Conserving water is crucial, but preserving it is also key. Two-year-old Salish Cliffs Golf Club in Shelton, Washington, “recently decided to pursue Salmon-Safe certification, which monitors water and pesticide use on Salish Cliffs,” said Jeff Dickinson, a fish biologist who serves as assistant director of natural resources for the Squaxin Island tribe that owns the course. Salmon-Safe Golf is an initiative from a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire environmental innovation on Oregon and Washington courses, while protecting water quality and preserving threatened West Coast salmon.
Nationwide, there are 888 courses certified by Audubon International. This nonprofit educational organization makes sure that water is used efficiently, on-course wildlife is protected, the proper pesticides are used on the course, and vegetation is indigenous and healthy.
Audubon offers several programs for golf courses. These range from basic education and certification membership with the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program to the “Classic” level, which helps bring established courses up to today’s rigid standards. The “Signature” level is “where we get involved in the planning stages of a course, before it’s built,” said Joellen Lampman, Audubon’s associate director of environmental programs.
The group helps courses adhere to the strict requirements of pesticide usage, screening each chemical to be used on a course to know how it will interact with the surroundings. “We tell courses how it’s to be used, how much, where, and when,” said Lampman. “We also help define which areas are out of play. We find on average that courses going through our Sanctuary certification set aside 19 acres as untouched habitat. That reduces fertilizer, maintenance, and mowing.”
Lampman indicated that a lot of it comes down to helping courses educate golfers on what they’re doing and why. “Some of it can be controversial,” she said. “For instance, Canada geese adore the golf course because it’s a perfect habitat for them. They come in droves, but can damage the course by eating grass and leaving feces everywhere. That’s a problem for golfers and water management, because they can contaminate the water. So we have a number of ways to deal with it, like having tall grass grow around the ponds, which discourages geese from getting into the water.” While golfers may not like the way it looks or how it comes into play, Audubon International helps courses explain the tall grass to their members, so that they understand why it’s being done.
Courses such as Atlantic City (New Jersey) Country Club take pride in being Audubon-certified. “It’s imperative that we take the responsible approach and work tirelessly to lower our carbon footprint,” said Charles Fahy, PGA general manager at the facility. “We must preserve golf for generations to come. Through education and ultimately certification, we can mitigate any potential factors harmful to the habitat that surrounds our courses while developing our environmental resources.”
Other steps many more courses are taking: Converting bio-solid waste into fertilizer for use on the course; making compost; installing bird boxes; giving nature tours; hiring certified arborists to check on tree growth and health, and natural vegetation; and teaching classes on nature. This grand effort should prolong both golf’s growth and the planet’s existence. A true win-win.