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Crown Isle: focus on the environment

Crown Isle ResortFairways and greens aren't the only things "green" at Canadian clubs today. Golf has become a lot greener than many people realize, and it’s great media and public relations to be able to quantify what your club is doing to be kind to the environment, whether it relates to water conservation, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, recycling, energy conservation, or ?

A B.C. club doing a stellar job is Crown Isle Resort, Comox. In a recent feature by Philip Round of the Valley Echo newspaper, Course Superintendent Mike Kearns said some chemicals are still used to keep the 140-acre course and grounds pristine, but he notes that their use has been drastically limited as staff has progressively switched to more environmentally-friendly methods of ground maintenance.

It's a question of balance, and Crown Isle is so sure of its ecologically sound actions that the resort is seeking international recognition for their efforts via certification from Audubon International that Crown Isle is a 'cooperative sanctuary' where nature and wildlife is encouraged and respected. Only one other golf course on Vancouver Island has achieved such recognition (Cordova Bay, Victoria), but Crown Isle hopes to join them.

"People think we must do dreadful things to have such great curb appeal," said Kearns, “but they don't see the efforts and manpower we put in to maintaining as much as possible by hand or mechanically, including a huge amount of weeding."

And apart from colourful annuals around the clubhouse and its approaches, almost all the landscaping surrounding the playing areas are native species and long-lasting perennials. As part of the Audubon accreditation process, around 500 species of plants have already been identified as growing at Crown Isle. Strong, healthy, native plants help control weeds naturally, said Kearns.

And many pests can be dealt with naturally with the help of birds, so a bird box program around the course is underway, as are steps to encourage bees to help pollinate plants.

He said Crown Isle pursued an integrated pest management approach, with chemicals used only selectively in limited areas such as on the putting surfaces.

From time to time, especially at the end of winter, there is a need to apply fungicides. Kearns added: "There's no two ways about it. We still have to use some fungicide control products. "But from all the products on the market, we make the best choices we can."

Originally, the Crown Isle course was envisioned to be similar to a high-end American course where virtually every blade of grass would be maintained in pristine condition. "If we had done that, our perfect turf would have run right to the edge of the ponds, but we decided to do it differently," said director of golf operations Jason Andrew.

So the course landscaping was developed to include buffers of grasses and native plants and these more natural habitats have been extended in recent years.

"Over the past four of five years we have significantly reduced the acreage we mow, water and fertilize to give the course an even more natural aspect," said Kearns. In fact, golf courses with a more a natural settling are a return to the roots of golf in Scotland and such links are the norm in Europe, he said.

But whatever the changes in the rough and on the fringes, places like the greens and tees have to be kept in perfect condition for golf.

That, in Kearns' view, means some chemicals simply have to be used, although he insists that the majority of fertilizers are "spoon fed." "We do the minimum we need to do to keep the greens in the best condition to run at a certain speed. We don't need fast growth, so we don't over-apply." The landscaping changes, along with new investment in improved watering hardware and software, have also led to a 30 per cent drop in Crown Isle's water use, he said.

It's all a matter of balance between maintaining a top-flight golf course facility, "a competitive product," and managing it in a way that's environmentally acceptable. Kearns admits that striking a balance probably won't make everyone happy, but be believes it's the right way to go.

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