Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses

Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
Golf courses provide a unique setting for wetlands that can be used to provide both an environ-
mental benefit and an aesthetic amenity. The research-based recommendations in this publica-
tion are intended to help you optimize concepts and designs for your next project.

Golf course designers and superintendents
are increasingly taking steps to protect nearby
environmental resources from potential negative
impacts. New regulations and incentives also
encourage designers and superintendents to pur-
sue sound management and use greener technol-
ogies. One of the most frequently recommended
practices for protecting the environment around
a golf course is to incorporate constructed
stormwater wetlands (CSWs) as a part of the
water management plan for the course.
     A CSW can be an attractive and practical
way to meet requirements for water manage-
ment design or retrofitting (Figure 1). CSWs not      Figure 1. Stormwater wetland on a golf course in
only remove nutrients; they also provide ecosys-      eastern North Carolina. Wetlands can be incorpo-
tem services such as wildlife habitat and carbon      rated as course hazards while adding ecological
sequestration. These services provide an additional   diversity and improving water quality.
opportunity for the course to expand its involve-
ment into environmental protection programs that      nutrients (Line et al., 2008; Lenhart and Hunt,
could generate additional recognition or revenue.     2011; Hathaway and Hunt, 2010). The ben-
                                                      efits of wetlands also include the removal of
INTRODUCTION                                          harmful bacteria and regulation of organics
The growing popularity of stormwater wetlands         (Hathaway et al., 2011; Moore et al., 2011). As a
stems from their potential to improve water           result of documented performance, the North
quality and reduce the quantity of runoff leav-       Carolina Division of Environment and Natural
ing a site. Wetlands are natural water filters.       Resources (NCDENR) currently offers 40%
The biological, chemical, and physical condi-         removal credit to CSWs for both nitrogen and
tions within wetlands create ideal conditions         phosphorus loads, which is among the high-
for removing many pollutants from water.              est credits awarded to any treatment practice
Research at NC State University continues to          (NCDENR, 2009). Wetlands store drainage
show that wetlands are excellent at removing          water, dampen peak runoff rates, and increase
Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses

on-site retention time. Wetlands can                                                Lonnie Poole Golf Course
also reduce outflow volume through                                                  The Lonnie Poole golf course is on NC
evaporation/plant transpiration and                                                 State University’s Centennial Campus.
modest infiltration.                                                                The latest research-based concepts for
     The United States Golf Associa­                                                environmental sustainability were used
tion (USGA) has recognized storm-                                                   in the design of the facility, and these
water wetlands as an acceptable                                                     concepts are also applied to current
means to reduce drainage outflow                                                    management practices. The course
volumes and improve downstream                                                      was built under strict environmen-
water quality. For example, a research                                              tal regulations that protect streams,
grant from the USGA Turfgrass and                                                   buffers, and wetlands. A number of
Environmental Research program                                                      water features are part of the course,
                                            Figure 2. CSW at Eagle Point Golf
supported a golf course project to                                                  including wet ponds, several natu-
                                            Course, Wilmington.
manage runoff with stormwater                                                       ral wetland areas, and a stormwater
wetlands at Purdue University. The                                                  wetland. The CSW collects and treats
project showed excellent results for        Hillandale Golf Course in Durham.       stormwater from the course and from
water quality improvement (Kohler           More recent golf course projects at     a nearby public school before discharg-
et al., 2004; Reicher et al., 2005).        Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington     ing to a well-buffered stream that flows
     In addition to their stormwater        (Figure 2), Chowan Country Club         through the course (Figure 3).
benefits, wetlands have other uses          in Edenton, and NC State’s Lonnie            A study showed that this wetland
that can make them attractive golf          Poole Golf Course in Raleigh were       reduced runoff volumes and improved
course enhancements. Stormwater             intended to meet specific goals for     water quality. Total nitrogen loads were
wetlands can function as an integral        water quality and to protect environ-   reduced by 47%, and total phosphorus
part of a drainage system, provide          mentally sensitive areas. Research      loads were reduced by 59%. The study
additional water storage for irriga-        data collection has been an integral    further showed that a good portion
tion or other reuse needs, and offer        part of all of these projects.          of the pollutant removal was achieved
an attractive alternative to traditional                                            through internal wetland processes
water hazards.                              Chowan Country Club                     rather than through water volume
     Recent engineering advancements        A large retrofit was planned for the    reduction. Other benefits described in
have improved the wetland design            Chowan Country Club golf course to      the study included removal of solids
process. Guidance on wetland con-           address drainage issues and improve     and low nutrient concentrations in
struction and maintenance is readily        course conditions. This course was      outflows (Line et al., 2008).
available from other fact sheets in this    situated immediately adjacent to the
series: Stormwater Wetland Design           Albemarle Sound. The Department         WETLAND LOCATIONS
Update and Stormwater Wetland               of Biological and Agricultural          Stormwater wetlands have been used
Construction Guidance (Extension            Engineering helped design a series of   successfully in all regions of North
publications AGW-588-12 and                 CSWs throughout the course to help      Carolina. A wetland only needs
AG-588-13W).                                manage drainage and improve water
     This fact sheet describes several      quality. A total of 15 acres of wet-
example projects from North Carolina        lands in eight areas were constructed
to illustrate how CSWs can be inte-         as part of the project. More than
grated into golf courses, and it provides   half the holes on this course now
recommendations for project success.        include a water feature. Research on
                                            the project showed that the wet-
NORTH CAROLINA’S                            lands reduced both the quantity of
GOLF COURSE WETLANDS                        stormwater runoff and the peak flow
In North Carolina, NC State                 rates from the course. Nutrient loads
Cooperative Extension and the               exiting the course were also signifi-
Department of Biological and                cantly reduced. Total nitrogen and
Agricultural Engineering have been          phosphorus loads were decreased by
                                                                                    Figure 3. CSW located near the no. 3
involved with several CSWs on               23% to 72%. Better performance was      green on Lonnie Poole Golf Course.
golf courses. One of the state’s first      achieved when the ratio of wetland      This feature treats runoff and is marked
stormwater wetland demonstration            size to watershed area was higher       as a water hazard on one of the most
projects was constructed in 2000 at         (Pekarek, 2008).                        challenging holes on the course.

Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses

periodic influxes of water to thrive.
Water levels in most areas in a wet-
land should be less than one foot deep
during normal conditions. Wetlands
rarely require more than a small
berm to retain water, and they can be
managed with simple and inexpensive
water control structures. A well-
planned wetland is a living ecosys-
tem, and once a diverse community
of plants has established, a wetland
is mostly self-sustaining, requiring
minimal maintenance.
     Any area that is experiencing peri-
odic wetness or drainage problems on
a golf course is a prime location for a
wetland. Small ditches or other drain-
ageways can be converted into wetland
areas (Figure 4). Existing ponds or old
ponds with failed dams are also good
candidates for a wetland retrofit. A pri-
mary drainage outlet that leads from
the golf course into a natural water
body can also be an ideal location to
position a wetland to provide some           Figure 4. This old drainageway cros-          Figure 5. Eroding drainage ditches
final runoff treatment. An example of        sing the no. 3 fairway at Chowan              like this one at Hillandale Golf Course
this design is shown in Figure 2, where      Country Club was a great spot for a           (above) can be stabilized as a stormwa-
drainage water flows through the golf        wetland (above). Two years later, the         ter wetland. Four years after construc-
                                             developed wetland at the same location        tion (below), the channel is stable, and
course and is intercepted by a CSW           supports an established vegetation            the wetland provides multiple ecosys-
before it discharges into a salt marsh.      community (below). The wetland is now         tem services.
     Eroding channel banks on small          a water hazard in the local rules.
drainageways can also be targeted for
wetland placement. This was the case         course, decreasing the potential for              There are many different types
at Hillandale Golf Course, where an          course damage.                                of wetlands that can be used in a
eroding bank was both an eyesore and               Golf course wetland planning            golf course setting. Wetlands can
a safety hazard (Figure 5). In 2000 a        should involve significant input from         be very small or many acres in size.
wetland was installed adjacent to the        the course designer and superintendent        Wetlands can be designed to work in
first tee; now the wetland also serves       (Figure 6). They will be able to help         series to combine variety and water
as a water quality amenity and a visual      identify wet areas, drainage systems,
screen that partially hides a parking lot.   and course drainage retrofits or
                                             improvements that could benefit from
WETLAND PLANNING                             wetlands. To get the most benefit out of
Wetlands provide a designated area           these features, it is important to evalu-
for water storage, which can efficiently     ate how wetland areas might affect
keep water off of playing areas. When        play. Wetlands that can act as lateral
combined with a course drainage sys-         or water hazards while providing an
tem, wetlands can decrease the impact        aesthetic amenity around the course
of rainfall by providing multiple            can be highly desirable. Particularly at
drainage outlets. In addition, spoil         private clubs, additional input from the
from excavation can sometimes be             membership will be crucial to get sup-
used to build up other low areas of the      port. A field visit to discuss potential
                                                                                           Figure 6. Meet frequently with the course
course. Improved drainage response           wetland sites with respect to playability     designer and/or the golf course superin-
will decrease the amount of time that        (i.e., landing areas) should be an inte-      tendent to improve the impact and suc-
players and traffic must be kept off the     gral part of the planning process.            cess of a golf course wetlands project.

Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses

Figure 7. Wetland along no. 10 tee box,      Figure 8. Stormwater wetland in wes-         Figure 9. Deep wetland with floating
Chowan Country Club.                         tern North Carolina. This wetland            aquatics.
                                             includes a mixture of deep pools and
                                             shallow water that supports a diverse
quality benefits. The type of wetland        ecological community.                        for a variety of hydrologic interac-
constructed will depend on site loca-                                                     tions. A thorough analysis is neces-
tion, watershed size, and the desired        (Figure 11). This type of wetland will       sary to predict contributing watershed
aesthetic result. Wetlands can be built      typically have a thick border of vegeta-     dynamics and determine local water
with or without significant water            tion that will help restrict player access   table interaction, storage needs, and
storage, with varying areas of deep          and provide dense cover for habitat.         flooding risk (Figure 13).
and shallow pools, and with differing             Wetland fringes can be established           When possible, soil sampling
plant communities (Figures 7 and 8).         by constructing a shallow water ledge        and groundwater level monitoring
      Deeper wetlands planted primar-        or shelf around the perimeter of ponds       near targeted areas of the golf course
ily with floating aquatics have a more       (Figure 12). The shelf stabilizes the        should be completed before designing
pondlike appearance and a low pro-           banks, which are often unvegetated           the wetlands. This will help design-
file, allowing golfers to see their target   because of over-mowing and fluctu-           ers understand the site’s groundwater
easily (Figure 9).                           ating water levels in the pond. This         hydrology, a critical component of
      More natural-looking wetlands          provides excellent habitat for ducks         project success. Information on sea-
may involve a less sculpted look and         and other waterfowl that like cover, but     sonal water tables can provide impor-
may also include some trees (Figure          not for geese because they prefer open       tant data for targeting wetland surface
10). Such wetlands are excellent for         water with closely mowed, visible banks      elevations. Shallow water table sys-
border areas or zones where play is          so they can see predators approaching.       tems, such as those found in coastal
restricted. These areas may also pro-                                                     areas, will typically have confining
vide the best wildlife habitat potential.    HYDROLOGIC CONSIDERATIONS                    soil layers restricting vertical seep-
      A design with a mixture of emer-       A stormwater wetland depends on              age. The depth of a coastal stormwater
gents will produce a wetland that has        the proper hydrologic conditions to          wetland must be carefully determined
dense vegetation but that will still be      function and remain sustainable.             to manage water table interaction and
low enough not to impede shot-making         Potential sites should be investigated       to avoid breaching restrictive layers
                                                                                          needed for surface water storage.
                                                                                               Other wetlands may be hydrologi-
                                                                                          cally isolated due to deeper water tables

Figure 10. A more natural wetland look,      Figure 11. Wetland area with a thick
away from playing areas.                     border.                                      Figure 12. Pond with wetland shelf.

Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses

Figure 13. Wetlands can provide tem-        Figure 14. A diverse wetland with a           Figure 15. Flowering plants are attrac-
porary storage for stormwater, thereby      thick border and a flowering interior.        tive to butterflies, dragonflies, and
quickly removing excess water from          Thick borders help keep wildlife in and       other desirable wildlife.
the playing area.                           people out.

                                                                                          for plant establishment and later for
at the wetland site. These wetlands         facilitate maintenance and promote            maintenance activities.
must be designed with clay or synthetic     safety. Special attention should be
liners or specially created soil condi-     paid to slope preparation, establish-         Maintenance
tions to maintain desired water-level       ing vegetation, and setting mowing            Golf courses are highly managed
conditions. Additional analysis should      boundaries.                                   areas. Avoid mowing and the use
be performed to ensure that the water-                                                    of chemicals or fertilizers close to
shed is large enough to contribute a suf-   Topsoil                                       wetlands and sideslopes (Figure 16).
ficient supply of runoff to the wetland.    Topsoil should be incorporated into           Establishing a “no mow” area on the
     An engineering analysis using          the wetland surface and bank slopes           banks of the wetland or pond shelf
spreadsheet routing routines or other       whenever possible. Good soil substrate        can enhance stability, limiting poten-
computer models can facilitate these        will promote rapid plant establishment.       tial erosion. Drifting herbicides may
determinations. There are a number                                                        cause plant die-off. Excessive fertilizer
of routing models that can simu-            Planting                                      use near the wetland areas may cause
late water levels and incorporate the       In highly visible locations, designate        algal blooms. Particular attention
effects of multiple wetlands or com-        plant spacing of 2-foot centers or less.      should be paid to outlet structures
plex in-line structures.                    Dense coverage may be attainable at           that sometimes clog with vegetation
                                            this spacing within a growing season.         or trash. Clear communication with
DESIGN RECOMMENDATIONS                           The best coverage will result            grounds personnel is necessary to
FOR GOLF COURSE WETLANDS                    from planting emergent wetland                facilitate proper wetland maintenance.
General design criteria applicable to all   vegetation in the spring. Summer or
stormwater wetlands include vegetation      fall plantings may be successful, but
selection, water depths, storage depths,    initial results may be diminished due
and drawdown periods. Detailed              to heat and drought stress, as well as
recommendations on the design               a shorter initial growing season.
process are provided in various design           A simple array of flowering herba-
manuals (see Resources section) and in      ceous emergents will provide excellent
the companion fact sheets in this series.   aesthetic quality for the middle sections
     An experienced local stormwater        of the wetland. An outer layer of Juncus
professional can identify any local         spp. (rush) or Scirpus spp. (bulrush,
design issues. Such issues may necessi-     woolgrass) will provide a thick wetland
tate adjustments to traditional designs     border (Figures 14 and 15).
to make wetlands more manageable
and attractive for golf course use.         Structures                                    Figure 16. Overly aggressive mowing is
                                                                                          an example of why proper training is key
                                            Water control structures should be
                                                                                          to maximizing the long-term benefits of
Grading                                     designed to allow for adjustable wet-         stormwater wetlands on golf courses.
Side slopes should be no steeper            land water levels. For example, shal-         Mowing areas can actually be reduced
than 3:1 (horizontal:vertical) to           low water levels are needed initially         by implementing stormwater wetlands.

Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS                is overmaintenance, where crews           REFERENCES
• Will my golf course be taken over       mow too closely along sideslopes
  by mosquitoes?                          (Figure 16) or overapply chemicals in     Hathaway, J.M. and W.F. Hunt. 2010.
     Ponds and other stormwater           close proximity to a wetland. These          An evaluation of stormwater
facilities can become mosquito            wetlands should actually reduce the          wetlands in series in Piedmont,
habitats. However, a properly designed    amount of mowed and regularly                North Carolina. Journal of
stormwater wetland should not create      maintained areas.                            Environmental Engineering.
a mosquito problem because it will                                                     136(1): 140-146.
also be habitat for mosquito predators    • What will the site look like over
such as dragonflies, birds and fish         time?                                   Hathaway, J.M., W.F. Hunt, A.K.
(Figure 17). Regular maintenance as           The site will look different from        Graves, K.L. Bass, and A.
described in Maintenance of               year to year depending on rainfall, but      Caldwell. 2011. Exploring fecal
Stormwater Wetlands and Wet Ponds         once established it should remain well       indicator bacteria in a constructed
(AG-588-07) and Mosquito Control for      vegetated. A densely planted wetland         stormwater wetland. Water
Stormwater Facilities (AG-588-04) by      should result in full coverage over          Science & Technology. 63(11):
grounds crews can reduce the possi-       one full growing season. However,            2707-2712.
bility of mosquito propagation. The       wetlands in unstable watersheds or
authors have not encountered mos-         with unsuitable soils may take several    Kohler, E.A., V.L. Poole, Z.J. Reicher,
quito problems at any properly            seasons to develop a dense stand of          and R.F. Turco. 2004. Nutrient,
designed and maintained CSW sites         vegetation. In general, vegetative com-      metal, and pesticide removal
in North Carolina.                        munities will fill in and propagate as       during storm and nonstorm
                                          time passes. Most stormwater wet-            events by a constructed wet-
• What will my maintenance                lands will begin to appear brown over        land on an urban golf course.
  requirements be?                        the winter, but some plants, such as         Ecological Engineering. 23(4-5):
     Maintenance requirements should      Juncus effusus (soft rush), will remain      285-298.
be substantially less for wetlands        green. A diverse planting plan will
than for fairways, roughs, and greens.    help ensure that a wetland stays clean    Lenhart, H.A. and W.F. Hunt. 2011.
Regular inspection is the most            and green for many years.                    Evaluating four stormwater
important task, but other common                                                       performance metrics with a
tasks include removal of debris from      SUMMARY                                      North Carolina coastal plain
outlets and managing unwanted             Stormwater wetlands have recently            stormwater wetland. Journal
vegetation. Most maintenance activi-      become a popular practice for water          of Environmental Engineering.
ties can be taken care of as part of      quality improvement. Wetlands can            137(2): 155-162.
regular course work, using tools          be especially useful for golf courses,
available at most golf facilities. One    where they can be incorporated into       Line, D.E., G.D. Jennings, M.B. Shaffer,
of the most frequently encountered        the drainage and water management             J. Calabria, and W.F. Hunt. 2008.
problems with golf course wetlands        design as an attractive alternative to        Evaluating the effectiveness of two
                                          traditional water features. In some           stormwater wetlands in North
                                          cases, wetlands can also enhance the          Carolina. Transactions of the
                                          quality of play. Recent research and          ASABE. 51(2): 521-528.
                                          design advances have improved the
                                          use of wetlands, and recommenda-          Moore, T.C., W.F. Hunt, M.R.
                                          tions for wetland construction and          Burchell, and J.M. Hathaway.
                                          use are well documented and readily         2011. Organic nitrogen exports
                                          available. As golf course designers         from urban stormwater wetlands
                                          and managers pursue retrofits and           in North Carolina. Ecological
                                          greener technologies, the use of            Engineering. 37(4): 589-594.
                                          stormwater wetlands should be a
                                          primary consideration.                    NCDENR. 2009. Stormwater wet-
                                                                                      lands. Chapter 9 in: Stormwater
                                                                                      BMP Manual. Online: http://
Figure 17. Dragonflies (aka “mosquito
hawks”) are natural mosquito preda-                                         
tors and are attracted to wetlands with                                               bmp-ch9.
flowering vegetation.

Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses
NC STATE UNIVERSITY                                                                        Stormwater Wetlands for Golf Courses

Pekarek, K.A. 2008. Hydrologic                 Hunt, W.F. 1999. Urban Stormwater               Hunt, W.F. and W.G. Lord. 2006.
   and Water Quality Assessment                   Structural Best Management                      Maintenance of Stormwater
   of Constructed Wetlands on                     Practices (BMPs) (AG-588-01).                   Wetlands and Wet Ponds (AG-
   a Coastal Plains Golf Course.                  Online: http://www.bae.ncsu.                    588-07). Online: http://www.bae.
   Master’s thesis, North Carolina                edu/stormwater/PublicationFiles/      
   State University, Raleigh.                     UrbanBMPs1999.pdf.                              PublicationFiles/
Reicher, Z.J., E.A. Kohler, V.L. Poole,        Hunt, W.F. and B.A. Doll. 2000.
    and R.F. Turco. 2005. Constructed             Design of Stormwater Wetlands                Moore, T.L.C. and W.F. Hunt. 2011.
    wetlands on golf courses help                 for Small Watersheds (AG-588-                  Stormwater Wetlands and
    manage runoff from the course                 02). Online: http://www.bae.ncsu.              Ecosystem Services (AG-588-22).
    and surrounding areas. USGA                   edu/stormwater/PublicationFiles/               Online: http://www.bae.ncsu.
    Turfgrass and Environmental                   SWwetlands2000.pdf.                            edu/stormwater/PublicationFiles/
    Online. 4(2): 1-14. Online: http://                                                          WetlandEcosystemServices2011.              Hunt, W.F., C.S. Apperson, and W.G.               pdf.
                                                  Lord. 2005. Mosquito Control for
RESOURCES                                         Stormwater Facilities (AG-588-               Related Web Sites
                                                  04). Online: http://www.bae.ncsu.
Companion Fact Sheets                             edu/stormwater/PublicationFiles/             Stormwater Engineering Group,
                                                  Mosquitoes2005.pdf.                              Department of Biological and
Burchell, M.R., W.F. Hunt, K.L.                                                                    Agricultural Engineering, NC
   Bass, and J. Wright. 2010.                  Hunt, W.F., M.R. Burchell, J.D.                     State University: http://www.bae.
   Stormwater Wetland Construction                Wright, and K.L. Bass. 2007.           
   Guidance (AG-588-13). Online:                  Stormwater Wetland Design                       Update (AG-588-12). Online:                  USGA Turfgrass and Environmental
   stormwater/PublicationFiles/                                 Research Online: http://usgatero.
   WetlandConstruction2010.pdf.                   stormwater/PublicationFiles/          

                                                               Prepared by

                                            Kristopher Bass, PE, Extension Associate
                                 Michael Burchell, PhD, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist
                                      Robert Evans, PhD, PE, Professor and Department Head
                                  William Hunt, PhD, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
                                               Daniel Line, PE, Extension Specialist
                                        Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
                                                   North Carolina State University

                              Danesha Seth-Carley, PhD, Coordinator for CALS Sustainability Programs
                                           North Carolina Agricultural Research Service
                                                 North Carolina State University

                                                         Published by
                                         NORTH CAROLINA COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE

Distributed in furtherance of the acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. North Carolina State University and North Carolina
A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national
origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North
Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

8/12—BW                                                       13-CALS-3237                                                         AG-765

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