A naturalist’s knowledge of songbirds and native grasses won’t help you improve your golf game, but such things can impact the way we think about our favorite golf courses.
American golf courses provide as many as 2.2 million acres of green space that might otherwise be lost to urban development. Find out how one northern Michigan golfing destination has become a sanctuary for native species, why this matters to local players, and how this environmental ethic positively impacts the business’s bottom line.
Back when Bill Murray was up on the big screen matching wits with the tunnel-digging gopher in Caddyshack, you would have never heard the words “preservation” and “sustainability” in the marketing message for any golf course in America.
Wildlife used to be something that, on a golf course, was better seen at a distance or not at all. Courses routinely used toxic pesticides to keep the bugs at bay, chemical fertilizers and excess groundwater to keep fairways and turf lush and green.
“Now for most golfers, seeing an eagle soaring overhead is just as memorable and worth talking about as scoring eagle on a particularly difficult hole,” say Jamie Jewell, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Manitou Passage Golf Club. “Being close to nature has always been a big part of the northern Michigan experience, long before ‘going green’ became fashionable we were doing our part to be good stewards of the environment.”
Great Golf Naturally
Hard to pinpoint exactly when this new environmental ethic among golfers, club owners, and greenskeepers took hold, but these days there are many companies and organizations promoting golf as a naturally, sustainable activity. There’s Golfpreserves, a self-sustaining funding mechanism for the environmental stewardship of golf course facilities. Blogs like www.turfhuggercom regularly spotlight news in the “organic golf” movement as well as discoveries in green turf management science and techniques.
In northern Michigan, Manitou Passage Golf Club has always taken a homegrown approach to the challenge of making golf environmentally friendly.
“When we opened in 2009,” says Jewell, “a great deal of time and effort was spent on the restoration of the native grasses and plants that had been taken over by the weeds and other invasive species. Our purpose was not only to improve the aesthitics of the course, but the natural habitat for the plants and animals.”
Going to the Birds
The average 18-hole golf course occupies 150 acres of land – only around 70 acres of which is maintained for actual play. If managed properly, says Jewell, this leaves a lot of protected acreage that can serve as a sanctuary for wildlife and native plan species.
From the modern redesign of the main pump house (to ensure a minimal amount of energy and water is used to maintain healthy turf) to the “Nature Safe” fertilizers greenskeepers use to maintain the grass, the Manitou Passage Golf Club has always tried to tread as lightly as possible whenever nature is concerned.
And what’s with all the birdhouses? Sitting in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – a place known among bird watchers as one of the greatest songbird migration routes in America – the Manitou Passage Golf Club preparing to enroll in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses. Birhouses are everywhere in the woods and along the fairways not only to marking distances to the green but also giving songbirds safe refuge.
“People come to our course because we offer the whole package,” says Jewell. “We really embrace the wilderness spirit that is so much a part of life Up North. Our beautiful country-coastal setting and the challenging level of play really complete the package.”