Educating Others, One Junior Environmentalist At A Time

By Todd Lowe, senior agronomist, Florida Region
March 20, 2013

Students learned how wood piles improve the environment by providing cover to small animals.

This spring continues to bring unseasonably cool weather and it has caused some unsightly conditions on several golf courses. Cool weather causes slow turf growth and delayed recovery from stress. It is also bringing record rounds on most courses, causing increased soil compaction on greens and turf wear from golfer traffic. Golf course superintendents are counting down the days until they can begin their summertime cultivations, particularly core aeration, because the turf simply needs to be worked. Until that time, solid pencil-tine “venting” is an excellent practice for relieving soil compaction and improving turf rooting. 

I was able to take a break from my normal TAS visits and speaking engagements this past week to visit with Mr. Tim Hiers from the Old Collier Golf Club. Nearly all of the golf course superintendents that I visit are excellent environmental stewards, as they work outdoors and have an appreciation for the ecosystem that they impact. However, Mr. Hiers takes his passion to the next level, as he seeks to educate others on the benefits that golf courses provide. Not only does he speak internationally to various universities, governmental agencies and allied associations, he also takes time to host tours on his golf course and explain strategies for improving wildlife habitat. 

On this particular morning, a group of fifth graders from an adjacent middle school and I were treated to a two-hour wildlife tour with Mr. Hiers. We visited several gopher tortoise dens and learned the importance of keystone species and the role they play in the environment. We also learned about other important ecosystems like ponds, and steps we can take to improve water quality and habitats for fish and wading birds. The basic requirements for wildlife of food, water, space and cover were discussed and why it was important to create wood piles in out of play areas instead of simply disposing of the wood. We also learned how a milk jug with beer and bananas breaks the life cycle of a turf pest, to reduce chemical use. Students were later quizzed on the information they learned and awarded with candy (which they had to eat after school). They were also encouraged to express their experience through artwork later at school and the winners would receive gift certificates at several local stores. 

Well-managed golf courses provide a significant benefit to wildlife and the surrounding environment. Tours like these are an excellent way to educate others about the role golf courses play in more than just the game of golf. In fact, the only mention of golf during the tour was when Mr. Hiers asked us to hold our comments and questions as we passed by a group of golfers. 

Source:  Todd Lowe, tlowe@usga.org or 941.828.2625

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