A different approach to course management

Sagamore Hampton Golf Club testifies to a history of sustainable practices


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Richard Luff, president and co-owner of Sagamore Hampton Golf Club in North Hampton, uses ‘alternatives to conventional methods that consider the short- and long-term sustainability’ of the course.

The terms “sustainability“ and “golf” don’t mix easily. 

Golf courses have been known for decades for their excessive use of water and pesticides to create pristine green playing conditions. But Richard Luff, president and co-owner of Sagamore Hampton Golf Club in North Hampton, is part of a family tradition stretching back to the late 1920s that sets itself apart – so much so that Luff co-authored a book on using ecologically sound methods pioneered by his father, Peter. 

“The variables we face in maintaining a golf course provide continual challenges on a daily basis,” Luff said. “Coming up with alternatives to conventional methods that consider the short- and long-term sustainability of the golf course and surrounding ecosystem is very rewarding.”

The Luffs opened their first public golf course, Sagamore Springs in Lynnfield, Mass., in 1929, and the second, Sagamore Hampton, in 1962 in North Hampton, NH. Richard Luff has been in the family business “all his life” and returned to his native Seacoast area after graduating from the University of Vermont. He said his father had decided long ago to apply the lessons of organic gardening to golf course management, in part because he saw the dangers of excessive chemical use that was becoming the norm in the 1950s and 1960s.

Going against the grain, the senior Peter Luff used a minimal amount of chemicals and focused on nourishing the ground to produce quality grass. Richard Luff has picked up the mantle and advanced it further through extensive use of organic fertilizer, natural applications to replace pesticides, and the use of a small wind turbine to offset some energy costs. 

A few years after Peter Luff’s death in 1998, Luff co-wrote the book, “Ecological Golf Course Management,” with Paul Sachs, a longtime friend of Peter.

“Paul was the real force [behind the book], but we wanted to preserve and share what my father practiced for decades,” Luff said.

Sagamore Hampton also has joined forces with NH Sea Grant and University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension on a riparian buffer restoration project to study the impact of water quality in streams, like Cornelius Brook, that make their way to Great Bay Estuary.

And in the past month, Sagamore and UNH Cooperative Extension have set up bee pollinator plots at a few locations on the edges of the course. Luff said the work with Alyson Eberhardt, a coastal ecosystems specialist with NH Sea Grant, has been gratifying.

“Nothing can be done in a vacuum, and we welcome every opportunity to benefit not only the course but the surrounding community,” Luff said. “The sustainability piece not only pertains to how we maintain the golf course, but it also applies to how we run the business in general. My family has been in the golf business since 1929, and we look at business sustainability not only from a year to year perspective but from a generational perspective as well.”

NHBR’s Sustainable Entrepreneurship series is run in partnership with the Green Alliance. To learn more about the alliance, visit greenalliance.biz.

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