Sable Oaks Golf Course gains Audubon certification

The 13th fairway at the Sable Oaks Golf Course in South Portland is about to get a little more difficult.

“This already is one of the most challenging greens in the state. It’s an extremely hard hole,” course superintendent Matt TenEyck said on Monday. “What we’re doing now with this is, we are actually changing the way this hole is played, making it potentially even harder.”

But those changes are not being made merely to frustrate area divot divas. The plan is to restore that natural conditions of Long Creek, which flows through the middle of the course, adding a 50-foot buffer zone to an area of the fairway that, not so long ago, was tended right up to the edge of the stream. It is part of an effort to restore habitat for bugs in Long Creek, to bring back trout and meet certain water-quality standards by 2020, the ultimate goal of the Long Creek Watershed Plan, created in July 2009.

“I think it takes a true stormwater geek to get really excited about the bugs, but generally, when a golf course is more environmentally friendly, it’s just a nice place … it’s a more beautiful golf course,” said Tamara Lee Pinard, executive director of the Long Creek Management District, as well as stormwater program manager at the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“I play golf all over New England and Sable Oaks has some of the best greens and fairways,” said Bell, whose firm is helping Sable Oaks obtain the Audubon certification. “It proves that ‘environmentally friendly’ can translate easily into ‘great conditions.’”

“Reclaiming this much, this is a lot,” said Forrest Bell, senior scientists for Portland-based FB Environmental Associates. “To leave a buffer of this width is a really big deal.”

On Tuesday, officials from city, county and state government were on hand to help plant red osier dogwoods, choke berry bushes and other plants along the stream that separates tee from cup on the Par 3 green. That digging was done in part to celebrate Sable Oaks’ recent certification in environmental planning from the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, the first of six steps leading to recognition as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

“We welcome Sable Oaks Golf Club’s commitment to the environment and management of the golf course with wildlife in mind,” said Jim Sluiter, staff ecologist for Audubon International, in a release announcing Sable Oaks’ effort to stand alongside the Portland Country Club, the only golf course in Maine with full sanctuary certification.

According to Pinard, Sable Oaks, at 154 acres, is the largest single lot of 127 along the 10 miles of Long Creek and its associated tributaries. Impervious surfaces … roofs, parking lots and other hard areas that speed stormwater runoff into the stream … cover between 11 and 67 percent of each of those lots. Eight percent is enough to impact water quality, says Pinard. Because of that heavy development, Long Creek does not meet minimum state water-quality standards.

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