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Get Growing: This is what happens when golf courses team to go green (Jan 20)

January 20, 2015 – Blue herons and bluebirds live within this sanctuary year round. Surprise! It’s a wildlife sanctuary within a golf course.

Audubon International has inspired more than 890 golf courses worldwide to establish and maintain Audubon Certified Sanctuary Golf Courses. I learned about this program while vacationing in Naples, Fla. The first thing I noticed while entering the Glades Golf and Country Club was the designation on the sign: “A certified Audubon sanctuary.”

That sounded like good news to me.

Further investigation led me to speak with Joe Groch. Joe met with me in the Glades Learning Center, a studio designed to video and analyze your golf swing. He has a warm smile and a firm handshake, which tells me he’s a good coach for improving your grip and your golf game.

Next I met the instigator of the sanctuary certification, golf course Superintendent Bill Hinn. Both of these fellows have been dedicated to the Glades Country Club for decades. Changes and improvements to the golf courses happen as quickly or slowly as the membership approves them. It didn’t take long for the membership to warm up to the Audubon Sanctuary proposal and approve the initial application fee.

Guidelines for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program are designed to improve environmental management in these five areas:

Wildlife habitat
Chemical use reduction and safety
Water conservation
Water quality management
Education and public outreach
The Glades Golf & Country Club attained the highest rating for each category at its recertification evaluation in August.

What did the course, an Audubon member since 2003, do to achieve this?

Certification began in 2012 when an initial on-site assessment and remedial action plan was placed on the drawing board for a six- to eight-year implementation. As one of the first steps, the golf community encouraged the nesting of bluebirds by purchasing and installing about 20 nesting boxes throughout the golf course links.

Other habitat-friendly changes that required small capital expenses were implemented quickly. A strategic plan for larger expenses, such as replacing rip rap in erosion areas with native aquatic plantings to create wide buffer zones around the water features were outlined in the long-term plan.

Water conservation was a top priority. Changes in the type of grass planted, Bermuda grass to paspalum (a dense, weather-resilient grass) on the greens and improved irrigation sensors, checked by hand and weather stations, resulted in a reduction of recycled water use to 550,000 from 720,000 gallons per day.

Water quality improved with reduction of chemicals, additional fountain aerators and stream-side aquatic plantings providing runoff filters. Better oxygenated, the lakes regenerate life with nutritious algae, small fish and wading birds, creating a natural ecosystem.

Safe passage for wildlife, off-limits habitats minimally maintained for removal of invasive species, enhance diversity and provide entertainment. Plans for expanded butterfly gardens and pollinator-friendly native plantings throughout the course are in the budget for this year.

Turf management and chemical use are closely monitored. Reduced use results in decreasing costs, a winning combination for humans and wildlife. Spray equipment is washed within a closed-loop system and recycled. Pesticide safety is a priority.

Presentations and tours to the members and general public are scheduled. Invitations to educational groups and volunteers maintain the enthusiasm and make the ongoing success of the sanctuary a reality.

What do you say about our local golf courses in Pennsylvania joining the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program? When a management of a well-manicured golf course can become interested in naturalizing some of the outlying acreage beyond the greens and providing an ecologically friendly habitat, then the tipping point has certainly arrived.

For more information call Audubon International 844-767-9051 or visit www.auduboninternational.org.

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