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Audrey Bonn, of New York, asks, How do you consider the environment while routing the course?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


Many of you will be disappointed to know that some of our biggest challenges are not using the natural features we romantically associate with golf design, but mitigating the impacts of manmade features and rules that exist on virtually every site!

For the last decade, there has been a veritable "explosion" of rules concerning the environment, for all types of developments. Required environmental assessments often identify "off-limits" areas, like wetlands and "Waters of the U.S." (which includes most swales and low points) which federal regulations require to remain either undisturbed or properly mitigated; high-quality forests; historic sites; and sensitive habitats.

The biggest issues involve water-quality protection. Even if we wanted to use the land exactly as it is for golf, we probably no longer can. Federal and various state regulations require that we ignore the most basic of grammar-school lessons that water runs downhill and make sure golf course runoff doesn't go to its natural outlet like a creek. They prefer it goes to a natural filter area, settle out in case there are any pollutants, and then overflow into the creek. This filtering assists in cleansing the water on site. It's sort of a high-tech version of birds not fouling their own nests, or at least cleaning anything they happen to foul.

As a guy who tries to get out of even doing his own dishes, I naturally disagree with this concept, but can see the logic, nonetheless.

Another big challenge is anticipating local issues not all listed in regulations which can rise out of nowhere to affect routing. At Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn., environmentalists told us where the course could not go, but often emphasized just where "they would like me to put it." In some cases, environmentalists seem to throw out issue after issue, apparently hoping to stall the project, or make it so expensive as to prohibit construction.

They required, for instance, that we protect a plant species that was "under consideration" for the Minnesota Endangered Species List, although it was not on the existing list, nor has it made it there five years later. (In one of the most comical statements I heard, an environmentalist told me, "Why, these rare plants are everywhere!")

Accommodating concerned citizens takes time and money. At Giants Ridge, we prepared more than 30 routings before finding one that (mostly) satisfied everyone. Since time was of the essence, we developed a strategy of avoiding regulated or contentious areas almost completely.

In some ways, it satisfied no one. The environmentalists still thought we were "too close" to sensitive areas. These environmental restrictions eventually used enough land that the owner had to purchase some non-adjacent property to finish the course.

So, it's a cart course, which golfers can't walk because of some long distances between holes. Will environmentalists complain that gasoline carts pollute the air, and ask that we reroute to encourage walking?