Each week, Paul Carter spends about as much time on environmental management issues as he does turfgrass maintenance. For Carter, superintendent at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, and director of agronomy for the Tennessee State Parks golf system, those duties go hand-in-hand.
Although he has gained statewide and national acclaim for his work in environmentalism, Carter's efforts also have become the subject of an ongoing gag at the course near Chattanooga.
"Our job is to protect our resources, and provide a better product for our customers," Carter said.
"We spend half our time with the environment. The other half is the turfgrass. There's a running joke around here now that we're The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay Golf Course and Nature Preserve."
But developing a reputation as a leader in environmental issues is no joke for Carter. Developed in 1937, Harrison Bay is the first state park in Tennessee, and the golf course located on its grounds is the flagship of the park system's nine courses collectively known as the Tennessee Golf Trail.
"We try to be a leader in environmental stewardship," Carter said.
"The animals were here first. I get to go home at the end of the day, but they stay here, so we need to leave it better than how we found it."
Carter recently began writing a new chapter in his work to preserve resources while also providing exceptional playing conditions for park customers.
On March 4, he began using, as part of a state-sponsored emissions-reduction project, an ell-electric maintenance fleet that includes 18 pieces of equipment valued collectively at $440,000. The only things on the course that still use diesel fuel are fairway and rough mowers, but that too likely will change with coming advancements in battery technology.
His electric fleet, which was on display May 21 during a demo day at the golf course includes three Jacobsen Eclipse 322 greensmowers, four Eclipse 322 mowers for use on tees and approaches, five Toro MDE Workman vehicles, two TruTurf greensrollers, a pair of Smithco Super Star bunker rakes and two Club Car Carryall II vehicles.
Funding for the Harrison Bay project comes from an April 2011 Clean Air Act settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Under the Consent Decree, Tennessee will receive $26.4 million over five years to fund clean air programs in the state (at approximately $5.25 million per year). As part of the grant programs initial offering, a total of $5.3 million in Clean Energy Grants was awarded in 2012 to a variety of projects within state government, municipalities, utilities, state colleges and universities and communities throughout the state.
The project, which includes what Jacobsen's Adam Slick says is the largest single Eclipse purchase to date, was made possible through a grant from the Tennessee Department and Environment and Conservation. Brock Hill, deputy director for parks and conservation for TDEC jokingly referred to Harrison Bay as "the quietest golf course in the state of Tennessee, maybe even the entire Southeast."
TDEC had considered several other high-profile properties for its grant, including the Tennessee Aquarium. The agency finally settled on Harrison Bay for a couple of reasons. First, the group never had partnered with a golf course and second, because observing and measuring the benefits of an electric equipment fleet could be easily monitored and measured, TDEC commissioner Bob Martineau said.
In just 60 days those measurable results include a reduction of 317 gallons of diesel fuel. Meanwhile, the electric bill at Harrison Bay has gone up just $47 in that same period. Carter says the new mowers are expected to pay for themselves in three years.
TDEC officials and Carter estimate that the project will reduce annual diesel consumption by 12,000 gallons, carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent and operating expenses by $30,000 while eliminating almost all air and noise pollution on the property.
"We wanted to do this in public places so we can be an example for others," Martineau said.
"It's a win for us from a cost-savings and operational approach, it's a win for our customers and it's a win for the environment."
Previously, Carter said the lowest he could mow the Champion ultradwarf Bermuda at Harrison Bay was 0.135 inches. The new Jacobsen mowers sport a cutting unit with a 15-blade reel that allows him to cut at one-tenth of an inch.
The most common reservations expressed by superintendents about all-electric equipment center around battery life, specifically will the machines retain enough juice to finish a job, and what happens in the event of a power outage.
Neither is a concern for Carter. Each of three walk mowers charges in about two hours and he is able to double-cut and complete a clean up lap on 10 greens with a single charge.
"My thinking is if we get a storm that's bad enough to knock out power, then the last thing I'm thinking about is mowing," he said.
Carter is accustomed to being a leader when it comes to environmental stewardship initiatives.
A certified Audubon Sanctuary golf course, The Bear Trace has gained worldwide acclaim the past two years for its Eagle Cam that has brought the nesting habits of bald eagles to computer screens around the world. The course also is a certified Groundwater Guardian Green Site through the Groundwater Foundation and last year was named a winner of the Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award program.
The project did require new electrical work in the maintenance facility so Carter can quickly and easily charge his new fleet of equipment. His plan eventually is for the golf operation to produce its own electricity via solar power and ultimately implement the same green technology at the eight other state park golf courses.
"Our job is to protect our resources, and provide a better product for our customers," he said.
"Golf has developed a reputation of being a polluter and something that wastes resources. This program gives me something I can show them to prove we don't do that."