If you golf, chances are you’ve run into some wildlife on the course at some point. Whether it’s a squirrel, deer, turkey or alligator, we are sharing the beautiful landscape of our golf courses with the creatures that live there. Recently, more efforts are being made to promote a peaceful co-existence and even encourage the wildlife to stay by designating golf courses as wildlife sanctuaries.

With more than 2.2 million acres of green space on American golf courses, there is great potential for golf courses to serve as sanctuaries for many wildlife species. Wildlife requires a habitat that provides nesting sites, shelter, food and water. These basic necessities are easily supplied on our nation’s golf courses.

Blending Golf and Wildlife

Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, MO has been on the cutting edge of blending golf and wildlife. Since 1992, they have been members of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System. Certification requires several steps, including environmental planning, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management, and outreach and education as well as wildlife habitat management. All these steps are important, but habitat management is a favorite with both the staff and the members of the club. Not only does a wildlife habitat add unique aesthetic elements to the course, it encourages more wildlife, which is extremely popular among golfers.

Blue Hills has added native plants to various areas of their establishment to attract wildlife and act as demonstration beds for members. This is an important part of a habitat program because it helps get the message out about what you’re accomplishing on your course. Different types of plantings can take on different themes corresponding to their role in attracting and supporting wildlife. For example, one area is specifically planted for butterflies and located adjacent to the entry to their pro shop. Like other wildlife, butterflies require food, shelter and water, so they use nectar-bearing plants to attract feeding butterflies and also host food plants for the larvae of butterflies.

Golf is for birds…

Wildlife on a Golf Course
Wildlife on a Golf Course

The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay is an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course located near Chattanooga, Tenn. The course is operated by Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation, and environmental stewardship is a priority. They became an Audubon International Certified Cooperative Sanctuary in 2008 and have since been exploring new ways to improve and enhance the environment. Late in 2009 a flock of 19 turkeys was spotted on the course. The presence of the turkeys was a welcome sight, considering that more than one at a time had not been seen in the past.

At one point in our nation’s history, wild turkeys were facing extirpation. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. In an effort to encourage the turkeys to stay at the golf course, the staff purchased cracked corn and placed it on the ground near the corridors that the turkeys had been moving through. As the days passed, more and more turkeys continued to visit and move through the golf course, while growing more comfortable with the surroundings and distant human observers. The staff quickly realized that they needed a better solution for providing supplemental food for the turkeys and they invented a trough feeder using PVC pipe and have had great success with the turkey population.

Wildlife Up Close and Personal

Of course, some wildlife is not so welcome on golf courses. We all recall the video this summer of the massive alligator making its way across the fairway of Buffalo Creek Golf Course in Palmetto, Florida. It was an estimated 13-14 feet long and golfers wisely stayed out of its way. So, what should you do when you encounter wildlife on the golf course?

  1. Baby Birds – According to the Audubon Society, if you find a fledgling, it should be left alone or at the most placed in a nearby shrub. Keep people and pets away so the parents will continue to care for it until it can fly. Placing fledglings back into nests is usually only a short-term solution, since they will quickly re-emerge.
  2. Snakes – The Humane Society suggests all outdoor (even in your yard) encounters with nonvenomous snakes are usually resolved by letting the snake go its own way, most likely to never be seen again. However, venomous snakes are another matter. If you encounter a venomous snake on the course, take it seriously. The snake should be removed to ensure that no one, including other animals, gets hurt.
    Beware of Snakes
    Beware of Snakes
  3. Skunks – Skunks use their powerful defense only when they or their young are threatened and cannot escape. Even then, they usually give ample warning that should be heeded — stamping front feet, a raised tail, hissing, short forward charges and twisting their hind end around in your direction. Move away slowly and quietly.
  4. Alligators – After last summer’s sighting of a huge alligator on a course in Florida, this one is important. Alligators have brains the size of walnuts, but they do know one thing. If they see an animal (or human) at the same place day after day, they know where to go when they’re hungry. On golf courses, players are around the edges of lakes and ponds every day.

Alligator attacks are actually rare as they have a natural fear of humans, and usually begin a quick retreat when approached by people. If you have a close encounter with an alligator a few yards away, back away slowly. It is extremely rare for wild alligators to chase people, but they can run up to 35 miles per hour for short distances on land. Never make the mistake of assuming that an alligator is slow and lethargic. Alligators are extremely quick and agile and will defend themselves when cornered. A female protecting her nest might charge a person who gets close to the nest, but she would quickly return to the nest after the intruder left.

The bottom line is you have to use your head when you’re on the golf course and be aware of your surrounding. Our golf courses are some of the most beautiful landscapes this country has to offer and it’s nice to think that we can share that space peacefully with the myriad of wildlife that call these places home.