Crown Isle has become only the third golf course on Vancouver Island to win international kudos for its environmental initiatives.
It has been designated a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International after implementing a program of measures over the past four years.
They have included cutting water consumption by a third and also severely restricting pesticide use.
An inventory of all wildlife and plants on and around the course has been drawn up, many indigenous plants have been added to the estate, and a Garry Oak ecosystem has been established.
Buffer zones have been established around water features to both protect wildlife habitats and maintain water quality, and bird box and mason bee programs have been introduced.
Audubon is a U.S.-based international education and certification program that helps organizations and businesses protect the environment while enhancing their bottom line.
Its ‘plan-do-check-act’ approach offers information and guidance to implement an environmental management plan that improves efficiency, conserves resources, and promotes conservation efforts.
Certification is awarded to publicly recognize environmental achievements and leadership at a wide range of facilities, not just golf courses. Community colleges and cemeteries are among others who have sought accreditation.
Only two other courses from more than 50 on the Island have so far been accredited by Audubon – Cordova Bay in Victoria and Fairwinds between Parksville and Nanaimo. Just ten courses in B.C. carry the award.
Crown Isle course superintendent Mike Kearns said Crown Isle was proud to have secured certification.
“There are misconceptions in the industry about golf courses contributing to the negative impact on the environment from chemical usage and over watering,” he said.
“We are deeply committed to environmental sustainability at Crown Isle, so we decided to mitigate our course’s environmental impact, and worked towards receiving Audubon certification.
“It was a challenging process, but we did it and are honoured to join the ranks of some of the most prestigious courses in the world that have also demonstrated a solid commitment to environmental stewardship.”
Crown Isle doesn’t deny it uses some chemical-based products to keep parts of the 140-acre course and ancillary grounds and gardens in tip-top shape.
But their use has been significantly curbed, as staff have progressively switched to more environmentally friendly methods of ground maintenance.
It’s all been a question, in their view, of getting the balance right.
“People think we must be doing dreadful things to have such great curb appeal,” Kearns said in an earlier Echo interview.
“But they don’t see the efforts and manpower we put in to maintaining as much as possible by hand or mechanically, including a huge amount of weeding.”
And apart from the planting of colourful annuals around the clubhouse and its approaches, almost all the landscaping surrounding the playing areas is now focused on native species and long-lasting perennials.
As part of the accreditation process, around 500 species of plants were identified as growing at Crown Isle.
“Encouraging strong, healthy, native plant growth in our landscaping helps control weeds naturally,” Kearns explained.
And many pests can be dealt with naturally with the help of birds, hence the bird box program around the course and another initiative to encourage mason bees to help pollinate plants.
On the course itself, Kearns says his staff “are continually out there, aerating, cutting and top-dressing to give us a strong turf. Once you have strong turf, that dramatically reduces the need for other action.”
He said Crown Isle pursued an integrated pest management approach, with chemicals used only selectively in limited areas such as on the putting surfaces.
From time to time – especially at the end of winter – there is a need to apply fungicides. Kearns added: “There’s no two ways about it. We still have to use some fungicide control products. But from all the products on the market, we make the best choices we can.”