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Dinelli's green initiative at North Shore Country Club benefits Encompass Championship venue

June 21, 2013

By Phil Stambaugh, PGA TOUR Staff

Dan Dinelli with his "red wiggler" compost wagon, one of several innovations used to improve turf conditions at North Shore Country Club.

GLENVIEW, Ill.- From the moment Champions Tour professionals stepped on the grounds of North Shore Country Club, host of this week’s Encompass Championship, they knew they were in for a real treat. Dan Dinelli, the course’s superintendent, is part-magician, part-mad scientist and his historic golf course nestled north of Chicago will serve as a stage this week and a laboratory the rest of the year.

Dinelli’s mission of providing a golf course that gives members and their guests a memorable and enjoyable golf experience is no different than any other golf course superintendent around the United States, he just goes about his task in a unique way.

A 30-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) and third-generation superintendent, Dinelli’s family history is interwoven with the history of North Shore. He takes great pride in his environmental efforts and works continually to improve and advance the sustainability of his property for future generations of golfers to enjoy. To him and his agronomy staff, golf is much more than just a game. It provides long-term environmental, economic and social benefits to the community.

Dinelli’s grandfather, Frank, was the superintendent at nearby Northmoor Country Club and his father, Joe, was the previous superintendent for more than three decades at North Shore, the site of Johnny Goodman’s surprise U.S. Open victory in 1933, the last amateur to win the prestigious championship. Dinelli’s uncles were also superintendents and his cousin, Jerry, is his right-hand man at North Shore.  

What’s exciting and most fulfilling for Dinelli is the positive impact that the 170 acres of green space, 20 miles north of the nation’s third largest city, has created.

“Not everyone’s a golfer, so I think it’s just as important that other messages are shared – a healthy ecology, a healthy community, a healthy neighbor. You may never set foot on a golf course, but yet it’s got a positive impact,” Dinelli said.

Dinelli’s goal is to create and maintain a win-win-win situation. “Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. We’re diversifying the landscape, creating habitat for wildlife, reducing maintenance and adding beautification,” he said. 

His sophisticated, well-engineered and designed irrigation system at North Shore is very efficient and effective delivering water. In addition to the three ponds, originally dug by his father, North Shore has an underground vault to the left of the 18th fairway, used to capture storm water for irrigation.

“We have seven different injection systems here. We inject soap-like materials to break the surface tension of water and make water, wetter. It actually makes water more effective and useful to a plant because the surface tension of water is broken. It’s like putting water on the hood of your car. You get the heaping bubbles and water spots. When you put soap on there, it breaks that surface tension and those water droplets fall and cascade off. It’s the same principle we use in the soil. You are trying to get the water through the soil profile in an effective and even way,” Dinelli said.  

The course’s agronomy staff also delivers very light rates of nutrients and bio-stimulants through this irrigation system, applying what the plant needs, when it needs it, and in just the right amount.

The facility also has its own brewery of microorganisms that are known to be beneficial.

“Our ‘red wiggler’ wagon takes some of the waste stream from the club’s (non-meat) food scraps. Our earthworms surface feed and they eat the fresh green. Their waste castings are a gardeners dream because they are nutrient rich and high in micro-activity to use to improve sandy or clay soils. We use them for divot mix or if we have a strained area on the golf course,” Dinelli said.

Many golf facilities collect scientific data and use monitoring devices to ensure environments are being preserved, but they come with a cost. Dinelli uses some modern technology, but he also uses indicator species to tell him about the health of his ecosystem.  “We have rainbow trout in our ponds and trout don’t tolerate any pollutants so that ensures that our water quality is good. The old saying is everything you put on the ground ultimately ends up in your water.  In theory, there’s a collection point for all the things that we put out there, so it makes us feel like we're doing things well,” Dinelli said.  

North Shore is a registered Audubon Sanctuary and another environmental indicator near and dear to Dinelli, a falconer, Audubon International board member and one of the few registered breeders of red-tailed hawks in America, is his observation of the behavior of birds on the North Shore property. “The red-tail hawk is the top of the food chain and animals in that position are important because things bio‑accumulate in the system like DDT did.  So DDT taught us the lesson of persistent chemicals being used.  If they last too long in the environment, it bio‑accumulates and the organisms at the top of the food chain get affected.  Seeing our nest of red-tail hawks just off the 10th fairway allows us a comfort level knowing that the ecology here is healthy,” he said.

Dinelli is well-respected for his expertise and service on numerous committees and panels.  He’s won numerous honors in the industry, including GCSAA’s President's Award for Environmental Stewardship, numerous GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf awards, and the Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendent’s Charles Bartlett Award. He has also testified before members of Congress and appeared in media to share the positive attributes of golf. However, Dinelli’s favorite part of his profession is learning and a desire for continuing education. GCSAA and the Environmental Institute for Golf are very important to Dan, for education and outreach is one of their many strengths.

For Dinelli, golf is a wonderful game, but it’s his on-site research conducted at North Shore that has benefited him in so many ways. His knowledge was passed down from generation to generation and this week, the Champions Tour professionals are reaping the benefits.  

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