Striking A Balance

by Brad King

 Jul 16, 2019 at 8:26 PM

Agronomy teams blend peak course conditions with sustainable practices

Governing nearly 2,000 acres of greenspace across three states, McConnell Golf takes its impact on the environment seriously. While striking the perfect balance between pure course conditions for golfers and sustainable environmental practices for the planet takes years of effort, agronomy teams have dutifully accepted the challenge. Let’s catch up on their latest efforts.

High Standards

As far as eco-friendly golf courses go, the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) is the Holy Grail.

The award-winning environmental education and certification program helps courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game. The program aims to enhance valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats surrounding golf courses in order to improve efficiency and minimize potentially harmful practices.

Achieving Audubon certification can also gain golf courses and clubs recognition for their efforts toward saving the planet. Membership in the ACSP has grown steadily since the program began in 1991 - bolstered by collaborative efforts with the United States Golf Association (USGA) – and now includes more than 2,300 golf courses in the United States and three dozen countries worldwide.

The ACSP assists each participating golf course in taking stock of its environmental resources and any potential liabilities, then develops a plan that fits the course’s unique setting, goals, staff, budget and time. The path to certification encompasses six key components:

• Environmental planning

• Wildlife and habitat management

• Chemical use reduction and safety

• Water conservation

• Water quality management

• Outreach and education

McConnell Golf Director of Agronomy Michael Shoun says achieving Audubon certification is an involved process that demonstrates an organization’s leadership, commitment and high standards of environmental management. Once a course’s unique plan is implemented and the results carefully documented, Audubon International staff visit the property to ensure compliance. Recertification is required every three years to maintain the Certified Sanctuary designation.

Among the McConnell Golf stable of golf courses, The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation is Audubon certified, while Sedgefield Country Club and The Reserve Golf Club are several years into the process, and Old North State Club on Badin Lake has taken steps to renew its certification.

Power To The Pollinators

Scientists have known for decades that North America’s monarch butterfly population is in trouble. Habitat loss, weather changes and pesticides have all at one time or another been listed as the primary cause, but the truth is not so simple. There is no easy or single answer and what can be done to stop the monarchs’ decline remains unclear.

Last year, The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation started the “Monarchs in the Rough” program in which a variety of plants are allowed to grow in the golf course’s natural areas as habitat for butterflies.

"It’s a program that the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) has requested people try so we can increase areas for butterflies to nest and reproduce,” Shoun said. “They’re hoping this will help [the decline] and that if we allow these specific plants to grow in those areas, we’ll see populations start to increase again."

Like the monarch butterflies, there has also been a crisis sweeping the world’s honeybee population. Not only are there fears that there might be a global shortage of honey, but also grave concern about the critical role honeybees play in pollinating much of the food we eat today. The American Beekeeping Federation estimates close to one-third of all the food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honey bee pollination.

To address the problem, CC Wakefield Plantation Superintendent Todd Lawrence introduced beehives three years ago. He initially purchased two, then later captured and relocated a third.

“With everything you hear about how quickly bees are dying off, we wanted to help increase the population – and also look at producing some honey,” he said.

As she often does, Mother Nature has thrown a few curve balls. While last year Lawrence was able to fill his first jar of honey, the weakest hive perished that fall and the remaining two were lost over the winter.

“It’s all part of the learning process,” Lawrence says, “There are many variables at play that impact the health of the bees.

The effort certainly isn’t being abandoned as losing the hives has only underscored their delicate nature and how susceptible they are to environmental changes. Later this year, Lawrence hopes to reinstate the bees.

Worldwide, the pollinating efforts of bats, birds, bees and insects such as monarchs is worth an estimated $100 billion per year in crop yields according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However impactful the efforts of McConnell Golf are to aide local ecosystems and bolster the beauty and enjoyment of its courses, it is but one small part in the overall health of the planet. Perhaps the lesson learned here, in helping to re-establish pollinators, is that every little bit counts.

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Nature is Buzzing at Wakefield Plantation

by Chad Flowers

 Apr 21, 2017 at 7:44 PM

There’s an additional team of caretakers endlessly at work on the course.

An Occasional guilty  pleasure for me is swinging through the drive-through of a local restaurant and ordering a Spicy Chicken & Honey Biscuit (which may or may not be accompanied by hashbrowns and a sweet tea). When I first tried this combination, th appeal was “local honey” – the sandwich was great, but I was curious about the benefits of local honey, which was Winston-Salem in this scenario. And I wanted to know: What makes “local” so special?

For the answer to this, we can take a close look at TPC Wakefield Plantation in North Raleigh. In 2015, the club began an environmental campaign to help support the declining bee population by installing beehives. The goal was two-fold, with an added bonus: We could install and maintain healthy bee hives, and our efforts would facilitate the pollination of the flowers and plants at the golf course and surrounding communities. (Bees can pollinate up to three miles from their hive.) And for the added bonus: We could use their honey in our kitchen. It doesn’t get much more “local” than that!

Wakefield has been certified in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses since 2004, and Golf Course Superintendent Todd Lawrence took an interest in managing the beehive program with great optimism in conjunction with this certification.

“I took on managing a couple of hives on property to go hand in hand with our Audubon program,” says Lawrence. “Throughout the nation, honeybee populations are declining and pesticide companies are stepping up and labeling their products with information on how to use the product in a way that does not harm the bees. Using these safe chemicals in the proper fashion, we are able to support and sustain our honeybee population and be great stewards of the environment and the Audubon program.”

According to Lawrence, to start a new hive, there are packages available for purchase which contain from 3,000 to 5,000 bees to start. When mature, the hive grows to around 60,000 to 80,000 by the end of the summer. This mature hive produces 60 to 80 pounds of honey per hive per season.

One of the current hives being managed was a swarm of bees captured from a tree on the 17th hole. Being able to relocate the bees to a local hive was a true “feel good” moment for Lawrence and the staff.

“With the worldwide bee population dwindling, we were happy to move the bees from the golf course to our hives,” says Lawrence. “By catching the swarm, we were able to keep the bees local to the Wakefield area.”

While we may still be around a year away from having local honey at Wakefield Plantation, the ultimate goal, in addition to helping the environment and being good to Mother Nature, is to include our honey in future dishes and recipes at the club. So the next time you see a bee “working” on a flower either at your house or on one of our courses, I encourage you to take a moment to enjoy the complexity of their work. And don’t forget, you may enjoy a taste of honey from that very bee’s colony sometime soon.

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