Audubon Program Guides Glencoe’s Environmental Practices

by Ann Sullivan

Not every golf course close to a major city can boast elk, bears, moose, bobcats and coyotes as regular visitors. The Glencoe Golf and Country Club (GGCC), situated just west of Calgary, certainly can. Canada’s biggest golf course, the Glencoe is a 45-hole course built into the forest and the floodplain adjacent to the Elbow River. It was the 12th golf course in Alberta to be certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Golf, which might account, at least in part, for its abundance of wildlife.

Glencoe Riparian Slopes sm

Being certified with Audubon International means the Glencoe must meet a list of criteria in six key areas every year, including environmental planning, water conservation and chemical use reduction and safety. (See sidebar below for more information about the ASCP for Golf certification program.) These criteria have led the Glencoe to adopt responsible environmental practices year round, which is especially good news for the Elbow River, a major source of drinking water for Calgarians. 

Dani Creighton joined the turf care team at the Glencoe in 2012, several years after the course received its Audubon certification. Now in her fourth year as the club’s landscape manager, Creighton and her colleagues work hard to maintain and go beyond any environmental requirements. In fact, following the guidelines has become second nature at the Glencoe. “It’s not necessarily that these [practices] are mandatory,” she said. “They are things we should all have in mind.”

Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf (ACSP for Golf) helps golf courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game. According to Audubon International, it helps people “enhance the valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats that golf courses provide, improve efficiency, and minimize potentially harmful impacts of golf course operations . . .”

To become certified, golf courses must meet certain criteria in six key areas of the ACSP for Golf:

  1. Environmental Planning
  2. Wildlife and Habitat Management
  3. Chemical Use Reduction and Safety
  4. Water Conservation
  5. Water Quality Management
  6. Outreach and Education

Staff at each golf course develop a plan, implement and document it and then host a site visit with Audubon International staff. Courses must recertify every three years.

The ASCP now includes more than 2,300 golf courses in three dozen countries around the world.

Creighton says golf courses are often dismissed as irresponsible or negligent in their environmental practices, and she’d like to change that impression. “I know golf courses have a bad reputation,” she said. “I also know they’ve come a very long way and become better stewards of the environment.” Visitors to the club, including horticulture students from her alma mater, Olds College, are pleasantly surprised to see that the golf course is not just about “spray, cut and kill,” she said.

The GGCC covers 440 acres of land, 180 of which are maintained golf course, the rest naturalized areas: ponds, trees and longer grass. Two years ago the club began creating low-input areas (LIAs) within its maintained areas. The LIAs, which make up about 10 percent of the golf course, receive no water, spray or mowing. In addition to being environmentally friendly, Creighton said, they save money in the long run as they minimize wear and tear on machinery, use less equipment and require less staff time.

At first there was some pushback about the low-input areas, but once members understood the reasoning, and the savings, they were supportive. Which is why outreach and education is one of the pillars of the ACSP for Golf program. Creighton and staff work to keep club members informed through a monthly newsletter and social media, with occasional updates on things like current nesting areas and moose calves on the course.

When birds are nesting on the course, for example, staff mark the area with flags to minimize disturbance. “Not many golfers would be keen on having part of the golf course closed without understanding why,” Creighton said. “I don’t think anyone minds if they know.”

The golf course welcomes an ornithologist to the course to do a bird count every two weeks. His list of birds spotted on the property runs four pages long and includes 139 different species, everything from ruby-crowned kinglets and western wood-pewees to osprey and bald eagles.

Being located along the banks of the Elbow River means the Glencoe has an extra responsibility to protect and conserve water. To do this, staff have incorporated several practices into their turf care, including water testing four times a year at five points along the course. Glencoe Great horned owl sm

Out-of-play zones around ponds are left naturalized for aquatic plants. Beyond those 3-foot zones, a 25-foot buffer zone of longer turf helps ensure water is well filtered before it reaches ponds, streams and the Elbow River.

Staff use slow-release products that affect the leaves of plants, not the roots, to minimize leaching of chemicals into pond water. “We’ve instilled these practices on the whole course,” Creighton said.

Turf care staff also limit their water use by hand-watering “hot spots,” angling irrigation heads so that they don’t water non-target areas (parking lots and ponds, for example). Creighton said members might tease staff for running the sprinklers during a drizzle, but she said there’s a reason: water penetrates deeper when the soil is already wet.

To further conserve water, staff cycle the same water through a four-cubic-metre container to spray clippings and sand off their equipment. “It starts to get stinky by the end of the season,” Creighton said.

As landscape manager, Creighton is also the course’s horticulturalist, beekeeper, arborist and environmental coordinator. Every year she implements new projects at the Glencoe. Last year saw the construction of a new chemical storage building; this year Creighton would like to build a compost area on site to improve soil health. She’s also creating a tree management plan that starts with a GPS inventory of every tree on the property.Glencoe environmental sign sm

Creighton’s job goes year round, and it’s especially busy for her and turf care staff now that the course is open to members. Complying with Audubon standards, however, is not a challenge, she said. “It’s a natural mindset.”

All photos courtesy of Glencoe Golf and Country Club Turfcare


Click the link to download a PDF copy of this article  pdf Newsletter article June 2020 (1.35 MB)

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