Widow’s Walk, The First Environmental Demonstration Course

In January of 1995, Michael J. Hurdzan attended an international, invitation only meeting of environmental and golf advocates held in Pebble Beach, Calif. After three days of discussion, it was clear that a project was needed to demonstrate how environmental and golf interests in the United States could both be served through cooperative planning, review, construction, research and operation. That publically funded project became the nation’s first environmental demonstration golf course and Mike was selected its architect.

The site was a 120-acre, physically abused, biologically impoverished, former sand quarry in the small town of Scituate, Mass., (population 18,000) located on Boston’s south shore. The project was named Widow’s Walk because of the ocean vistas offered by the sand hills on-site – vistas that mimicked those from roof-top observation platforms built on colonial sea captain’s houses, where wives watched for their husbands’ returning ships … praying that they had not become widows. The goals of the project were many:

  1. To produce an experimental golf course to evaluate various design and construction methods and techniques
  2. To find the lowest limits of environmental impact caused by maintenance
  3. To substantially improve the habitat quality and bio-diversity of the remaining site.

It was decided that the most objective way to meet these goals was to include, from day one, any and all active environmental or stakeholder groups as part of the design and construction team. From this integrated approach, Widow’s Walk was expected to become an optimal and accurate representation of what golf and environmental experts could produce upon genuine collaboration. Fast forward to September 1996 and the completion of Widow’s Walk GC.

According to plan, three different methods of green construction (USGA, California and Native Soil) incorporating various inorganic and organic amendments and employing three different methods of under drainage (round tile, flat tile and no tile) are featured. Every green was outfitted with:

  1. A water meter to measure irrigation application;
  2. A leachate sampling pit (where appropriate);
  3. Soil temperature, moisture and fertilizer sensors;
  4. A microclimatic recording device (as funded);
  5. The most advanced bentgrass cultivar selected for its environmental compatibility.

The remaining play areas were planted to fine fescue cultivars enhanced with symbiotic endophytes. Non-potable water was used for irrigation, with turf grass filtered leachate supplementing the aquifer below utilized by Scituate as a source of drinking water – the well itself being located in the middle of the site.

Soil amendments for building organic constituents, enhancing beneficial microbial populations, and stabilizing unplanted sand/scrub areas were studied. Recycled asphalt, ground up rubber tires, compost of various origins, and recycled glass were incorporated into the golf course and reviewed for future application. Baseline and follow up studies were coordinated with researchers from the University of Rhode Island and Massachusetts Audubon Society.

The biodiversity and habitat potential of existing aquatic areas were limited due to fluctuating water levels. Golf course construction intentionally stabilized these levels by reshaping natural water courses, removing man-made blockages, cleaning and protecting spring sites, and sealing impoundment areas. Stream and lake banks were reshaped to more subtle and stable grades, supplemented with littoral shelves, and planted to the desirable wetland species. Habitat areas were being purged of invasive species and various methods of replanting and/or establishing native and globally threatened ecotones were evaluated.

Ongoing research efforts are coordinated with the University of Massachusetts, University of Rhode Island, Harvard University, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, American Society of Golf Course Architects, Massachusetts Water Resources Association, and others. Corporate sponsors of research include Scotts Company, Toro Company and many smaller companies.

Formulating and refining a process to transform one small community’s eyesore into an internationally heralded, self-sustaining, turfgrass and environmental research facility has since led to other such successes. From Buffalo, N.Y., to Gahanna, Ohio, to Wuhan, China, Hurdzan Golf Design is leading the effort for the intelligent, sustainable and profitable adaptive reuse of blighted and abused land for golf.