Massachusetts golf courses are working with Audubon International to become more environmentally sustainable

Golf courses are sometimes seen as more of a crook than a pro in their natural environment, but Audubon International is working to change that misconception in Massachusetts and beyond with its Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary program.

The national program, of which 14 Bay State courts are members, recognizes organizations that implement an environmental management plan that adequately increases efficiency, resource conservation, and conservation efforts.


Audubon International was founded in New York in 1987 and became international in 1996. The organization has worked closely with golf courses and other businesses for over 20 years to help them implement programs that preserve their natural habitats without affecting their results.

“The gentleman who founded the organization aimed to help golf courses become more environmentally sustainable and to break the perception that golf courses are terrible environmental bad actors,” said Frank LaVardera, director of environmental programs for golf at Audubon International.

Existing courses that do so successfully receive ACSP certification, which approximately 1,000 clubs have successfully completed. Courses under construction must meet stricter certification guidelines, as they have a greater opportunity to incorporate environmentally friendly practices into their design.

The first course in Massachusetts to achieve certification was the Hyannisport Club, which achieved the feat on December 9, 1994. The newest member is Miacomet Golf Course in Nantucket, which was certified on March 30, 2017. Massachusetts and Connecticut offer the most ACSP-certified courses in New England with 14 each. The Bay State has 18 additional clubs working to earn their certifications, according to LaVardera.

The rigorous certification process requires skills in the following six categories: site assessment/environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality, and awareness and education. LaVardera noted that “the backbone of our program” is reducing the amount of managed turf on a course, thereby minimizing the water and other materials needed to maintain it, and ensuring the quality of the course. water, including frequent testing.

“If everything is in order, they receive their certification from us, and that certification basically indicates that the course is operating in an environmentally sustainable way according to our guidelines and principles,” LaVardera said.

Courses receive onsite verification and submit additional documentation of their adherence to these standards to maintain their certifications, which require a recertification process every three years. They should also set course-appropriate goals and conduct an annual review to determine whether their goals have been met.

A common question LaVardera receives is the frequency of the certification process, but he says that largely depends on specific courses and their policies regarding their maintenance facilities and budget. While some courses can get certified in less than a year, other courses can take up to three years to do the same on their home turf.

He added that courses looking to become certified are generally about 50% private and 50% public.

Concord Country Club Hole 1 Pond, an ACSP certified course. (David Colt, file)


Audubon International emphasizes the importance of educating member golfers about the program and how it may affect the look and play of courses.

“Awareness and education is really important so that when a course joins our program, whether it’s a public course or a private club, we want to make sure that the superintendent and other members of the club relay information to members,” LaVardera said. “We hear a lot about courses undertaking this naturalization of some of these previously managed grass areas and the first reaction from members is, ‘Oh Superintendent Joe and his crew are lazy, they don’t look after this adjacent area. at the 11th fairway, why is that?

Clubs that want to improve understanding of their sustainability practices can use their existing member contact systems to communicate the details and importance of those practices. Clubs can also use signage throughout their courses to help curious golfers know about specific areas, such as unmanaged patches of grass.

However, Audubon International still recognizes that changes must be non-invasive enough to protect golfers’ ability to play on the course.

“We also recognize that golf courses are for playing golf,” LaVardera said. “Many of the employees who work at Audubon International, myself included, are golfers. We understand the need not to negatively increase the pace of play. We cannot have golfers on every hole looking for their ball. and what used to be a four, four and a half hour round is now five, six hours We understand that really can’t happen so we work with the golf courses so they can usually implement some of our guidelines and policies without affecting the pace of play or the quality of the turf.

An explanatory panel located near a watercourse to improve members’ understanding. (Mass Golf)


Wildlife plays an important role in implementing environmental stewardship programs in many CPHA-certified courses.

Among the animals contributing to these efforts are goats, which are naturally immune to poison ivy and can help eliminate the pesky plant and other weeds. By doing so, yards can avoid spraying pesticides that could end up in waterways. Needham Golf Club is a Bay State course that has employed goats as landscaping aids, clearing undergrowth to improve air circulation on the greens.

Courses can also involve community members by offering garden projects that help protect wildlife on the course, such as building bird and bat houses, or offering wildlife tours. At Winchester Country Club, members of the community can participate in annual bird walks.

Monarchs in the Rough, a partner program of Audubon International and the Environmental Defense Fund, which establishes pollinator habitat on a golf course, is another popular wildlife protection program on a few courses in Massachusetts.s. The initiative provides golf course materials to plant one acre of monarch habitat, facilitating monarch breeding and migration while benefiting other at-risk pollinators. Seven Massachusetts courses are members of Monarchs in the Rough, ranging from Wyantenuck Country Club in the westernmost part of the state to New Seabury Country Club in Cape Town.

A bee and a monarch butterfly enjoy pollinator-friendly flowers. (Mass Golf)


LaVardera thought back to his days watching professional golf events on TV as a kid, when the plants and grass on the courses were so carefully tended — and probably over-watered — they looked unnatural. He says that since then the golf industry has gone through huge changes in environmental awareness and conservation that don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

Although Audubon International does not expect to turn all American golf courses into certified courses, the organization certainly intends to increase its membership and maintain its certification rate of 10-15% among the routes.

LaVardera, who has worked in environmental consulting for 36 years, is thrilled that there are many environmentally focused agronomy and turf management degree programs available to the next generation of grounds superintendents. golf.

“Curriculum these days in these college and university programs all deal with the relationship of the golf course and golf course operations to the environment,” he said. “So by nature these people are aware of environmental issues and it’s just nice to be able to bring my experience and be able to work with them.”

This story is part of a larger series to highlight courses across Massachusetts that are improving the sustainability of play as members of the Audubon Certified Sanctuary program. View the full list of CPSA Certified Clubs here.


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Michael C. Ford