Led by course superintendent Leasha Schwab, the staff at Pheasant Run work hard to create a beautiful playing surface while being dedicated to using as few artificial inputs as possible. A self-proclaimed environmentalist, Leasha works on the course with her two dogs in tow (one she rescued from Thailand while on a volunteer trip at an Elephant Nature Park) and she speaks enthusiastically of efforts to maintain the course in as natural a manner as possible. She is not alone however, in her appreciation of nature, as the other members of the operations department share a dedication to protecting the natural environment.
Organics (such as kelp and humic acid) are applied biweekly on the fairways to build soil and turf health. Adopting a more natural approach at Pheasant Run means that there are times staff have to try a number of approaches before finding the best solution, but the result is worth the effort. The use of chemicals is considered only after a full assessment of any problem, and may involve taking a sample and sending it to the lab at the University of Guelph for further assessment. Solutions applied to address disease or pest infestations are based upon science, experience, and knowledge of the property. Consultants are brought in regularly to conduct soil tests to determine deficiencies.
The devil is in the details, and course operators have a toolbox of practices to pull from that includes aeration, expansion of naturalized areas, measurement and monitoring, detailed documentation, observation, experience – and yes, experimentation. A large natural buffer has been created around playing surfaces —something that has protected waterways, provided habitat for creatures, and even helped avoid erosion. One area of the course is currently being rebuilt to expand the naturalized space. Trials of new organic products are underway. The use of control areas (plots that don’t receive the same treatment as other areas) helps guide decision making. Learning how an untreated area responds can provide valuable information that can be used to refine practices and further reduce the need for chemical inputs.
While chemicals are used sparingly, and only when necessary, other practices go one step further to protect wildlife. For example, herbicides are only applied when flowers are closed (or the flower head is cut off prior to spraying) to prevent bees from feeding and being exposed. Applications are highly targeted and scientific models guide timing to maximize effectiveness. Another project that Leasha speaks proudly of is the planting of several acres of pollinator-friendly plants. The course houses 4 beehives, and as a result the wildflower meadow is expanding even further. Honey harvested from this healthy bee population is now on sale at the clubhouse. Gophers, turtles and wild turkeys also call Pheasant Run home and kill deer nests are planned for the future. Next time you golf at Pheasant Run, watch for signs that advise golfers of the location of kill deer nests to ensure they don’t get damaged.
To accurately evaluate how much water is needed, greens are split into 9 sections and moisture levels are measured for each section. Moisture and infiltration gauges are used daily to make sure areas receive only the amount of water necessary. This assessment is replicated on each green. Unique requirements of each area are considered when watering times and patterns are set. Staff will even observe parts of the course while they are being watered to see if pooling or run-off occurs. Findings are then used to develop future watering schedules. Irrigation heads can precisely target areas that need watering, and levels in the on-site wells are closely monitored.
Pheasant Run is located near the headwaters of the Maskinonge River which flows into Lake Simcoe (and has been the focus of recovery efforts), subsequently land management practice on the course matter to the health of the lake. Watch for turtles sunning themselves on the turtle islands–features that were built voluntarily by the staff to both benefit of the turtles and the golfers who enjoy watching them.
In addition to the formal event-hosting service provided at Pheasant Run course staff are open to discussing the possibility of hosting community-led initiatives–such as birdhouse building–on the golf-course property.
For specific information on environmental practices at National Pines and King’s Riding, visit the their individual ELS case studies here and here.