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home : opinions : columns   May 29, 2016

9/17/2013 9:05:00 AM
Column: Nature hike at a golf course?

Craig Sterrett

There are places in the United States where golf courses are considered, by some, an eyesore — an irresponsible disturbance of the landscape. Where promoters advertise their course is “literally cut out of the forest” or built through the swamp, nature lovers and critics would consider them a scar.
In the mountains, they’re considered sources of water pollution, and in parts of the arid West, the very practice of irrigating to grow grass is deservedly questioned.
I was at a municipal course in the Southwest once that received environmental awards because the city used “effluent” — water from the sewer plant — for watering the course. They also had signs reminding golfers to keep their fingers and golf tees out of their mouths. Anyway, environmentally, they weren’t borrowing water from scarce resources, and one could consider the sprinklers a final step in treatment.
I’ve golfed at some Northwoods Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin courses where the course looks beautiful and spectacularly challenging to the golfer. I’ve noticed at many of those courses surrounded by wildland, lakes, streams and foothills, that you don’t see very much wildlife or many songbirds there. The wildlife in many of those places have plenty of better, more natural places to go. Other than deer, which seem to like the fairways and grassy pathways for easy walking and browsing, wild game doesn’t necessarily frequent the links when there’s forest, prairie and other natural areas nearby.
In Illinois and Iowa, however, where I’ve lived most of my life, the courses tend to attract quite a bit of wildlife and birds.
They’re frankly oases in an area where most of the flat land areas outside of floodplains or municipalities are either paved, plowed, mown or mined.
As a result, the best of the Illinois Valley’s habitat, if not previously preserved as park or sanctuary, includes fence rows, power line right of way, interstate highway median and cloverleafs, a few responsible farmers’ or hunters’ prairies and timber, and, yes, golf courses.
I play at Spring Creek between Spring Valley and Ladd and love walking the course. It’s teeming with bird life and wild things. Bluebirds and orioles occupy the trees, hawks have nested there, deer hooves occasionally damage greens, grub-seeking skunks tear up fairways and tees at times, pheasants occasionally show up in a strip of prairie that buffers the south side of the back nine from farmland, and spring wildflowers such as Dutchman’s breeches and red trillium grow because some of the wooded hillsides remain undisturbed. The owners are to be commended for that.
Some courses in the United States, such as the western sewer-plant-water recycler, have earned Audubon Sanctuary status. I don’t know what sort of requirements and restrictions owners face to receive and maintain that status.
Anyway, if a golf course is a great place for a nature hike or bird watching, then there’s likely a shortage of good habitat in the vicinity. Fellow journalist and coworker Jeff Dankert occasionally reminds me of these sorts of things.
And if we don’t have good habitat, we start to think the natural habitat of an opossum is under a porch; or the ideal spot for kildeer is the grassy, gravelly edge of dilapidated parking lots.
Efforts to create or just leave alone habitats deserve support and consideration. Some of these include the Corps of Engineers’ and Department of Natural Resources’ proposal for a breakwall that ultimately would create a weedy shallows in the Illinois River upstream from Starved Rock Lock and Dam; the Mitchell nature preserve north of La Salle and the Audubon Society’s previous purchase of Plum Island.
And not all preservation efforts are going to be by the government anymore. The state of Illinois can barely afford to preserve the best features of its state parks. It will be surprising, frankly, if organizations such as the Nature Conservancy do not gain a foothold in the Illinois Valley.

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Article comment by: MotherEarthSpeaks

Yes, I value greatly the little plot of flowers, w trees, and grass in my yard. Balance and harmony with nature is so necessary for really living well.
I wonder what John Muir would have thought of drilling in Yosemite, or fracking in the planes of Colorado.
He is probably crying his eyes out right about now with the floods in Colorado and the mess of the oil and fracking fields.
Let us be aware of the little nature we have left here, measure the pollution that needs to be remedied, and get to work on finding those alternative ways of living to support all.
Great article. Thanks.

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