ENVIRONMENT: More golf courses are going green

BELLAIRE – The Cedar River Golf Club in Bellaire is taking steps to ensure that its greens are a little more green, as far as environmental impact is concerned anyway.

As environmentalists in Michigan still sound alarms and golf course superintendents still spray chemicals, their goals may seem forever at odds, but that’s not necessarily true. An increasing number of initiatives have brought these two groups together to help both move toward their goals.

Working together, golfers, environmental groups and course superintendents can have an enormous positive impact on their environments, as illustrated by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses. The program, a joint effort between Audubon International and the U.S. Golf Association, promotes sound land management and the conservation of natural resources.

Nine courses across Lower Peninsula have achieved the “green” status and 80 others are working on it.

Currently, The Legend in Bellaire is the only northern Michigan course that’s certifiably green through the program.

“The Legend completed the program a few years ago, now Cedar River is going through it,” said Barry Godwin, marketing director for Shanty Creek. “I don’t think the other two courses (Schuss Mountain and Summit golf clubs) will be involved because they are a little older and there isn’t as much opportunity to change them because the layouts are different.”

A golf course that wishes to participate in the program works toward certificates of recognition in six categories. Each golf course has one-on-one assistance in devising an appropriate environmental plan. For example, to improve water quality management, a superintendent simply needs to reduce the amount of chemicals used.

That can be done in several ways. Instead of spraying the course on a continual basis, as in the past, many now gauge the threat of turf diseases or pests by course and weather conditions. When those conditions arise or are likely to arise, the spraying begins.

Building buffer zones near lakes, rivers, ponds or wetlands can also protect water quality. These unmowed areas surround water to absorb runoff from the course.

According to Greg Lyman, an environmental education specialist at MSU, golfers must realize they can’t expect the same conditions they see on televised golf events on their own courses day in and day out.

“Superintendents are there to provide the conditions golfers demand. To be successful in the environmental area, we not only have to provide buffer zones, but we need to educate golfers, so that their demands are realistic,” Lyman said.

According to Lyman, if fairways are sprayed and rain follows, the contaminated water will run toward water, or other low-lying areas. When water carrying the chemicals reaches the buffer zones, the chemicals are caught and held before they can reach the water.

Lastly, to help ensure water quality, golfers may have to put up with more inconveniences than in the past, as superintendents attack pests less aggressively with chemicals than before. Wildlife and habitat management is also an important piece of a golf course’s commitment to the environment. Environmentalists have long said that golf courses disrupt the native wildlife and push species into other areas. That doesn’t have to be the case.

According to Lyman, golf courses can be safe havens for wildlife. On average, 70 percent of a golf course’s property is out of play. That means a huge amount of undisturbed land is suitable for nesting. If a course agrees not to mow those areas, it in essence creates or maintains a built-in wildlife sanctuary.

Many superintendents also are inviting in bird life. Scores of courses now have birdhouses and bat boxes, giving these creatures a place to nest, while the birds and bats help keep down the insect population naturally.

Golf courses have been long criticized for the amount of water they use. To keep a Michigan course at an acceptable playing level during the summer can require millions of gallons of water. Only recently have some courses made strides to combat this problem, and some now use treated wastewater.

Groesbeck Golf Course in Lansing is an example. Several years ago, the city separated its storm water runoff from its wastewater. Groesbeck redesigned nine holes to accept some of the storm runoff into wetlands and other treatment areas on the course. That water will eventually be used for irrigation.

Geoff Malicoat and Lesa Ingraham are correspondents with Capital News Service out of MSU. BN