Golf courses ‘enhance ecosystems and some animals even owe their lives to them’
A major study by the University of Missouri on 10 golf courses in the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina has found that not only can golf enhance local ecosystems, but some animals may even owe their lives to the sport.
For years golf has been stereotyped as being bad for the environment, because their construction can damage ecosystems and their use of water, pesticides and fertilisers can be environmentally unfriendly.
However, the University of Missouri research, which centred on streams that run through the golf courses, found that the presence of the golf courses was helping local habitat, especially salamanders, survive and even thrive.
“It’s always been thought that course managers not only clear the land, but they add a lot of chemicals to the environment,” said University of Missouri professor Ray Semlitsch.
“In terms of maintaining the turf of the golf course, managers use herbicides, insecticides, pesticides and fertilisers. We went into the research study thinking these things were going to be really toxic and really bad to the salamanders. What we found was quite the opposite. Golf courses can actually provide a wonderful habitat for salamanders and other organisms where they can survive and thrive.”
Sampling focused on both larvae and adult salamanders in streams that crossed fairways within the golf courses. Water samples were also analysed for chemicals and adverse substances that might be detrimental to the salamanders located on the courses.
“Golf courses have an environmental impact when they go in and clear an area,” said Semlitsch. “However, because of improved management techniques, we’re seeing no signs of chemical effects around these courses. It implies that the turf science industry is doing a great job at utilising fairway design techniques, plants that reduce chemicals found in the soil and other methods to ensure that biodiversity succeeds on the course.”
The research indicates that maintaining the natural features of an area is the best way to retain a habitable ecosystem on and around golf courses.
“We have this image of pristine and highly manicured fairways such as the ones we see in Augusta or at Pebble Beach,” Semlitsch said. “However, our research suggests a more natural course that includes streams with leaf litter, sticks and twigs that offer a natural habitat for different species is preferred. Turf and golf course managers are taking note of these practices, and it is making a real ecological difference.”