From the turf to the register, making it green is the primary concern of golf course operators across the country, including those here in the nature-rich South Carolina Lowcountry. Yet for many right-minded pros, superintendents and owners in Hilton Head and Bluffton, going “green” is equally important to growing and succeeding when it comes to managing a responsible golf course operation.
Now more than ever, proper stewardship of the environment is a critical component to successful golf course management. It’s a fact not lost on area operators considering the impressive number of Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary-certified courses located south of the Broad River.
The Audubon program recognizes courses that develop and follow an environmental plan that incorporates six key elements — environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, water conservation, chemical use reduction and safety, water quality management and outreach/education.
So, just how “green” is the Lowcountry golf course industry? Of the 24 Audubon-certified courses in South Carolina, 10 are located right here in southern Beaufort County. It’s a commitment championed both by major resort operators such as Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes and premier private clubs, including the May River Golf Club, Oldfield and Moss Creek, to highlight just a few.
“As operators, we are stewards of the environment around the golf course and we see it as the right thing to do,” said Cary Corbitt, vice president of sports and operations at the Sea Pines Resort. “It’s something that we consider in all the day-to-day operations of our golf courses.”
That commitment is evidenced by the inclusion of all three Sea Pines courses in the Audubon program, highlighted by Harbour Town Golf Links, home to the RBC Heritage every April. The famed Pete Dye course will undergo a renovation this summer that will include the implementation of a new irrigation system, which will likely make the course’s water use all the more efficient.
Sea Pines’ Ocean Course and Heron Point are joined by the award-winning Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes as the other Audubon-recognized facilities on the island.
“Our superintendents have really embraced the Audubon program, just as those at other facilities have,” Corbitt said. “It’s an important part of what we do as operators.”
That environmental commitment is just as strong off the island. Both Sun City Hilton Head courses — Okatie and Hidden Cypress — are Audubon recognized, as are May River Golf Club, Moss Creek, Oldfield and Hampton Hall. Those courses are tied to vast residential developments, underscoring the importance of promoting a positive approach to protecting and enhancing the surrounding natural habitat.
“It’s not just about the golf course environment,” Corbitt said. “What we do also affects the areas surrounding the facility as well. Our owners and residents expect us to take care of that environment.”
Participation in the Audubon certification program isn’t simply a one-way street. Golf course operators get hands-on expertise from Audubon International representatives both during the certification process and subsequent recertification. This includes the proper chemicals to use on the course, new developments in water conservation and habitat protection and land quality issues.
This open dialogue between Audubon employees and course superintendents and operators is a vital part of keeping up with challenges of land use on and around golf courses, and the proper policies toward habitat protection.
“There’s no doubt that golf courses get as much out of the relationship as the Audubon Sanctuary Cooperative does,” Corbitt said. “It’s a great relationship, and we certainly benefit from having a partner to turn to.”
Involvement in the program can also be a marketing advantage for participating courses. Resort operations such as Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes proudly promote their Audubon participation, as it speaks to a commitment to the environment as much as to the game itself.
Golf often comes under fire for its environmental priorities, especially in regions such as the Lowcountry whose economies rely so heavily on their natural surroundings. Yet as evidenced by the hundreds of courses involved in the program, there are plenty of operators that should be commended and recognized for their stewardship of the environment.
“There are some obvious benefits to being a part of the program regarding public relations and marketing,” Corbitt said. “Obviously, it’s not the primary reason we do it, but being associated with the Audubon program is a positive thing for any golf course.”
The lack of Audubon certification by no means questions an operator’s commitment to the environment. To the contrary, most in the industry take seriously their obligation to protecting the natural surrounds their businesses are predicated upon.
Yet there’s no argument that inclusion in the Audubon Sanctuary Certification program can only help operators become better stewards of their environment, which is a win for everyone interested in making, growing and going green.