COURSE CARE
Boone Valley Reflects Region’s History, Provides Wildlife Habitat April 20, 2018 | Augusta, Mo. By Lisa D. Mickey

Superintendent Rick Hynson saw more than just a golf course when he arrived at Boone Valley during its construction 29 years ago. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

There was a vision to create something special at Boone Valley Golf Club long before the course played host to two USGA championships or the PGA Tour Champions strolled its rolling fairways

The site featured 440 acres cradled in a valley surrounded by rolling terrain on a remote tract of land west of St. Louis. This land was once the hunting grounds of American pioneer Daniel Boone, the course’s namesake, whose homestead is just down the road.

And when Rick Hynson arrived in this valley nearly 29 years ago as a construction superintendent for P.B. Dye, he saw an opportunity to do more than just move dirt to create a high-end private course.

Hynson looked at the area’s natural beauty and set out to build a golf course that reflected the region’s history, while also offering key sustainability features to take Boone Valley into the future.

“When we built this golf course, there were two corn fields, some cedar scrub that ran up through the middle, and no lakes,” said Hynson, who has served as Boone Valley’s superintendent since its inception in July 1992.

“Now, we have prairie, and a glade over on No. 17, and the savannah underneath the trees,” he added. “The wildlife diversity is better here now than it was when we first got here.”

Hynson knew he wanted to reintroduce native prairie grasses and wildflowers on the course. Historically, tallgrass prairie had dominated the landscape of northern and western Missouri, extending into the southeastern part of the state. That prairie has largely been replaced by commercial agriculture and urban development.

Boone Valley Showcases Its Natural Habitat

“We started incorporating some native prairie grasses, really reintroducing them to the area because there wasn’t any left,” said Hynson. “Back 10,000 years ago, it was all prairie, so it was super easy to establish it because the grass wants to be here.”

Hynson and his staff planned for about 35 acres of prairie grass, which is burned each winter to eliminate all but the desired grass. The fire also helps stratify the plants’ seeds, enabling the grasses to return faster and more abundantly.

Next came the wildflowers. Hynson estimates Boone Valley has 10 acres of plants for pollinators, including milkweed, which is the sole food source for monarch butterflies during their caterpillar stage, and the preferred plant for female monarchs to lay their eggs.

Hynson had read the reports about the challenges of these charismatic insects and he knew America’s heartland was a prime migratory route for monarchs. According to a University of Kansas publication, “Monarch Watch,” monarch habitat in North America has decreased by 84 percent in the past 20 years.

Hynson also was familiar with a USGA initiative that helped to fund Operation Monarch for Golf Courses. That program has worked to develop protocols that can be used by superintendents to establish milkweed as a food source for monarch larvae.

“We had pollinators in mind from the beginning and we wanted to do something for them,” Hynson said. “Milkweed has come into our golf course on its own, so if it fits where it ends up, we leave it alone and the butterflies are all over it.”

John Daniels, a USGA agronomist for the Central Region, praised the efforts by Hynson and his staff at Boone Valley in reconstructing and maintaining tallgrass prairie and wildflower areas.

Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo., is a haven for various forms of wildlife and natural habitat. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

“More than 95 percent of the original tallgrass prairie is gone in Missouri,” said Daniels. “Such landscapes as this are vital to supporting a host of pollinators, birds and other wildlife. Golf courses can play an important role in this regard.”

But in addition to providing more habitats and corridors for wildlife, Daniels noted that Boone Valley began thinking of ways to make the course more economically sustainable from the start.

Boone Valley joined the push throughout the region to reconstruct more prairie landscapes on state and private lands. The initiative not only brings back the historic grasses, but also helps reduce mowing along highways and on golf courses, as well as on corporate and university campuses.

“This course is one of the early stewards of the area with regard to their naturalized areas,” said Daniels. “Since its inception, there has been a focus on making sure the course is environmentally friendly and provides benefits to the surrounding community, while only maintaining the areas that routinely come into play.”

The end result of less manicured turf is more native plant diversity with spring flowers and fall grasses. And the inclusion of those plants has attracted golden finches, who pick seeds out of the gray-headed coneflowers, while bees, butterflies and hummingbirds tour the Indian paintbrush plants found throughout the course.

Limestone rock is typical in the area, so Hynson created a glade off the 17th tee – a natural outcropping of rock with water directed through the area to create a waterfall.

Hynson also points to lowered costs for the course through reduced maintenance. He has cut 20 hours of weekly maintenance by switching to a more resilient zoysiagrass surrounding the course’s bunkers.

Another recent improvement he made was to add a recirculation pump near the 18th green that shares and reuses water from the manmade water features that border several of the holes. The pump has lowered water usage by 150,000 gallons per day.

Deer, bobcats, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, a plethora of birds and even one bear have visited Boone Valley. Last year, 24 pairs of purple martins reared chicks in the bird boxes located adjacent to the 18th green, and 50 more birds made their homes in the purple martin boxes behind the second green.

“I think our members have embraced the nature here,” said Hynson. “It’s quiet and they love bringing their friends here to play.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.