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Creative environmental outreach and education programs can raise your course's profile.
Creating a positive image in the community is a common goal for superintendents. It’s also a fundamental part of the Outreach and Education category of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses. It can be challenging to come up with fresh ideas to fulfill this obligation, but resourceful superintendents around the country have found that starting with the basics, and then building on that foundation, helps create a solid identity of environmental responsibility.
Start with the basics
Larry Napora, a 23-year GCSAA member and superintendent at Treesdale Golf and Country Club in Gibsonia, Pa., had Girl Scouts plant tree seedlings at his course. The Scouts were rewarded with a pancake breakfast afterward. Treesdale’s general manager, Jack Kimbell, took the Scouts on hayrides and conducted a plant identification lecture along the way. He also gave them lessons in surviving in the wild.
Napora sends out press releases about every project he works on. In addition, he mentions the programs in the club’s bimonthly newsletter. He also installed signs around the course stating that the course is part of the Audubon Sanctuary Program. “The more we talk about it, the more the members and the community are aware of our different programs,” Napora says.
Course tours are another easy way to spread the word about your environmental projects. Cindy Balentine, head gardener at Cherry Wood Golf Course near Pittsburgh, gives tours of the golf course gardens to garden clubs and arranges for a caterer to come in and serve a special herbal luncheon.
“We call it Thyme for Golf,” says Balentine. “The garden club members are impressed with our sanctuary plantings and they love the lunch, which is made with a variety of herbs and edible flowers. Those who play golf can do so after lunch. So, in addition to promoting the Audubon sanctuary program, it creates awareness of our course for golfers who haven’t been here before. It also shows nongolfers that golf courses can be environmentally friendly places.”
Other courses focus on wildlife tours. Fourteen-year GCSAA member Kyle Sweet, CGCS at The Sanctuary Golf Club in Sanibel, Fla., conducts tours along with his Audubon committee chairman and a wildlife biologist for the Sanibel/Captiva Conservation Foundation. For seven years, The Sanctuary has also participated in a Christmas bird count conducted throughout Sanibel Island. This past spring, he participated for the first time in Audubon International’s Birdwatching Open. For that event, he worked with a club member and a local birding expert to identify as many birds as possible on the course in a 24-hour period.
Other organizations, such as the ornithology laboratory at Cornell University, also conduct nationwide bird counts. These programs document the locations of various bird species and help track their decline or increase over a period of years. It’s important to have at least one bird expert on hand during any bird count, to ensure accurate bird identification. Your local birdwatching group may be able to help you find bird experts in your area. Sweet found his local bird expert by reading her birding column in the Sanibel Island newspaper.
“We’ve had great success inviting rehabbers onto our golf course, utilizing it as a release site for birds of prey and ducks,” says the 23-year GCSAA member. “Golf courses make great release sites for many animals. We’ve used the ponds at North Shore Country Club to release orphaned mallards and wood ducks. Both returned the following years to nest and raise their young.
“We’ve also assisted wildlife rehabilitators in releasing kestrels and screech owls,” Dinelli continues. “The daily maintenance schedules at golf courses offer daily supervision of released animals. Also, wild predators that may endanger the released animals are discouraged to act during golf activity. Golfers take pride in knowing the land used to play the game can offer a great opportunity for wildlife. Once rehabbers are familiarized with Audubon’s involvement with golf courses and the superintendent’s interest as a steward, it becomes a win-win relationship.”
Whether it’s an injured bird of prey or an orphaned fledging, you need state and federal permits to keep one in captivity. Licensed rehabilitators are trained in proper care for wildlife, have proper housing and understand the laws enforcing captive birds of prey. Each state’s department of natural resources maintains a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
“It’s a complex task to get everyone involved,” says Smith. “Of the 8,500 residents at The Landings, 35 percent do not belong to the club. It’s a challenge to help them understand the value of environmental issues on a golf course when they’re not golfers. If you present it to them as an investment in the future value of their real estate, it makes sense to them.”
Once the property owners were on board, the Audubon committee at The Landings organized a golf tournament in 2004 and raised $14,600. Funds were used to install native plants along the shorelines of the lagoons. Using native plants is a crucial part of the Audubon program.
Blum, a seven-year GCSAA member, was the overall winner in the 2003 Environmental Leaders in Golf Award, and Colonial Acres was the first golf course to be awarded an EPA Performance Track Award.
Blum recommends that superintendents make a concerted effort to get certified as an Audubon Sanctuary, not just be a member of the program. He also suggests talking personally to the media to get the word out about your work. Most important, Blum says that you must have a compelling reason to be committed to the program.
“I’m doing it for my two children,” he says. “Who’s going to protect their future?”
Ask for help
Other ways to get help are to advertise through your course’s mailing list, e-mail list or Web site. Also, read the local newspaper for information on local environmental or wildlife groups.
Mackay also urges superintendents not to try to do everything themselves.
“The long-term success of conservation activities at a golf course depends upon the involvement of more than just one person,” says Mackay. “Outreach provides opportunities for a variety of people to become involved – whether it is staff, golfers, community members or family members – ensuring that project responsibilities and conservation successes are shared by many.”
The Audubon program requires that courses have an Audubon committee, so involving the members of that committee is also a good option.
Get the word out
“Connections do help,” Napora says.
People love recognition, so be sure to thank the people who volunteered their time, money or materials to help with any of your projects. A hand-written thank-you note is certainly appropriate. In addition, post photographs of your events in your clubhouse, on bulletin boards and on your Web site. This will not only give participants recognition, but also help spread the word about what you’re doing.
It takes time and effort to think of new ideas and see them through to a successful conclusion. Whether or not you’re involved in the Audubon program, the time you spend on any of these projects could bring personal rewards, as well as positive publicity for you and your course.