Carolina in the Morning

As the song goes” Nothing could be finer, than to be in Carolina, in the morning” or all day long for that matter.  I found this to be true as I recently spent a beautiful sunny day in North Carolina with staff from NC State and their Lonnie Poole Golf Course.  The course was registered in the Audubon International Silver Signature Program in November 2007, opened in 2009, and now fully operational, was ready for the on-site review. The goal of this site visit was to confirm that the Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP), written by university professors, had been implemented and that the program criteria for certification had been met.

Sitting within the city limits of Raleigh, this 18-hole golf course is located on North Carolina State University (NCSU) Centennial Campus where it is truly  an island of green within the urban environment.  Named after an alumnus of the same name (Lonnie Poole), the course was designed by Arnold Palmer Group designers and NCSU alumni, Brandon Johnson and Erik Larsen.  To begin the day, we met at the maintenance facility office where Dr. Dan Adams, Associate Vice Chancellor, gave an overview of the project as well as a bit of property history to our assembled group.

When possible, I like to begin a golf course review with hole #1 and work through to hole #18 and then go on to the maintenance facility. I was joined on the course via a golf cart procession by Dr. Tom Rufty, professor in NCSU’s Crop Science Department, and the one who has been involved with this project since its inception.  He was a wealth of knowledge about the planning process and was obviously very familiar with the site. In addition, Dr. Denesha Carley, Coordinator for Sustainability Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences joined us as did golf course superintendent Brian Green and other staff throughout the day.  We switched up cart occupants during the day so that I could get the benefit of everyone’s knowledge.  We stopped often, in many cases to view drianage pipe exit points and then to determine where the flow originated including whether the filtration was sufficient and appropriate–all in an effort to confirm water protection and quality.

The cart paths twisted and turned gently along the fairways weaving around the forty plus acres of buffers throughout the site. Mature forest and understory  in this Piedmont Region ecosystem  was preserved as part of the original design.  At certain points along the way, I could see and hear traffic on the nearby Interstate 40.  But as we moved away from the outer perimeter of the course, the insulation provided by shagbark hickory, sugar maple, sweet gum, loblolly pine, white oak and other tree species became evident. 

The primary wildlife habitat centers for the course are the extensive buffer areas protecting both created and natural surface water bodies.  The buffer areas and ponds provide excellent wildlife corridors throughout.  The golf course actually appears as if it was dropped right into the landscape as evidenced further by huge boulders  popping out of the ground along   several of the golf holes.  Simply put, the golf course serves as a very effective large-scale wildlife corridor.  The success of the corridor was documented as I observed or heard  over thirty different bird species during the day including such grassland species as Eastern meadowlark, Eastern kingbird, chipping sparrow, American goldfinch and red-tailed hawk. In addition, there were many turtles sunning themselves on logs in the lakes, a beaver lodge, a black snake sunning itself along a trail, and several white-tailed deer hiding at the edge of the understory.

Efforts for enhancing wildlife communities on and peripheral to the property include:

1. Monitoring for invasive exotics with follow-up maintenance to deplete the invasive species seed bank.  Kudzu in particular covered over half of the site initially.

2. Beneficial insect population monitoring as an indicator of ecosystem health.

3. Use of native plants throughout the landscape.

4.Use of the course as an outdoor classroom and living laboratory for NCSU’s professional golf management and turfgrass degree programs.

5. Implementation of a productive bluebird nest box system as a positive indicator of a healthy ecosystem

6. Floating islands of vegetation to pull nturients from the water bodies lowering activators for algae growth.  Although I had seen many floating islands in Florida, this was the first that I had seen so far north.

In addition to the on-site research, the university reaches out to the community beginning with nature walks for  students from the elementary school located adjacent to the course. Stormwater from the school is directed into a sediment basin on the golf course, an ideal solution to the school’s storm water volume and movement problems. The stormwater flow also provides water for the created wetland/filtration area on the golf course.  As stated by Dr. Carley “The constructed wetlands are natural filters. The biological, chemical,  and physical conditions within wetlands create ideal conditions for removing many pollutants from water.” So both the golf course and the school benefit from each other. Students can walk across the street to learn about wetland function, water conservation, and wildlife habitat enhancement.  How cool is that.

Lonnie Poole is now designated as a Certified Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary.  Lonnie Poole joins Kansas State University’s Colbert Hills Golf Course as the only two university properties in the world to earn this certification. To hear more about Carolina projects, check back in coming weeks.

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