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Managing natural areas:
An edge is where two different habitats meet. For example, the location where the rough transitions into a forest is an edge.
Because golf courses are highly fragmented habitats, they naturally contain many edges. To maximize the available wildlife habitat on your course, start by improving the quality of your edge habitats.
Many courses have hard edges, where a wall of unmanaged vegetation borders the course. Hard edges are common in areas that used to be cleared, perhaps when the course was first built. When these out-of-play areas are no longer managed, they undergo succession and eventually turn into poor wildlife habitat. With a little effort you can restore these areas into high-quality habitat.
Your goal should be to have soft edges that gradually transition from manicured turfgrass to forest. Adjacent to the in-play areas could be a strip that contains tall native grasses and herbaceous plants (e.g., wildflowers, legumes). This strip will offer numerous insects and seeds for your birds and other wildlife to eat. Next to the native grasses could be shrubs or small trees that transition into a mature forest. The shrub area is where many birds will nest. A thick shrub layer also provides natural screening between holes. Obviously, if you are in an arid region your edges will have a different composition; however, there is still potential to maximize the diversity and structure of your native vegetation.
Another way to improve your edges and natural areas is to make them as wide as possible. A 10-foot-wide natural area provides limited habitat, whereas a 100-foot-wide area between holes improves your green space and creates a much better refuge for wildlife. Narrow edges increase the chances that nests will be disturbed or destroyed by raccoons and other nest predators.
The shape of your edges also matters. A hawk perched on a tree overlooking the 17th green can hunt the entire length of that hole from one vantage point if overlooking a straight edge. If the edge is scalloped, however, the complexity of the habitat is increased and it becomes harder for the hawk to find its prey. This gives smaller wildlife a chance to survive.
If improving the conservation value of your course is not at the top of your list of things to accomplish, here are a few nonwildlife reasons to improve your edges:
• Hard edges reduce the lateral sunlight and airflow that reaches your turf.
• Natural edges enhance the “walk in the park” feeling, which can improve the quality of the outdoor experience for your golfers.
• You will save money if you reduce the acreage of turfgrass that you maintain. Turf requires mowing, irrigation, pesticides and other maintenance. Once restored, natural edges require minimal amounts of money and effort to maintain. It can be a win-win for wildlife and golfers.