Published July 2006 – Turf West Magazine
By Bob Labbance
For the past 15 years, Audubon International has been providingenvironmental guidance to courses around the world with the goal of integrating positive ecological standards to the golf industry. In collaboration with the United States Golf Association, membership in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) has grown to include more than 2,300 courses in all 50 states. According to the organization’s mission statement, “The ACSP is designed to help a golf course take stock of environmental resources and any potential problems, and then develop a plan that fits its unique setting, goals, staff, budget and available time.”
Of all the courses in the program, less than 30 have been designated Gold or Silver Signature Sanctuaries-a higher classification than the standard Sanctuary program. Gold or Silver status starts with the first meeting about the proposed golf development and continues in every phase of course management.
“If you want to be certified, you have to contact Audubon before the planning stage takes place,” notes T.J. Winzeler, superintendent at Sanctuary Golf Course at Westworld in Scottsdale, Ariz. “They want to sit in on those planning meetings so that they can be a part of helping direct the overall scope of the project. So, they came in and went through all our meetings with the City of Scottsdale and the Bureau of Reclamation and formulated a natural resource management plan. It’s a 2-inch thick three-ring binder that details every aspect of course management I might come across, and then, how Audubon International would like to see us implement those strategies to overcome whatever obstacles we might have.”
Winzeler arrived at Sanctuary in March 2001, after posts at the Legends at Arrowhead Country Club in Glendale. “We opened in November 1999, but when I took over we still hadn’t gotten our official certification designation from the Audubon,” recalls Winzeler. “That first year, I had to do some paperwork things, just to show them we were following the program. Once they came out and inspected that year, they went ahead and gave us our official seal of approval.”
Sanctuary is a golf course owned by SunCor Golf, who lists five other properties in Arizona and one in Utah. The course enjoys a gorgeous site at the base of the western slope of the McDowell Mountains with views to downtown Phoenix. It’s open 365 days a year and hosts around 50,000 rounds annually. Winzeler manages a staff of 17, a number that stays pretty constant despite the changing nature of the work from season to season. “We don’t necessarily have a large revenue stream coming in during the summer, but when you get that bermuda growing real good, that stuff will grow half an inch a day on you. So, it’s not like we have less work to do in the summer versus the winter; it’s just a shift in work. In wintertime, we’re doing a lot more detailed mowing; in the summer, we switch over and do our more macro projects; digging into things, tearing things up, redoing things to get ready for that upcoming season-but all that takes hands, so I stay pretty steady year-round.”
While adhering to environmental standards may sound daunting, the Audubon program I not governed by rigid green manifestos that conflict with presenting an enjoyable golf experience. “By no means-and this is something most people don’t realize-is it an end all. [It is] just merely a tool for me to use on my day-to day work,” says Winzeler.
Audubon always details how they would like to see things done. But costs and reality are mixed in to attain a realistic approach. “There is definitely flexibility to it,” notes Winzeler. “And if you’re real up front and open with them ahead of time-if you’re good at planning like I am-and let them know, hey, there’s this new chemistry out there. I’d like to spray it. I don’t think it’s going to hurt anything. Other guys, oh only one time have I seen them say, “no, we’d rather you not do that.” But, generally, they agree with what you have to say, and nine times out of 10, they’ll even rewrite your management plan to get it included so you don’t ever have to ask again. They’re real easy to work with; I have no issues at all with this program.”
Winzeler had some previous experience with Audubon. “My internship coming out of Ohio State University was with Jack Nicklaus at New Albany Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. The whole Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary program was just starting to rev up at that time, so I implemented a program working with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and built a bunch of bird houses and went out every week and monitored them tagging blue birds,” recalls Winzeler. “We kept tabulation for the two years I was there, a living document for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and whatever intern took it over. And I was able to get that property included as a Cooperative Sanctuary.”
The Sanctuary course he now manages has the standard desert turf grasses: 419 bermudagrass on tees, fairways, and roughs and out play areas; TifDwarf on the greens in the summer. The fall over seeding utilizes a blend of ryegrass on the fairways, tees and roughs and a mixture of Poa trivialis and bentgrass on the greens. “As far as Audubon is concerned in maintaining the grass, none of their parameters has any bearing whatsoever on how I take care of the grass,” says Winzeler. “Basically, what they’re after is trying to limit chemical use, which makes it real easy for me being out here in the desert, because we have to use so little chemicals anyway that if I even get into a situation where I feel I need to use some, I’ll go ahead and just not do it. That wouldn’t necessarily happen if I didn’t have those Audubon stipulations hanging over my head, but it’s just kind of the way I do things. So, it was a real good fit for me to come take over this property and continue what I’ve been doing under the scope of their broader program.”
Fertility is one area where Winzeler employs a slightly different program. “I’ve been on a program here for five years where every month I fertigate a biological bacterial product named CBX. It comes from deposits up in South Dakota that were never inundated by the inland sea, so none of the elemental compounds were leached out, nor does it have a lot of sodium to it,” details Winzeler.” “They liquefy it and compress the material and the liquid that comes out is full of prehistoric bacteria, yeast, mold, fungus, you name it, whatever came out of the ground. They add a few other bacillus strains to it that we know work well with turf. With that, in conjunction with a lot of chicken poop, you can really have healthy turf.”
The superintendent uses non-organic fertilizers only 15 to 20 percent of the time. We’ll go out this week [in mid-May] with a pound of nitrogen per thousand with the Bioform product, which is chicken, turkey and fish emulsion. That will probably carry me until the end of August, then I’ll throw down some more Bioform, and that will carry to overseeding . To come through overseeding, that’s when I’ll go to the synthetics, because you need a little more bang for your buck to get that stuff up and out of the ground and healthy real quick. In a perfect world, I would never use anything but the chicken compost, but out here with the stresses we have with overseeding and this time of year with the transition process, sometimes you need a little more nitrogen than what that product will give you right away because it’s got to undergo the process in the soil to make it more available,” says Winzeler. “I’ll use a little synthetic then, and coming out of overseeding, we’ll spray all winter long about a tenth of a pound of ammonium sulfate or urea-whatever we can give it to make sure it absorbs iron. And when we get to spring, we start in again with the Bioform, usually a pound to half a pound at a time.”
The golf course borders the Arizona Canal for a mile, though access to the area is closely guarded since 9/11. Sanctuary draws its water from the Colorado River of the Central Arizona Project (CAP). “They have a formula that tells them what one acre of turf will use in one year’s time. They’ll also give you allowance for flowers, trees, desert landscape, subtract out your bunkers, put that into their formula and kick out your allotment number, how much water you’re allowed to pump, use, transfer or store in a given year,” reviews Winzeler. “My allotment is 365 acre feet a year. But I have a little bit of a buffer that other guys don’t have. The overall development itself was allotted 400 acre feet of water, so I have 40 acre feet that we can play with in this system. There are several different areas within the system that I can rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, and get by.”
Sanctuary was designed by Randy Heckenkemper who worked with Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish before forming his own design firm more than 20 years ago. His experience in zoning, master planning and site development was one of the greatest assets in achieving the Audubon designation. The course features a scant 80 acres of maintained turf-with native saguaro cactus, ironwood and mesquite trees-and has become a safe habitat for dozens of animals and a wide range of natural vegetation, otherwise limited by the explosion of development in what was once vacant desert.
Winzeler understands his stewardship of the precious public resource as is guided by straightforward thinking. “A lot of times, when you try to over complicate problems, you can over think them and start throwing a lot of money that isn’t necessarily beneficial to fixing the problem,” says the superintendent. The manner in which this golfing outpost has been integrated into Arizona’s environment is exactly what Audubon International had in mind when it set up its programs.