Heeding Nature’s Call in Cranberry

Over the years, numerous organizations have taken the name of James Audubon … America’s preeminent wildlife artist of the 19th century … for themselves. They include an insurance company, a zoo, a company that sells bird feeders, an oil field engineering company and a bunch of others.

They don’t particularly like one another, but they’re often confused as being one and the same.

The best known of these is the Audubon Society, which has worked on preserving and restoring natural habitats to protect biodiversity, with a special focus on birds and other wildlife, for more than 100 years. Its members are philosophically opposed to new land development … particularly when it involves disturbing open spaces.

Another is Audubon International, which was formed about 25 years ago. It, too, espouses the goal of protecting biodiversity, but its philosophy is different. It considers development to be inevitable, so its focus is to work with proprietors of commercial developments to make projects environmentally sustainable. One of its biggest member categories is for golf course owners.

There are more than 18,000 golf courses today in the United States, and more than 25,000 worldwide. Almost all are built on former farms, woodlands, or undeveloped open spaces. While most try to present themselves as pristine natural settings, their construction and maintenance typically involve extensive use of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides as well as intensive irrigation.

Unless routine care of the golf course is performed thoughtfully, it’s easy for a facility that most people think of as a natural asset to be transformed into an environmental liability. Leading golf course managers are using a number of practices to make their properties more environmentally friendly … and, at the same time, less expensive to maintain.

Dave Barber, who has been Cranberry Highlands’ golf course superintendent from day one, is keenly aware of the risks as well as the opportunities associated with the quality of his maintenance team’s environmental stewardship. For years, he led an effort to manage the township’s golf course in keeping with guidelines provided by Audubon International.

In 2009, Cranberry Highlands was awarded the organization’s certification as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, a recognition shared by fewer than 1,000 golf courses worldwide and one that is valid for only two years before recertification is required. That same year, Golf Digest … a leading publication in its field … named Cranberry Highlands Pennsylvania’s Best Municipal Golf Course … an honor that has helped attract new players to travel here and see it for themselves.

Last week, Audubon International announced that Cranberry Highlands successfully completed the requirements for recertification. It also released the results of a survey reflecting the global impact of its program. The survey reflects widespread improvements in the practices of golf course maintenance associated with wildlife, water, and turfgrass management. It also shows significant savings in the costs for water, fuel, pesticides, fertilizer, electricity and waste treatment throughout the industry.

That’s not all.

One in seven golf course operators responding to the survey reported having attracted new players and new members as a direct result of their involvement with the Audubon program. So, at least in the world of golf, good environmental practices turn out to be smart business practices as well.


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