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Green Techniques On The Green

Tierra Verde Golf Club in south Arlington has always been admired as an outstanding North Texas golf course, but lately it has received much attention for something else--its environmentally friendly way of doing business.

Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) recently awarded the Arlington municipal golf course its Lone Star Land Steward Award, which honors the accomplishments of landowners in each of Texas’s 10 ecological regions. The selections are chosen based on the landowners’ commitment to habitat management and wildlife conservation.

TPW developed the program 13 years ago with the goal of educating and encouraging the public to take part in the preservation of natural habitats and ecosystems. The hope is that the public recognition will help gain exposure for the best examples of successful practices in managing natural resources. TPW also hopes to encourage youth education and participation in responsible habitat management and to improve the health of our ecosystems.

Perhaps what’s most astounding about Tierra Verde’s award is the company in which the course found itself. The award is designed for private landowners that re-establish native flora and fauna, rather than for a city-owned golf course in the suburbs.

"Each year we see a diverse group of dedicated landowners managing their wildlife and natural resources in innovative ways," said Linda Campbell, TPW Private Lands Program director. "They are models for others to emulate in today’s changing Texas."

Joining Forces

So what made this golf course become the first course to ever receive this award?

Golf courses have been around for nearly 600 years. The early courses--such as St. Andrews in Scotland--were developed to follow the natural contours of the area of soft hills, native grasses and sand dunes. For hundreds of years, new courses followed the same design; however, in the 1940s, innovations in chemistry, construction and irrigation opened up new areas to golf course development, allowing developers to build courses without respect to natural habitat.

When the City of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department decided to build a new course in the southern part of the city, officials worked closely with Audubon International in building a course from the ground up, that focused on conserving the site’s existing native vegetation, natural resources and biodiversity. They also wanted the course to serve as a place where nature-education programs could be held.

Audubon International (no relation to the National Audubon Society) is a non-profit conservation group based in New York State that provides the world’s only environmental certification program for golf courses. Since the early 1990s, it has helped 2,500 U.S. golf courses begin the multi-step process toward eco-friendly certification. This includes improving water conservation, creating wildlife habitat and finding alternatives to chemicals. To date, almost 370 have completed the rigorous program. Tierra Verde was the first municipal golf course to receive certification.

“Our goal is to educate golf course superintendents, not regulate them," says Audubon International President Ron Dodson. "Many states don’t require golf course developers to file environmental impact statements. So just to meet our minimum requirements for certification, many courses are doing more than what local, state or federal agencies need."

Tierra Verde--along with several other native courses--began building or installing their links with wide swaths of native plants and wildlife habitat, drought-tolerant grasses, and natural integrated pest-control techniques that reduce chemical use. As a result, Tierra Verde opened in 1998, and after two years under the watchful eye of Audubon, it became the first municipal course to achieve Audubon International Signature status--a category reserved for new projects. The Martin Luther King Jr. Sports Center, adjacent to Tierra Verde, became the first sports center in the world to be certified as an Audubon Signature Cooperative Sanctuary. Also, in 2004, Golf Digest awarded Tierra Verde the Environmental Leaders in Golf Award, which recognizes golf courses worldwide for their environmental excellence.

For The Golfers

The 6,975-yard, par-72 championship course not only accommodates wildlife, but all skill levels of play with five sets of tees. The subtle hills and off-limit natural areas, coupled with perfectly placed hazards, create a course that challenges every golfer to utilize an entire shot selection. Scenery around the layout gives it a rustic beauty that one should expect from a Texas course. Tierra Verde also features a three-hole track and a practice facility that will not leave any serious golfer wanting more. Although wildlife has plenty of room in the brush, golfers will catch glimpses of the animals often taking shortcuts across holes or spying on humans swinging pieces of metal at white-colored rocks.

“Even though we are in an urban setting, the course feels like you’re in a rural area,” said Mark Claburn, Golf Course Superintendent at Tierra Verde Golf Club. “I can’t tell you how many times we have watched a bobcat walk behind the golfers without them noticing it.”

Safe Haven For Habitats

Only 113 acres of the 250-acre site are used by the golf course and sports center. The remaining land has been preserved or rebuilt to its natural state, including creeks, bottomland hardwoods, native grasslands and prairies. One hundred and fifteen acres were left untouched during the development of this facility, providing cover and food sources for insects, birds and mammals as well as protecting native wildflowers and plum thickets. Bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass and sprangletop were used to rebuild 10 acres of degraded land. Also, Tierra Verde created more than 9,000 feet of shoreline--including six acres of ponds--for waterfowl that migrate through the area. Each hole at Tierra Verde is surrounded by native habitats, which serve as sound barriers and natural filters that keep rain runoff from flowing into the course’s creeks.

Claburn and his team go to great measures to foster an environment catering to native species. Corridors and vegetative buffers are preserved between every hole of the course to provide safe passage for wildlife to travel from one end of the property to the other without danger of human interaction. These native areas are essential to the ecosystem in that they provide shelter, water and food sources for a variety of wildlife. Dead trees are left undisturbed to provide a home for animals that nest in their cavities. Brush piles are constructed to provide additional cover for birds and mammals as well as the placement of nest boxes for various bird species, including waterfowl. Even native grass is mowed to a specific height every three years to simulate grazing.

Claburn sees this latest award as evidence that their hard work is noticed and appreciated.

“Recognition like this affirms that we are on the right track, and makes this team even more proud of the direction and vision at Tierra Verde,” said Claburn.

Preserving Resources

The methods used at the course are not only noteworthy, but also cost-efficient. Tierra Verde uses water that is tapped prior to purification (called “raw water”) so that potable water is conserved for domestic consumption, and the golf course spends 40 to 60 percent less on water each year than does a typical course in North Texas.

“We do think it’s the way the industry is going because it makes more sense,” said Claburn. “You’re going to save money in the long run because you don’t have to do as much to maintain the course.”

By preserving these natural areas and enhancing habitat, Tierra Verde has supplied the community with a site that not only provides recreational opportunities, but also ensures habitat for wildlife and plant life in the years to come.

The City of Arlington is committed to expanding environmental focus, and is currently in the process of receiving Audubon certification for its three other courses as well.

Kelly Drawdy is the Marketing Manager for Arlington Parks and Recreation. She has been with the department for two years and holds a master’s degree in communications. She can be reached via e-mail at kelly.drawdy@arlingtontx.gov

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