Wildlife-Friendly Golf Courses

Open spaces are shrinking. Though obvious to most outdoor lovers, when we lose this open space (parks, nature centers or the ever-so-rare undeveloped land), we lose the good things that open space provides. We lose recreational opportunities, we lose the places in which to interact with nature, we lose habitat for our wildlife friends and, consequently, we may lose our native wildlife. Ironically, we also decrease the value of our homes and cities--the very things eating up our open space.

As the population increases, so too does the need for housing. Housing needs land and, obviously, the land to build on does not increase along with the demand for it, so land becomes more valuable and scarce with time, and even protected open space becomes endangered.

It’s a nasty circle and one for which there is no clear-cut solution (at least not one we want to think about).

In the absence of any rational solution, Audubon International has developed a Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) designed to help golf course owners/decision-makers reframe and restructure their lands for the dual use of sport (golfing) and wildlife.

Viewing Golf Courses As Open Space

Viewed as a whole, our nation’s golf courses represent thousands upon thousands of acres of land perfectly situated to support wild- and plant-life habitats, certainly more than housing developments. As the folks at Audubon say, a fairway is better than a driveway, which is why they’ve developed the ACSP program to help public and private courses think through the changes that would make them more nature-friendly, without sacrificing the sporting experience they provide to their members or customers.

Whether it is bluebird trails, butterfly gardens, increased no-mow areas or Wood Duck boxes, golf courses across the state of Minnesota are working to please both golfers and nature. The hope is that word will continue to spread from golf course to golf course, state to state, and in the end we’ll be left with robust, protected open space that is viewed as valuable by society and, as such, stable and protected from the ravenous appetite of development.

Their goal is to implement common-sensical baby steps as opposed to sweeping, expensive changes.

Here’s how it works:

Participants visit www.auduboninternational.org and register their property for the ACSP Golf Course program. The registration form is short and the fee is nominal—just $150 per year.

Upon receipt of a registration, Audubon International sends out a New Member Packet as well as a subscription to the Stewardship News (their regular newsletter).

Included in the New Member Packet is a course survey covering Environmental Planning, Wildlife and Habitat Management, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, Water Quality Management and Outreach and Education.

During the first year of certification, the folks at the ACSP work to demonstrate to the course owner/decision-maker all of the projects that can benefit wildlife— increasing no-mow areas, adding the computer to monitor irrigation and adding butterfly gardens and/or prairie restoration.

The easy-to-implement program has achieved some impressive results, as these statistics from the latest ACSP Participant Survey show:

92% use pesticides with lower toxicity levels

Average increase of 22 acres of wildlife habitat per course

66% reported that golfer satisfaction has improved

34% reported that golfer satisfaction has remained the same

75% reported reduced pesticide costs

82% reported reduced pesticide use

89% improved cultural control methods to decrease the need for chemical use

89% conscientiously chose native plants when landscaping

50% increased the amount of shoreline vegetation

99% reported that playing quality has remained the same or improved

Simple Solutions, Big Results

What is best part? This simple program really works. I have had amazing wildlife encounters on golf courses, and I run a nature center! I have seen osprey, various hawks, coyotes, mink and even nesting Eastern Kingbirds, all on suburban golf courses.

As a naturalist, I have truly enjoyed working with courses in the metro-Minneapolis/St. Paul area (testing water, designing brochures, completing wildlife surveys, etc.) and would encourage you and your staff to join in the fun. If you are a naturalist or other park employee, I invite you to get involved in this great program and help bring about more habitat conservation in your area.

Dr. Karen I. Shragg is Director of The City of Richfield’s Woodlake Nature Center in Richfield, Minn. She can be reached via e-mail at kshragg@cityofrichfield.org.