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Play Golf Without Clubbing Mother Nature

It might not help your handicap, but you should look into these eco-friendly items at the golf course.

The game of golf evokes the word "green" -- and yet many courses are far from green in the eco-friendly sense of the word. Typically golf courses use a lot of water, a lot of pesticides and a lot of fertilizer. All of those chemicals follow the water into nearby lakes and streams, causing ground water and surface water pollution. And of course, those smooth links often replace the trees and tall grasses that form important wildlife habitat.

Golf is a frustrating enough sport as it is. Take some of the stress out of your game by finding an eco-friendly golf course -- or encouraging your favorite club to go green. We'll show you how to find clubs that have reduced their water use and their use of harmful chemicals. And we'll show you how you can help maximize your own course's potential as a playable course


a wildlife sanctuary.

Finding an eco-friendly course

To find an eco-friendly course near your home or vacation destination, check

Audubon International's list of certified golf courses


Greening a golf course can take many forms. For example,

Sanctuary Golf Course at Westworld

in Scottsdale, Ariz., has received Audubon Signature status for serving as a wildlife sanctuary by protecting habitat vital to native plants and animals.

Meanwhile, the

Vineyard Golf Club

in Edgartown, Mass. and

The Resort at Squaw Creek

in Squaw Valley, Calif., use only natural biostimulants and compost instead of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

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Meadow Lakes Golf Course

in Prineville, Ore., doubles as a wastewater disposal site. The course uses irrigation and 10 evaporation ponds to dispose of the city's wastewater.

And in March,

Marriott Golf

announced that 34 of its golf courses throughout North America and the Caribbean will be Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries by the end of 2008. To be certified, courses must meet standards for water quality and conservation, wildlife habitat management, chemical use and environmental education.

Making your course eco-friendly

There's a big push to make new golf courses eco-friendly. For example, the

Neighborhood Network of Long Island, New York

has campaigned against golf course pesticide use; recently, an organic golf course was built in their area. Even if you play at an older course, though, there's plenty you can do to encourage managers to make it greener.

Water conservation is key to sustaining an environmentally friendly golf course. And in most cases reducing water use will also save your club money. (Whether that savings trickles down to create lower greens fees is, of course, up to your club's management.) Encourage your club to properly manage the irrigation system -- to reduce evaporation, groundskeepers should only water at night or early in the morning, and make sure irrigation only happens where it's needed (i.e., by watering the grass, not the cart path). Your club can save even more water by using



gray water

(treated wastewater) for irrigation.

Golf has been around much longer than most pesticides, but most courses rely on chemicals to keep pests at bay. To make your course greener, ask your club to switch to natural pesticides and fertilizers. A simple way to enhance grass growth is to leave clippings in place after mowing -- at least on fairways and in the rough. The clippings will return organic matter to the soil. Any clippings, brush and leaves that aren't left on the course can be turned into compost or

compost tea

and used as fertilizer on the course.

Of course, a green course uses as little energy as possible. Get a group of members together to raise money for a biodiesel-fueled mower and

solar-powered carts


Finally, a green course doubles as wildlife habitat. Encourage your club to join the

Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program

, which provides guidance on turning your course into a wildlife sanctuary. Members receive a site assessment and environmental planning guide from Audubon International.

Kelsey Abbott is a freelance writer in Freeport, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their dog.