Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Golf, Open Space and Ecological Services

It’s vacation time and the Association of State Wetland Managers’ main office is located in Vacationland otherwise known as the great State of Maine.  This is the time of year that Maine residents are suddenly contacted by long-lost relatives in search of lobster and cheap lodging.   Among the places frequented over the summer months are the state’s golf courses.   I was reminded of this on Sunday when my favorite Maine Gardener column included the headline “Maine golf courses don’t deserve a poisonous reputation.”
Protecting local wells, keeping down costs and working around the local wildlife require some trade-offs, such as runways that may include a little brown, but at the Toddy Brook Golf Course in North Yarmouth, superintendent Scott Lancaster thinks it’s worth it.

Water hazards are part of golf courses and as a result, golf courses are frequently located around wetlands and streams.  This means many golf courses required Section 404 permits to be built.  While this may lead to the loss of natural wetlands in favor of artificial ponds, there is also a significant opportunity to provide continued ecological services.  For example golf course water features can be designed to support pollution clean-up:

If designed properly, golf courses can also successfully handle stormwater run-off and reduce flooding in the nearby community.

But what about going further and managing golf courses to become havens for biodiversity?  For example golf courses  could be designed to include seasonal wetlands.   One study sponsored by the United States Golf Association (USGA) compared off-site amphibian populations in seasonal wetlands (those that are dry part of the year) with the permanent ponds on golf courses. Not surprisingly the seasonal wetlands had more diversity, but the study pointed out that seasonal wetlands as well as upland habitat for amphibians could be incorporated into a golf course design.

There are other management options to enhance wildlife habitat on golf courses such as using native plants, including vertical structure (forests) and eco-friendly turfgrass management practices.

Audubon International has sponsored the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses for a number of years and their website includes a list of golf course in the U.S. and abroad that have been recognized for enhancing natural areas and minimizing potentially harmful impacts of golf courses.

Florida, which has more golf courses than any state, has a website dedicated to planning wildlife- friendly golf courses:

The recession has proven challenging for golf courses here and abroad.

So while many golf courses are trying to find ways to reduce expenses, perhaps this is the best of times to get buy-in for managing golf courses to provide ecosystem services.  Many of these could reduce the costs of operation (i.e. amount of pesticides used, frequency of irrigation) and help golfers as well as local residents appreciate opportunities to manage golf courses as open space that provide multiple benefits.

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