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COLUMN |Golf courses can act as unintentional conservation areas

Golf courses act like conservation areas, as green spaces full of frogs, toads, painted turtles, snapping turtles and scores of waterfowl and wading birds
Jordan Pozzobon, David Byers, Isaac Bjorgan and Owen Bjorgan were a team for Moe’s Golf Tournament. Isaac and Owen’s father organized the event to raise money for Red Roof Retreat, which offers respite care and programs for kids with special needs and their families.

I remember my first time golfing at what was formerly known as Peach Trees golf course, a delightful nine-hole course off of Niven Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I was likely around 10 years old, and I thought it was a real treat to swing some clubs with my dad, Moe, for the first time.

There is an ongoing internal debate as to whether my golf skills have actually improved since then. Thankfully, my biology skills did, though. It was at my first golf outing that my dad probably realized I was destined to study the natural world instead of making the PGA tour.

I teed off the day by immediately walking over to one of the numerous ponds that dotted the course. I absolutely had to know what could be swimming, floating or slithering around in there. I was not disappointed to see a dozen bullfrogs the size of a shoe. At this point, my dad was likely attempting to tell me when the appropriate time to use an iron versus a driver was, but instead of a club in my hand, I wanted to grab one of these amphibious behemoths for myself.

The frog was so big that it could barely be contained in my two hands. Some golfers wear a white glove, and I was wearing a mitten of algae and pond sludge. I released Ontario’s largest frog back into the water, and then proceeded to hit a few balls in various directions.

In this moment of youth, I couldn’t fathom why these ponds were called water hazards. What an insulting name, I thought. They were joyously full of bullfrogs, green frogs, American toads, painted turtles, snapping turtles and scores of waterfowl and wading birds. Who wants to get a birdie when you can stare at a cool birdy?

Fast forward to a recent weekend, and I am here to report that not much has changed since then, as evidenced by my most recent golfing session at the annual Moe’s Golf Tournament fundraiser for Red Roof Retreat. Not only was this golf tournament dedicated to a good cause, but it was also a pause to reflect on an idea for this week’s environmental article.

Golf courses aren’t designed to be a conservation area, but they certainly and inadvertently act like one. These properties are more biodiversity friendly than monocrop farm fields, suburban parks and other human catered landscapes.

Firstly, let’s consider the acreage. Be it nine holes or 18, this is a considerable amount of space where high traffic and motorized vehicles barely exist. Given the desired peaceful nature of the game, most golf courses are located away from any major noise sources. Nobody wants to tee-off next to a roaring highway, and our local wildlife would generally prefer to avoid that, too.

To the demise of most golfers, ponds exist everywhere. The collection of large and small water features across a golf course gives ample habitat opportunity for the aforementioned species. Last weekend on the golf course, I saw a great egret — a large and elegant white bird more frequently found in Niagara’s more secluded backwaters. The trees, which seem to have an unusual habit for stopping my golf ball, provide perching habitat for birds of prey who capitalize on their prey venturing across the open fairway.

The golf course is generally a giant green park with natural features and peacefulness. If you don’t care what lives in the pond (besides your golf ball), I can respect that. However, I would guarantee that even the most serious of golfers at least subconsciously enjoy the benefits of fresh air, being surrounded by trees and biodiversity.