Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sometimes Just Mowing Seems Pretty Attractive

A lot of golf course maintenance staff members get the idea that the superintendent is the ultimate boss. This could not be further from the truth. Check out my article from Inside Golf magazine to learn a little about what a super must go through on a daily basis.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Protecting Wildlife Habitats

As golf course superintendents create new wildlife habitats on golf courses it is extremely important that these areas be protected from human interference. Human interference will generally result from golfers or maintenance staff entering into the area and causing damage from simple foot traffic.

There are several ways in which golfers can be prevented from entering into wildlife habitats that need to be protected. Probably the easiest and least expensive although least effective method would be simply telling golfers where the habitats are and asking them to stay away. This message can be verbally communicated or shown on the scorecard. The problem however is when their golf ball enters into the area and they feel it is their right to go after and play the ball "where it lies."

Convincing a golfer who has spent their hard earned money to play golf that they cannot enter into an area because it is protected for wildlife can be easier said than done. There should be physical barriers that protect wildlife habitats from golfer interference. These physical barriers can be in the form of fencing, tall and prickly shrubs or bushes or some other object that will make entrance into the habitat difficult.

Along with a physical barrier should be a sign explaining to golfers the purpose for the barrier and some information on the habitat and why it is important that the area be protected. For the superintendent who is trying to do the right thing it is all about educating people about the need for environmental protection on the golf course.

Wildlife habitats need to be protected from maintenance staff as well. Golf course employees who do not understand the need for environmental protection must be educated about the harm that can be done by not respecting the club and maintenance department rules when it comes to protecting wildlife habitats.

Maintenance staff need to be made aware of areas that are not to be mowed, fertilized, watered or interfered with in any way. Human entrance into wildlife areas can frighten the inhabitants of these areas that are looking for a place to rest, feed or live.

Possibly the greatest and most frequent maintenance staff error is the dumping of grass clippings into the banks of water bodies. Grass clippings contain many substances such as fertilizer and pesticide residues and hydrocarbons that can cause serious damage to water bodies once entered.

Clippings should be collected and stored at a compost site somewhere on the golf course. If clippings must be dumped they should be spread out on flat areas of the property and not left in a pile that can be seen. Not only will the pile be unsightly but it could also do damage to the turf that it is covering.

Creating and protecting wildlife habitats on golf courses is an important part of being environmentally responsible. Once areas have been created they will likely be utilized by wildlife as long as they are protected from human interference. We must work hard to protect environmentally sensitive areas on the golf course if we are going to prove to our detractors that golf courses are not environmental wastelands but are in fact valuable green spaces that should be respected and enjoyed by everyone and everything.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alternative Wildlife Structures

There are many golf courses out there that have chosen to erect nest boxes or bird houses in order to attract wildlife to their properties. While this is definitely a viable option for providing sanctuary for wildlife it is certainly not the only option.

In fact, there are a number of wildlife enthusiasts, birders in particular, who would rather not see artificial bird houses. The main reason for this I have been told is that bird houses can create unfair hunting ground for birds of prey, who simply need to stay near the house and wait for their dinner to arrive.

One option for creating homes for birds is to leave dead trees standing otherwise known as tree snags. Dead trees provide homes for many different species of birds, insects and mammals. Of course the most important aspect here is to ensure the tree does not pose a safety hazard to humans.

Trees that fall in out of play areas of the golf course can also create excellent wildlife habitat for birds, insects and mammals.

Another form of wildlife habitat that can be created on the golf course is brush piles. Each year golf courses collect huge amounts of branches, sticks and other forms of brush from windstorms, tree pruning or other maintenance activities. Instead of burning the wood golf superintendents should consider building brush piles in out-of-play areas of the property. Brush piles are easy to build as the material simply needs to be piled up in an area that is frequented by wildlife. Again, these structures provide homes for different species of wildlife.

One recent trend I have noticed in the golf industry is superintendents building osprey pads on their courses. The osprey pads I have seen have been built on the top of dead trees. The pad is fairly simple as it can be an old pallet that you may have laying around from sod or fertilizer. The pallet is placed on the top of the tree and supported using 2x4's. The trick is to put the pallet upside down so there are sides to the pallet so young birds cannot fall out.

Superintendents I have spoken with have said that the ospreys did not immediately come use the structure, it takes a little time as the birds figure out whether or not the new home is safe to use. They obviously do not trust the structure erected by humans.

I am sure there are many more wildlife structures out there. If you know of any that I have not mentioned please let me know so I can pass on the information and make golf courses a friendlier place for wildlife to inhabit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting Young Golfers on Board

It is pretty common knowledge these days amongst those in the golf industry that the game we love is embroiled in a battle with misconceived perceptions. Amongst the general public it seems that golf courses are deemed to be evildoers that go about their business with little regard for its effects on the environment.

A main part of my business is trying to change these misperceptions as well as to change the attitudes of the few golf industry personal who still believe that global warming and the environmental crisis is a hoax (yes, there are still an ignorant few out there).

For the most part golf course superintendents have gotten on board with the whole environmental movement and they are doing their best to maintain their respective golf courses with care and respect for the environment. The problem is that until golf course owners and golfers understand the necessity for environmentalism it is very difficult for the average superintendent to change the way golf courses are maintained. I am talking about things like buffer zones around water bodies and creating naturalized areas on the golf course.

Which brings me to my point. I am very excited to have been asked by Camosun College in Victoria to speak next week to a class of 2nd year studuents in the golf course management program on the topic of "What it Takes for a Golf Course to Become Audubon Certified". This is a great opportunity to share first hand knowledge with the future leaders of the golf industry.

I will be speaking for approximately one hour on topics such as Wildlife and Habitat Management, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, Water Quality Management and Outreach and Education. I feel that getting the up and coming leaders of our industry on board is an excellent way to change the way golf courses are perceived in the public. The more people that understand the issues faced by golf superintendents the easier it will be for the caretakers of the game to perform their duties with environmental accountability at the forefront.

Public speaking is something I enjoy doing and started doing quite a bit of last summer. I think that it is important to spread the good word about what it is that superintendents are doing to create more environmentally friendly golf courses.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Creating WIldlife Habitats on the Golf Course

As I have mentioned in several of my blog entries, golf courses provide fantastic opportunities to create habitat for wildlife. From out of play areas that are left to naturalize to water bodies with buffer zones that are used by wildlife to feed, rest and inhabit, golf courses can be great wildlife habitat.

If you happen to be involved with a golf course that does not have many areas that can be naturalized for wildlife it may be beneficial to create some artificial wildlife habitats. Many golf course superintendents have installed nesting boxes or birdhouses on their golf courses to attract birds to the property.

Nest boxes not only attract birds to the golf course they also add an element of beauty and show a certain amount of respect for the wildlife that live in the area where the golf course is located.

If you should decide that you want to install bird houses on your golf course you must first decide what type of birds you want to attract. The type and size of the birdhouse you build will have a direct effect on the species of bird that will use the house. The are several online sources that can help you to select the type of birdhouse you will choose to build and install.

Once you have chosen what species of birds you would like to attract to your facility you have some options as to how the structures will be built. Some golf courses like to build the birdhouses themselves by doing it during the slow time of the winter.

In my opinion the best option is to recruit the help of a local school shop class who could construct the birdhouses as part of their class assignment. Their are several benefits to having a school do the birdhouse construction. The first benefit being to the students who are able to help out the environmental initiatives at a local golf course while fulfilling their school curriculum.

The benefits to the golf course include having the structures built for them as well as the opportunity to involve some local school kids in their environmental endeavours. If this option is chosen it is imperative that the school not only receives credit for the work performed but they should also have the opportunity to learn the importance of environmental sustainability and wildlife habitats on the golf course.

Once the bird houses have been built I would suggest inviting the builders of the structures out to your course to help install them. Of course the golf course staff will have to the ones who actually do the work, due to insurance reasons, but this is a fantastic opportunity to eduate the kids about your facility and your goal of environmental sustainability.

Once the nest boxes have been installed they must be monitored on a regular basis. At least once per year, preferably in the spring, the nest boxes should be cleaned out to make room for new inhabitants. In the past I have invited local cub scouts out to the golf course and they have helped to clean the boxes and take inventory of the success of the structures. Again this creates a great opportunity to educate some local kids about the environmental conservation efforts of your golf facility.

Throughout the entire birdhouse building process do not be afraid to invite the local newspaper to cover the story so you can gain some positive publicity for the golf course. Local newspapers are often looking for "feel good" stories to cover and if it can include your golf course all the better. This is good for the kids and a great way to change the negative public perception that golf courses have when it comes to the environment.