START PUTTING GOLF COURSES IN PERSPECTIVE
by Whit Gibbons
April 10, 2005
Master’s playing out in Augusta, golf is on the minds of many. People
have always been impressed with my golf score, until I add that we only
played 9 holes, not 18. But spending a lot of time in the woods and along
the edges of lakes is what an ecologist enjoys, so I don't complain. Also,
I like to ride in the little carts.
real golfers enjoy nature on the golf course. I often hear people talk
about a round of golf without mentioning a single score. Instead the main
event was the fox that ran across the 7th fairway or the pileated woodpecker
in the pine tree by the 15th tee or the alligators that were spotted swimming
in the lakes. My son spoke of three deer running from the woods alongside
the course. A wayward golf shot probably drove them out. Golfers should
appreciate natural habitats and the associated wildlife that can coexist
on a golf course--and many do. Golf courses represent land and water that
can serve the nation's wildlife.
people so infatuated with golf courses? One reason is that people enjoy
the manicured look denoting the taming of nature, the human control of
their environment. Maybe people enjoy parks and golf courses because of
an innate feeling of being safe from whatever might lurk in the untamed
forest. But a shift in attitude has already arrived for many. People realize
that the loss of the wild will leave a void in our lives, an ecovoid.
golf courses do to improve their environmental friendliness, not only
for nature lovers who play golf but for those who oppose developing the
landscape with golf courses? Some simple changes on golf courses could
increase or maintain the biodiversity of natural habitats in a region.
These changes would have a cost, in higher golf scores or landscape modifications,
but making golf courses self sustaining and more environmentally stable
would be a substantial benefit.
of lakes, aka water hazards, could be surrounded with native emergent
vegetation. Cattails, arrow weed, and golden club are magnificent natural
vegetation. Having nice trim margins so you can find your ball at the
edge is a cleancut approach but not a natural one. Red wing blackbirds
will nest in cattails. Green tree frogs will hide in them. Lakes with
sterile margins have fewer birds and frogs to create songs, both night
and day. Another benefit might be a decreased need for maintenance at
the lake's edge.
approach in the South is to plant cypress or other wetland trees along
the edges. Bird voiced tree frogs might take up residence, along with
a variety of birds. Getting a golf ball across the lake might be more
difficult, but for someone like me, for whom every shot is difficult,
who cares? Besides, the cypress could take a century to get big enough
to pose a problem. We should be used to them by then.
meanwhile, has great potential for enhancing biodiversity. A simple ecological
formula is that the more diverse the natural vegetation, the more diverse
the native fauna. Planting a greater array of native shrubs and trees
might well result in a few more lost balls, but those of us who spend
a lot of time out there are used to it. And don't remove dead trees. They
are not unsightly if you take the attitude that numerous kinds of attractive
insects, flying squirrels, and woodpeckers thrive because of them. Dead
trees are part of a natural forest, and the rough deserves to be as natural
as we can keep it.
Of all forms
of developed landscape, golf courses have one of the greatest opportunities
for using native flora and fauna, without detracting from the blooming
ornamentals. Because each course has its own array of environmental circumstances,
making sweeping statements about what should be done to improve that environment
is difficult. But on almost every course that array could be managed better,
including reducing excessive use of water, pesticides, and herbicides.
Golf courses offer opportunities to enhance the biodiversity of a region,
a stroke that would make almost any golfer happier.
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