The Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club in Clearwater is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. The course is a well-manicured, par 69 course featuring more than 70 sand traps, water hazards on 12 holes, two-tiered greens and fairways covered with Bermuda grass. The course sits on 140 acres of wooded upland. Golf courses provide extraordinary opportunities for nature conservation, when proper environmental management practices are followed. A diversity of wildlife and habitats add to great golf and a healthy environment.
The population of the Passenger Pigeon in the 19th century reached 4 million individual birds. Their dense flocks spanned a mile wide and 300 miles long, forming a sea of dark sky for many hours into days while passing over land. The pigeons could reach flight speeds up to 70 mph.
John James Audubon, the French-American ornithologist, naturalist and painter, wrote of the pigeons, “When an individual is seen gliding through the woods and close to the observer, it passes like a thought, and on trying to see it again, the eye searches in vain; the bird is gone.”
The Passenger Pigeon – similar to but larger than a Mourning Dove – suffered extinction in the early 20th century; its meat was commercialized as a cheap food source, resulting in hunting and complete devastation of the pigeon on a massive and systematic scale.
Audubon eulogized the image of the Passenger Pigeon in his book, “The Birds of America,” along with five other now-extinct birds: Carolina Parakeet, Labrador Duck, Great Auk, Esquimaux Curlew and Pinnated Grouse. “The Birds of America” was published between 1827 and 1838. It contains illustrations of a wide variety of American birds. It is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed and one of the greatest examples of book art.
For over 100 years, the Audubon legacy has blossomed into hundreds of independent Audubon societies within the U.S. One such group, Audubon International, has program members throughout the U.S. and in over two dozen countries. Audubon International is an environmental education organization and advocate of sustainable natural communities. Its programs focus on conservation, biodiversity, ecological restoration and management.
Since 1991, Audubon International programs have promoted environmental education, planning, research and conservation assistance. The programs inspire millions of people – one person and one place at a time – to protect and sustain the land, water, wildlife and natural resources of planet earth.
The programs are designed to engage people of the world to actively become stewards of the environment. A system of Audubon International environmental partnerships and cooperative sanctuaries partner with homeowners, businesses, schools, property owners and land managers to foster positive environmental change.
The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses is an education and certification program that helps blend environmentally responsible maintenance practices into day-to-day golf course operations. Standard practices have been developed that are applicable to all golf courses and which form the basis for obtaining certification.
“There are people who join the program because they are doing a fantastic job and want recognition,” said Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program Director Joellen Lampman.
Lampman is an ecologist who has worked with program members since 1997. The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program has members in 37 countries worldwide. In the U.S., 12 percent of all registered golf courses participate in the program and 5 percent are designated as certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. States with the highest number of designated golf courses include Colorado and Oregon. Florida comes in third with 28 percent of all registered golf courses participating in the program.
Golf courses take part in the program anywhere from one to three years before earning certification. Recertification occurs every two years thereafter. Members implement standard management practices to become eligible for designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary in the following areas: environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management, outreach and education.
Lampman said golf course superintendents feel privileged and happy when receiving designation for the first time as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
“I’ve had people tell me they are more excited than when they got their master’s degree. They’ve said it’s made them a better superintendent and a better father,” she said. “We really can change people’s lives.”
In Pinellas County, golf courses that are designated as certified in the program include the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club in Clearwater; Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg; Cypress Run Golf Club in Tarpon Springs; TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz; and in Hillsborough County, Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club.
Golf courses balance the demands of golf with their responsibility to the natural environment by naturalizing at least 50 percent of their “out-of-play” shorelines. By placing tall vegetation around ponds and waterways, the natural barriers protect against such things as accidental slips and falls. The barriers also serve as natural filter strips.
“The water areas are the best place to put wildlife habitats because of the combination of need for food, water, shelter and space for wildlife,” Lampman said.
Audubon International also partners with the United States Golf Association and other golf organizations dedicated to protecting the “nature of the game.”
Becoming involved in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses has proven economic and environmental benefits such as improved image and reputation, customer satisfaction, financial performance, worker safety and reduced liability, improved efficiency and environmental quality.
“People are going above and beyond what they are asked to do,” Lampman said. “We let our work speak for itself.”
To learn more about the program, contact Lampman at 518-767-9051, ext.114.