Harrison Bay's Bear Trace golf course a fitting site for Earth Day celebration

Harrison Bay's Bear Trace golf course a fitting site for Earth Day celebration

April 23rd, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

Mitch Sivley, right, and Bill Greene of the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay Golf Course lead a group on a tour of the course Tuesday during an Earth Day celebration of sustainable golf.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

It rained during an Earth Day celebration at the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay.

The random spritzers from the sky were an appropriate complement to an afternoon celebrating a golf course that has been on the leading edge of environmental consideration for several years and plans to pave the way for other courses in the state, in the South, across the country and even around the globe.

"What the group has done here is an example for the industry," said University of Tennessee professor Dr. Jim Brosnan. "It's great to see a golf course maintain environmental sustainability as well as optimal playing conditions."

The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay is known across the region and across the globe for the mating pair of American bald eagles that chose to make their nest in a towering pine tree behind the green on No. 10 in 2010.

"I've learned more about eagles in the last 24 hours than I have in my entire 55 years of life," said Ron Wright, who is a field representative for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. "I saw a deer on my way into the course yesterday. What a welcome mat."

The golf industry has been bludgeoned the past several decades by some environmental groups who determined golf courses were bad for ecology.

Those arguments are fading in the wind like the rain swiftly moving east on Tuesday.

Harrison's Bear Trace course earned the 2013 Environmental Leaders in Golf Award based on the efforts of head superintendent Paul Carter and his staff. It is one of a handful of courses in the country -- public or private -- to have a fleet of electric mowers. Its fleet is from Jacobsen.

Other superintendents, including the best from Tennessee and others across the country, are watching for results on the machines.

"The biggest thing is that you can have both: You can show folks a nice piece of natural property and still play golf," said Carter, who has been lauded for his effort with top awards from Golf Digest, the Audubon Society and other industrial publications.

Everybody involved Tuesday made the point that the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay has been a successful proving ground because of its switch to electric mowers which saved about 3,000 gallons in fuel and about another $30,000 in maintenance costs to equipment that cares for the course.

"We want to make this a template for other golf courses," said Mike Nixon, who runs the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. "We want to share what's be done here with other leaders and get this shared with as many golf courses as possible."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.