2006: Call of the Wild - Golf & Environment

While superintendents have long sought to boost wildlife presence on golf courses, the effort did not gain serious national attention until the 1990s with the inception of such programs as the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses and the USGA’s Wildlife Links Program, a mutual venture between the USGA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation designed to fund research, management and education projects.

Of the 16,000-plus golf courses nationwide, 2,300 are “registered” and 593 are “certified” as Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuaries. Courses can gain Audubon International certification by implementing standard management practices in the six areas of environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management, and outreach and education.

While superintendents on Audubon International-recognized courses are not the only stewards of the land, they are some of the most passionate.

Audubon International’s “Guide to Environmental Stewardship on the Golf Course” and the USGA’s “Wildlife Links: Improving Golf’s Environmental Game” serve as available references.

The secret to wooing wildlife is fairly simple, according to experts. Four keys are adequate amounts of space, food, cover and water.

“A lot of it depends upon what you are starting with,” Fried said.

Not every course need begin with the forest primeval, though it helps. But even a semi-urban course can attract wildlife by keeping the water clean, growing native grasses and plants to entice birds and pollinators (bees and butterflies), maintaining a variety of trees and accumulating brush piles.

“By keeping a healthy wildlife population you can restore natural balance as opposed to letting the wildlife get out of control,” Fried

said. “For example, bluebirds and swallows voraciously consume mosquitoes. Predators like bobcats, foxes, coyotes, owls and hawks eat rodents and geese, naturally keeping their numbers under control and in balance with a healthy ecosystem.”

Patrick Blum has been superintendent at Colonial Acres Golf Course in Glenmont, N.Y. since 1994, when the course was “mowed tree line to tree line.” The 33-acre, semiprivate course is proof that stewards do not need a lot of space to practice wildlife and habitat management.

“It can be done on any golf course despite location, size, budget and staffing,” said Joellen Zeh, Audubon’s program manager.

To attract wildlife onto the course, Blum reduced landing areas, connected vegetative areas and established a coursewide buffer that resulted in a flourishing wildlife corridor that now includes deer, coyote, red fox, pheasant, and wood and mallard ducks.

Blum also added bird feeders, planted native shrubs and added thistle seeds to attract goldfinch, raising the number found on the course from 18 to 31. Wild turkeys flock to the natural tassel dwarf fountain grasses in a large bunker on the third hole. Surrounded by houses, the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary course has attracted about as much wildlife as it can handle, Blum said.

When it comes to environmental initiatives on golf courses, few have matched Dave Phipps’ dedication. Phipps has been superintendent at Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City, Ore., since construction began in 2000, and the course’s 160 acres were designed with wildlife in mind. Phipps has served on the Environmental Institute for Golf’s Wildlife and Habitat Task Group and helped organize the Northwest Golf Course Environmental Alliance, a group of several courses in Oregon and Washington that have adopted strict management practices to dispel the perception of golf courses as being environmentally harmful.

“During construction, we allowed a lot of corridors to remain undisturbed and provided cover and shelter wherever possible,” Phipps said.

He also buffered the property’s four lakes that now are stocked with bass and home to numerous geese and ducks. While using ovicide ultimately might help keep the goose population in check, birds of prey, including hawks, kestrels and osprey help maintain natural order, he said. Deer feast on old apple trees that Phipps retained. Coyote and bobcat lurk about as well.

Even property “in a 75 percent native state” requires constant management.

Only 90 of 400 total acres are maintained at Prairie Dunes Country Club, a 1937 Perry Maxwell design in Hutchinson, Kan., that is ranked No. 10 on Golfweek’s Best list of top 100 Classic Courses (pre-1960).

P. Stan George, superintendent at Prairie Dunes, utilizes many of Audubon International’s suggestions for how to attract wildlife to his grassland paradise. He mixes grasses and forbs, provides song and nesting boxes, avoids mowing near nesting sites during the breeding season, and, since 1993, has administered a controlled burn program that helps seeds germinate, warms and enriches the soil, reduces mat and removes woody undergrowth. He also has an extensive system of wildlife corridors that delivered deer to the 17th hole on the second day of this year’s U.S. Senior Open.

The course also forged an alliance years ago with Max Terman, an ornithologist at nearby Tabor College. That relationship has led to the documentation of 57 bird species on the course.

Attracting wildlife is more science than art because habitats are so varied. Be it wetlands, woods, open fields, deserts or ponds, each contains especially adapted species that must be courted differently for optimal diversity and management effectiveness.

For superintendents looking to boost their wildlife population, George suggests first a call to Audubon International, but warns not to overlook other local resources.

“(Audubon) is a great place to start,” George said. “There are (other resources) out there, from colleges to soil and water conservation districts, departments of environmental quality, fish and wildlife people. Create liaisons for yourself.”

The reasons for attracting wildlife are many, Fried said.

“Not only does it add pleasure to the game, it’s a tremendous money saver in terms of chemicals, equipment and manpower,” he said. “Less mowing means less labor. People don’t realize how maintaining your course in as natural a way as possible promotes its ability to do well at a lower cost and become much more pleasant to play.”

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