By Denny Spencer and Jerry Mathews, ASGCA

Solving Storm Water Challenges

Prior to the Clean Water Act of 1972, it was common practice for cities and towns to install only one drainage pipe in the ground to carry both sewer and storm water to a waste water treatment plant.  The plant would treat the water and release it to a nearby river.  As the cities and towns grew, treatment plants could not handle the influx of water after a heavy rain and much of it, sewage and all, was discharged directly into the waterway.

Amendments to the Clean Water Act in 1987 included a mandate that states must reduce the amount of pollution and sewage being released into rivers.  The City of Lansing installed two pipes in the ground, one for storm water discharge into the Grand River and the other for sewer water headed for the treatment plant.  After the construction, the city would no longer take the storm water from Lansing Township, a suburb three miles northeast of downtown, but it would continue to accept Lansing Township’s sewage since it would be financially impossible for a town of only 9,000 residents to build its own treatment plant.

The Tollgate Drainage District of Lansing Township encompasses a watershed of 234 acres, 550 residential homes, 10 commercial properties, 500 plus apartment units, and four governmental agencies.  On its western edge sits the Groesbeck Municipal Golf Course and Fairview Park.

The Ingham County Drain Commission was faced with the traditional solution of piping Lansing Township’s storm water to one of three nearby rivers.  But this solution would cost in excess of $20 million and bankrupt the community.  So the commission became very creative and assembled a team of professionals to design a 30-acre urban wetland system to handle all of the storm water discharge.  Using an innovative method, the Tollgate Drain diverts storm water to the lowland area of Fairview Park, where it is naturally cleansed of non-point source pollutants such as road oil, organic debris, fertilizers and other forms of pollution.  During heavy storms, excess water flows into seven acres of storage ponds located on the golf course.

The City of Lansing became a willing partner in the project.  There had long been talk of remodeling Groesbeck Municipal Golf Course and the Mayor of Lansing and the Director of Parks and Recreation seized upon the opportunity represented by the Drain Commission.  The plan included building a large system of interconnecting deep water ponds on the golf course.  Since nine holes of the golf course would be closed during construction, and vast amounts of soil would be generated on-site, the Mayor encouraged the city to go forward with its desire to remodel this part of the course.  In doing so, the project became a cooperative effort with the goals of the city and the golf course designed into the plan.  The engineers were called upon to coordinate the design and construction of the project.

The challenge presented to the golf course architects was to redesign the new golf holes to include the ponds and wetlands required by the Drain Commission without requiring any additional land. The design goal was also to maintain the playability and safety that is required of municipal golf.  The new water features affected six of the nine holes, bordering three (No. 1, 8, 9), providing the backdrop at No. 2 and calling for a tee shot carry at No. 3 and No. 7.  At No. 8, a 185 yard par 3, a new perched wetland was created that borders the entire left side of the hole.

An aquatic plant specialist was consulted for the addition of a wide variety of wetland plantings.  A recirculating pump brings water up to the wetland, which is eventually distributed, into a rock creek at the front of the green and then back into the pond.

In addition to beautiful and strategic water features, the pond construction provided nearly 90,000 cubic yards of soil for building new tee and green complexes and a large amount of fairway elevation and mounding.  The fairways on No. 1 and No. 9 were raised four feet to provide additional storm water storage during an unusually heavy storm.

The ponds themselves provide a number of environmental advantages in addition to storm water storage.  A combination of wetlands, waterfalls, underwater aerification and select deep water areas all contribute to sedimentation control and pollution reduction.  The ponding system also relies on evaporation to reduce its volume, as well as providing a source of irrigation water for all 18-holes.  Along with new double row irrigation, the Golf Course Architect worked with the irrigation consultant to design an underground recirculating system which exchanges the water in the ponds every 24 hours.

The HDPE pipe, with holes drilled in its top, was installed along the bottom of the wetland ponds.  It not only recirculates the water throughout the entire water management system, but it also continuously pushes water from the lower depths to the surface.  The total 30 acre urban wetland system, including the golf course, can handle 10 million gallons of water per day, or two 25 year storms back-to-back.  More importantly, the water is naturally filtered and cleansed so that no pollutants are being discharged into the river, solving a complex environmental problem.  The entire project was done for $6.2 million, less than one-third of the cost of the traditional solution, with the golf course renovation representing less than $2.5 million of the project total.

Groesbeck Municipal Golf Course, which previously had no water features, can now boast about its new nine with six beautiful and challenging water holes.  Its new environment is also teaming with numerous species of fish, waterfowl, shore birds and other forms of amphibian wildlife.


Heavy rains in Lansing Township used to mean flooded basements and backed-up sewers, but not any more.  As Groesbeck Municipal has demonstrated, a course can offer a great deal more to a community than simply recreation and green space.  It can become a primary factor in helping solve serious community problems and enhancing the environment in which people conduct their daily lives.