Urban Agriculture at Work at Denver Golf

Going aggro these days might not always be a good thing unless you are getting into urban agriculture at one of the City of Denver’s golf courses.
Wellshire Golf Course
Wellshire Golf Course is one of Denver Golf's eight courses located throughout the Denver Metro area.

The Denver City courses are widely known and celebrated as some of the oldest and best maintained public courses in Colorado. Denver golf encompasses eight facilities with 1,000 acres of functional turf, lakes, waterways, and greenspace. These accessible public golf courses preserve some of the last greenbelts in Denver’s otherwise hardscaped environment.

Providing exceptional playing conditions with management strategies that are both environmentally and economically sustainable is essential to the mission of Denver Golf. A common misconception is that golf courses are disconsonant with eco-friendly principles. For many Coloradans, green grass is elusive. So, the rationale that golf courses must be artificially enhanced is a hard myth to dispel. However, the basis of well-maintained turfgrass is the culmination of agronomic disciplines including conservation, science, technology, art, and hard work.

Water is the most critical managed resource for the Denver Golf agronomy team. Turfgrass detractors speculate wildly that bluegrass requires over 40 gallons of water per square foot (gpsf) per year. The reality is that optimal turf is grown drier and with judicious use of irrigation water. Denver golf courses irrigate with an average of 12 gpsf per year.

Golf’s water sipping achievement is not simple or easy, but it can be translated into huge conservation opportunities for residential and commercial turf. The “set it and forget it” method of irrigation programming is inefficient and wasteful. The golf superintendent amends the irrigation programming daily by utilizing technology such as real-time remote moisture sensors, GPS handheld moisture sampling, and live local data from the golf course’s weather station. In addition to this adaptive approach to irrigation, stretching irrigation cycles with supplemental hand watering is a huge water conservation strategy moving turfgrass closer to xeric than the swamped soils suggested by turf critics. Other practices such as aeration, wetting agents, deep and infrequent irrigation, cycle-soak, turfgrass density, and balanced soils all play a huge role on how the professional turfgrass manager cultivates quality turf with minimal water.

Taking non-functional turf out of production is a common water conservation strategy in the golf industry. Approximately 10% or 100 acres of Denver Golf is set aside for conservation which receives reduced inputs of water and maintenance. With these out of the way of play areas, a sharp contrast between conservation areas and managed turf is created while providing habitat and wildlife corridors.

In addition to setting aside non-functional turf for conservation, Denver’s horticulture team is changing the look and function of formal landscapes. Horticulturist John Swain is transforming Denver Golf’s traditional landscape into pollinator habitat, xeric, and food-producing gardens. Annually, 500-800 pounds of organically grown vegetables are harvested from the Harvard Gulch golf course and donated to a local non-profit kitchen. Currently, three honey beehives are at work at Willis Case, Wellshire, and Aqua Golf with about 100 pounds of raw honey produced in 2021.

Climate change and water scarcity require a change from business as usual for turfgrass cultivation in the Western states. Transitioning non-functional turf into native or xeric landscapes could reduce the demand for an over-appropriated water system. However, diligent land use planning must also account for the social and environmental benefits of turfgrass. The cooling impacts of healthy turf are dramatic with midday temperature differentials showing turfgrass 20 degrees cooler than adjacent concrete and rockscape. In addition to being naturally cooler, properly maintained turfgrass provides soil stabilization, water infiltration, carbon sequestration, and pollution control. When professionally managed, like Denver’s golf courses, quality turfgrass is a sustainable contributor to a healthy urban ecosystem.

Denver Golf’s portfolio includes eight diverse and distinctive locations scattered throughout the Denver Metro area. We offer everything from urban golf settings to a true Colorado mountain golf experience at affordable prices. In addition to outstanding course conditions, our friendly and helpful guest service ambassadors will provide you with an enjoyable customer experience. No matter where you live in Denver, you will find one of our outstanding courses close to you.


Pamela C. Smith, Esq., LLM, CGCS, is the Director of Agronomy for Denver Golf. She is a Certified Golf Course Superintendent with 35 years in golf course maintenance and construction. Pam holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Ball State University; a Juris Doctor from Western Michigan University; an LLM in Natural Resources and Environmental Law from the University of Denver; and is a licensed attorney in Michigan and Colorado.

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