitoba’s environment”. Since 1990, it has been a way for the environmental community to salute the often unsung heroes who do so much to make our world a better place.

This year’s winners are:

  • “Individual” Category: Anders Swanson, cyling and active transportation advocate, nominated by Kevin Miller, co-chair of Bike to the Future;
  • “Group” Category: Organic Food Council of Manitoba, nominated by Anne Lindsey;
  • “Special” Category: Greg Holden, Superintendent of the Clear Lake Golf Course, nominated by Celes Davar, President of Earth Rhythms, Inc.


Greg Holden, Superintendent of the Clear Lake Golf Course in Riding Mountain National Park is the winner in the “Special” category. Greg was nominated by Celes Davar, of Earth Rhythms, an eco-tourism provider operating in Riding Mountain National Park. Greg has led the operation of the Golf Course and restaurant at Clear Lake for 16 years, transforming it from a conventional pesticide and fertilizer-laden, waste-stream driven course to a model of sustainability, innovation and recycling.

The conversion stems from Greg’s personal commitment to the health of the planet – he has also been a certified organic garlic grower, built his own energy efficient home, and provides sustainability presentations to Riding Mountain National Park area visitors.

Innovative features of this environmental turf management of the Clear Lake Golf Course in Riding Mountain National Park include:

  • the use of composting toilets and a digester to minimize waste creating a resource for natural fertilization of the course, and eliminating the requirement for 300,000 gallons of groundwater for conventional flushing;
  • use of compost teas and a variety of natural and biological controls for weeds and fungi;
  • over the past several years, diversion of about 10,000 litres of waste cooking oil from area restaurants as a biodiesel source for golf course vehicles and tractors;
  • composting of all kitchen waste, grass clippings and leaf debris for use on the course and in the herb gardens;
  • and use of native species for plantings around the golf course.

As Greg embarks next year on a term as President of the Canadian Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, he will be taking the examples and lessons learned at Clear Lake to a national audience – one that is committed to putting into practice his message of sustainability for this popular sport.


There are several good international references for sustainable golf course management.  Perhaps one of the best is the Royal & Ancient in St. Andrews, Scotland.  They have an entire page on their website dedicated to environmental management and sustainable golf courses.

The R&A is golf’s world rules and development body and organiser of The Open Championship. It operates with the consent of more than 130 national and international, amateur and professional organisations, from over 120 countries and on behalf of an estimated 30 million golfers in Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific and The Americas (outside the USA and Mexico). The United States Golf Association (USGA) is the game’s governing body in the United States and Mexico.

GEO Industry Forum drives sustainable golf in Europe – Last month (May, 2009), The Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) and its European Golf Partners came together  to consolidate a shared positive vision for sustainable golf, drive forward environmental programmes, and to collectively evaluate progress to date.  The meeting of this ‘Industry Forum’, administered by GEO, represents another milestone in the way in which golf’s strategic leaders are mapping out a future in which golf will be internationally recognised for enhancing environmental quality and human wellbeing.

And, in New Zealand, New Zealand Golf and the New Zealand Sports Turf Institute has published online their Sustainable Golf Course Design Guidelines – very straight forward.

Congratulations Greg!