HUALALAI, Hawaii — The 5th hole of the Weiskopf Course at the Four Seasons Hualalai Golf Club is an inopportune place to spray a shot right. It would be impolite to disturb the oysters.
What at first glance appears to be a garden-variety collection pond in place to challenge your swing is something actually quite unusual: a hard-working, 3-acre saltwater ecosystem created by the resort's longtime Director of Natural Resources David Chai. In a destination that puts a premium on health and eating well (and has the ecology to make it happen), he's crafted a low-energy aqua culture environment that harvests 60-70,000 Kumamoto and Pacific oysters annually. They're served up to members and guests of the Four Seasons Hualalai at various dining concepts on the Big Island resort, club and residential community.
The premise for the pond was fairly simple. "If we can have a lake," said Chai. "Why not make it saltwater and grow some food?" Chai & staff were thoughtful with their own flavor of golf course strategy in creating an entire 3-acre natural ecosystem that includes shrimp, milkfish, mullet and seagrapes. Chai is also experimenting with growing a seaweed-based "vegan caviar." The more natural the ecosystem, the faster the seafood grows and the beter it tastes. In addition to serving up seafood, fly fishing programs are also taught to members and resort guests.
Not every golf course has the fertile environment of the Big Island or the resources of Hualalai, but most golf courses surely have some land or water here and there that could be used in a way that serves as more than just a water hazard.
Some courses have closed entirely over the years and have given way to farming, most notably High Pointe Golf Course in Traverse City, which has been transformed into a sprawling hops farm serving the state's emerging craft beer movement. Speaking of the 19th hole, it's tough to play golf courses in California Wine Country without seeing bordering vineyards, like at aptly named Chardonnay Golf Club or at CordeValle in NorCal.
Golf courses may also be able to improve turf quality by spreading coffee grounds, a recent Texas A&M study found.
In truth, golf courses serving as a place to grow food dates back to the game's origins. Livestock roamed early golf courses and grazed their fairways, serving as the de facto grounds crew in the summer months. To this day, many courses keep sheep on the grounds like Royal North Devon, and a round at Wales' Pennard Golf Club is prone to cattle playing through.
Can you grow crops and play golf in the same space? It's an option that could gain interest as a Permaculture movement takes hold across America and golf courses look for additional revenue sources. What if the high native grasses bordering a fairway was instead a lucrative crop like hemp that could be harvested and sold twice a year?
Or maybe staff could start with something smaller. Hives don't need much space - just keep the bees away from the tees, please. They've been installed at such golf course properties as the TPC San Antonio in Texas and PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where superintendent Dick Gray works with a local beekeeper to maintain hives on-site, which produce honey used in the facility’s dining spaces and sold in the pro shop. It has been a hit among the membership.
You don't need balmy southern weather to grow food on a golf course. Northern golf courses can even be tapped for food when the snow falls. In Chicago, Medinah Country Club has 54 holes on 650 acres and an ambitious culinary program. Meachem's Garden onsite grows 34 different plants and vegetables, plus spices and fragrant, edible flowers. They also tap trees in the winter time to generate maple syrup for their pro shop and dining concepts.
The next time you're on your home course, think less about where the bunkers are and instead where you might be able to plant some crops that would enhance the 19th hole.