Golf Courses and Earth Day

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Peacocks on the 12th tee at DLF Golf & CC

Peacocks at DLF GC’s 12th tee at dawn.

With Earth Day being celebrated on April 22, this is a good time to talk about golf courses and their positive benefits to the environment, especially to wildlife. While fairways and greens obviously don’t offer the kind of natural habitat that forests and grasslands do, non-playing areas can form vital habitat that provides food, water and shelter for animals, birds, and plant life. This is especially true in cities, where other green spaces might be few and far between.

In the water hazards at Mumbai’s city centre Willingdon Club you can find huge catfish as well as wading birds such as the shy white breasted water hen. At the Bombay Presidency GC, in crowded Chembur, cormorants sunning themselves are a common sight. In Kolkota, golden jackals have the run of the Tollygunge golf course. Peacocks are commonplace in Delhi Golf Club as well as clubs like DLF in Gurgaon. 

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Away from cities, you might see even larger animals. For example at the Kodaikanal Golf Course in the Nilgiri Hills of South India, herds of Indian Gaur emerge from the neighbouring forest in the evenings to graze the fairways. Wild boars are common as well and at certain times of the year, the Indian wild dog, or dhole, has been known to make an appearance.

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Of course, a golf course’s suitability for wildlife depends on whether it is managed with an understanding of the local fauna and flora, and how to use non-playing areas to support them. Birds and small animals such as squirrels might inhabit a golf course even if there is no intention of providing a habitat for them, but the potential exists to do much more if the right approach is taken. In fact, the Guidelines for Maximizing Biodiversity on Golf Courses state that “a well-managed golf course can provide more environmental benefits than a poorly managed nature reserve.”

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One example of how a golf course can contribute to the environment is the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi. In September 2020, two golfers spotted a Steppe Whimbrel, a rare subspecies of migratory bird, by the lake on the 18 th  hole. The bird proceeded to remain on the golf course for a few weeks, presumably to rest and refuel before continuing on its southwards migratory path to Africa.

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In other words, the golf course provided a suitable stopping ground for the bird on its migratory journey. According to Troon, which manages the property, a total of 183 bird species have been observed at the golf course, which demonstrates the positive impact a well-managed, sustainable golf course can have.

 

Gary Player, the South African legend who designed the Saadiyat Beach course and recently redesigned the greens at Delhi Golf Club, also expressed his delight at the discovery of the Whimbrel and the Audubon certification. “My brother, Ian Player, was a world leading conservationist and so a passion for wildlife has always been in my blood. On my farm in South Africa, there were 124 different species of bird and every morning, I used to call them in order to feed them on my verandah. I have always had a special affinity for birds. When I was informed that the Steppe Whimbrel had been seen on the golf course, I got goose pimples. Birds love water, greenery and fresh air and Saadiyat Beach Golf Club has these in abundance … I only wish I had the honour of seeing such a rare bird myself.”

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To cap it off, the course has been recognized as an Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary Certified Property. The Audubon certification was developed jointly by the United States Golf Association and the Audubon Society of New York State in order to enhance wildlife habitat on and around golf courses. In the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the R&A have also produced a guide to bird habitat management on golf courses.

Given the growth of golf and golf courses in India combined with the challenges of climate change and habitat loss, it is important, even imperative, that the Indian golf community develops its own guidelines for habitat management. Doing so would not only benefit the area’s resident fauna and flora, but would also create a deeper connection to nature for golfers. It could also inspire other activities. For example, a course could hold a wildlife or bird photo contest and share the images on social media. This would not only be fun for members but have the added benefit of boosting the image of the club as well.

We look forward to hearing more stories about golf courses in India achieving success with nurturing wildlife on their courses. This can enhance the reputation of the game, your club and enjoyment of members and young people.  

 


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