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July 2019

Critters Gone Wild

Critters.jpg

Wildlife both bane and beauty for golf courses

By Scott Kauffman

Many golf courses pride themselves on being wildlife habitats and stewards of the environment. Some even belong to the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, branding themselves as “certified sanctuaries.”

And what golfer doesn’t enjoy spotting rare bighorn sheep during a round in the desert or seeing monster alligators as part of Florida’s fauna?
Once these close encounters with critters become a nuisance, however, it’s no longer just a cool Instagram moment. Now it becomes an operational nightmare, what with courses being consumed with Canada geese fouling up fairways or Arizona elk messing with flagsticks and tearing up greens.

When these course critters become outright threatening to the consumer and surrounding public, it paints a much different picture for that “great walk spoiled.” Indeed, just in the past couple of months, growing herds of threatening Oregon elk have put Gearhart Golf Links in the public spotlight and endangered peninsular bighorn sheep are becoming headline news in the Palm Springs-area enclaves of PGA West and The Quarry.

To be sure, from wild residential pigs seen on a recent tweet from superintendent Kevin Welker at Iberostar Golf México near Cancun to destructive armadillos tearing up a Texas course, solutions certainly vary in how best to manage and/or embrace Mother Nature’s wandering wildlife. Some of the course remedies are unique, to say the least.

One course in Colorado was so tired of the local elk population chomping on its greens, the maintenance staff successfully deterred future elk grazing after using turkey manure from a local turkey processing plant. Others have gone shopping at The Pee Mart, considered America’s first discount urine store where “100 percent real, undiluted predator pee and animal urine” can be purchased and used on the course as another deterrent.
When Jason Bangild became Gearhart’s new general manager/director of golf eight years ago, he remembers buying jugs of coyote urine and spraying it on decoy coyotes to help ward off the dozen or so elk that lived nearby.

“For a couple weeks we didn’t see as many, but after spending $100 a jug, you start to ask yourself, ‘Is this stuff really coyote urine and is it really working?’” Bangild says with smile. “After a while it became a little goofy because we’d end up with these rubber coyotes out on the course. Eventually a couple of the coyotes went missing so that was the end of that.”

In the case of PGA West and the Quarry, swanky gated golf communities in La Quinta, California, it’s not as comical now that bighorn sheep are meandering along congested neighborhood thoroughfares and grazing on their finely manicured private club greens. Several sheep have died from various accidents.

On April 27, the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission approved an environmental impact report that clears the path for building a $3.5 million fence to contain the animals and keep them from further harm, according to a story in the Desert Sun.

Back at Gearhart Golf Links along the northern Oregon coast, Bangild is equally concerned now that his elk population is getting out of control at his course contiguous to several housing developments in the small town of Gearhart. The historic course, which dates back to 1888, always had the occasional elk sighting and tourists in particular marveled at the 1,500- to 2,500-pound animals.

But now that the herd has easily quadrupled in size over the last 20 years, what was once just a “bit annoying when they would trample the course,” Bangild says is now the talk of the town and several state agencies after one neighbor’s prized bird dog was trampled and killed.

As course owner Tim Boyle put it in a letter to the local mayor, according to a local newspaper story: “The incident is just the most recent in a long series of interactions with these large animals whose populations have exploded and who have no natural predators. The elk population is now at the stage where injuries to humans are inevitable.”

Another inevitability, at least for many courses along the eastern seaboard, is dealing with pesky Canada geese that flock to courses’ open waters, “creating a disgusting mess for the maintenance crew and golfers,” as Segregansett Country Club (Massachusetts) office manager Kate Brown describes it.

At Brown’s previous club, Poquoy Brook Golf Club in nearby Lakeville, Massachusetts, the course hired Cape Cod-based Border Bay Junction Kennel and its “fowl play goose patrol” comprised of mostly very successful and entertaining border collies. The first year was fairly expensive, Brown says, but the estimated $3,000-$4,000 investment was worth it.

“After a month or so, the geese began to recognize the truck as it crested the hill and would take off immediately,” Brown recalls. “It got to the point where the driver would have to stop at the entrance and let the dogs out because they were becoming increasingly frustrated by not being able to chase them. … The dogs were relentless and extremely quick.  And, when the geese would retreat to the water to get away from the dogs, the driver would get in a kayak and chase them back out.

“By the second year, there were only a handful of geese who hadn’t got the word, and they were easy to send the message to.  After that, it only required occasional visits to keep the situation under control.  All in all, it was a very successful method for us.  Not so much for a neighboring course who became the home of choice for the geese we had evicted.” 

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer and the managing director of Aloha Media Group

 

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