Courses link to nature

Courses link to nature

May 2nd, 2012 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Outdoors

The days to using DDT are long dead.

The poison killed more than plants and pests when applied to golf courses about 40 years ago.

Chemicals killed back then. Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides were detrimental, and golf courses developed a reputation as being bad for the environment.

The opposite is the case in 2012.

Wild turkeys have free range at The Honors Course. Deer run free and may force a golfer to rethink a shot at Bear Trace at Harrison Bay. It's on that course, in a tall pine tree beside the green on the 10th hole, that a pair of bald eagles have made their home -- chicks included -- for the last two years.

"We go home at dark, but wildlife still has to live on the course, so we're very conscious of that," said Paul Carter, superintendent at the state park course. "Thoughts have changed drastically across the industry. We're in a partnership with nature."

Golf courses have undergone an environmental evolution since their boom in the 1960s, as well as the '70s, '80s and beyond. Those were times when just saying the word "environment" made the speaker a little different than the masses.

The entire golf industry has evolved: from designers considering the environment, water usage and the existing ecosystem to superintendents using the latest in technology and equipment, to golfers themselves reducing litter and treating a course as a special preserve.

Designers now plan their courses around the natural land. Superintendents now spray fewer chemicals per square foot than the average homeowner down the road from the country club.

"I can remember applying fungicide and putting out 40 to 50 pounds," said Carter, who began his career in 1992. "Nowadays we're putting out grams of chemicals. And you don't have to spray every seven days -- it's once a month."

And golf courses have become sanctuaries to natural wildlife, including the more than 350 species of birds that flutter through The Honors Course refuge on a yearly basis. The Audubon Society rewards golf courses on a yearly basis and works with courses to improve bird habitats.

"A lot of things have changed," said Sandy Queen, president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. "A lot of thought and effort goes into creating a good ecosystem."

Queen said golf courses cover 150 acres, on average. Typically, there are three acres for greens, four for teeing grounds and 30 for fairways, resulting in a total of less than 40 acres of maintained area.

"It used to be that the course had to be green and lush from wall to wall, and that mindset has changed among golfers and superintendents," Carter said. "We're now concentrating on areas that are in play. If your ball shouldn't be there, then we're not going to mow there."

The use of water on courses remains a popular topic among superintendents and designers. The trend is turning to less is better.

Barney Adams, CEO of Adams Golf, suggested that courses should turn off fairway irrigation systems to conserve water as well as revert courses to the days before irrigation.

Rick Robbins, who designed Canyon Ridge atop Lookout Mountain, agrees in principle.

"I would like to see more of the Scottish version of courses where it's OK to have a little brown grass," Robbins said. "I prefer that instead of the Augusta way where everything is green and lush. Not everybody can be Augusta. Brown is good.

"It's natural."