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Wildlife Management on Golf Courses is a Balance Between Conservation and Control

Out and about viewing golf greens is where I’ve been lately as the Commercial Horticulture Extension Agent in Brevard County. Here in the county is where you will find 25 golf courses across the 1,557 square miles of land space that is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean. The area is affectionately known as the Space Coast.

What has surprised and delighted me most about the courses I have visited so far is the biological diversity and the amount of wildlife that you can find there, as well as how different each of these golf course ecosystems are compared to one another.

Brevard county has 25 golf courses and each one of them is a unique ecosystem.  Photo by Bonnie Wells

In just the short time, and through the courses that I have visited so far, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing an abundance of bird species, from Sandhill Cranes, Ibises, Egrets, Cormorants, and several other species who are likely taking advantage of the coastal area to rest and feed along their journey on the Atlantic Flyway.

Florida has more than 500 species of native birds. During fall and winter, many migrating birds will stop over to use the coastal areas to rest and feed along their 3,000 mile journey across the Atlantic Flyway. UF/IFAS Stock Photo

Many species of wading birds like the Ibis can be found on Brevard golf courses. UF/IFAS Stock Photo

The foyer at a community center at one golf course in Brevard County proudly displays the bird species that can be found on the course. Photo by Bonnie Wells

One of the most notable encounters I had was with a red-tailed hawk that swooped down in front of the golf cart and strategically plucked a mole cricket from the ground with its talons for a quick bite! I’ve seen baby alligators sunning on the edge of ponds and little scurrying field mice living among the tall grassy areas bordering the well-maintained greens and fairways. I’ve seen a small dolphin pod enjoying the waters of the Indian River Lagoon that some courses are lucky enough to border. Who wouldn’t love spending their days riding a cart around the greens having fun playing golf and taking in the beautiful surroundings it has to offer?

Indian River Lagoon views are a plus for any golf course in Brevard County. In this shot, you can see recently planted mangroves along the banks. Great spot for viewing dolphins. Photo by Bonnie Wells

But I’ve also witnessed the struggle these golf courses have with controlling invasive species such as cogongrass, Brazilian pepper tree, and the Australian pine that was once purposely planted throughout Florida without expectations of the resulting consequences. I’ve seen the incredible damage that racoons can do when looking for grubs under the greens, in a fashion not so graceful and helpful as the hawk in getting his mole cricket meal.

Cogongrass is a very aggressive invasive weed that is a constant struggle to control on golf courses. Photo by Bonnie Wells

Australian pine, which is not really a pine at all but a Causarina species, is an invasive tree that was once planted deliberately for erosion control along waterways in Florida. This invasive is becoming the dominant species where planted. Photo by Bonnie Wells

Racoons damage turf while digging in the ground searching for a grub meal. Photo by Bonnie Wells

I’ve been impressed with some of the creative and respectful efforts of controlling the damage that occurs by native wildlife, such as on one course where an innocuous fence was placed around a high value green that was continually under threat by the grub search by resident sandhill cranes. Turns out that, at least on this one course, the cranes are not equally as smart as beautiful, and do not know that with their long legs or wings they can just skip right over the fence.

Notice the fence around the well-maintained green in this photo. Sandhill cranes are a beautiful site on golf courses but can do considerable damage with their beaks when digging for grubs. The fence eliminated that problem for this course. Photo by Bonnie Wells

There is a fine balance between the conservation and control of wildlife on golf courses. The need for these approaches to be integrated is crucial for a healthy and thriving golf course ecosystem.

Invasive species management is probably the cornerstone to this approach, as these non-native species crowd out and threaten the natural resources on golf courses that provide necessary habitat and food for our native wildlife.

The use of fertilizers, pesticides, water and other important resources used to maintain the pristine golfing conditions we enjoy, often result in golf courses being criticized for potentially threatening our environmental quality. While this is a concern for any system that relies on inputs for high quality production, such as farms, ranches and nurseries, this public concern creates a unique opportunity for golf course superintendents to be recognized as stewards of the land, by protecting and enhancing their course’s ecosystem by providing important natural areas that benefit wildlife and people throughout the increasingly urbanized communities across Florida, the nation and beyond.

One course I visited has been very active in efforts to increase their environmental stewardship. They have transformed a low-lying, continuously saturated green, that had once been exceptionably problematic to manage because of the constant elevated disease and weed pressure, into a one-half acre wetland to support native wildlife. Native wetland grasses and plants such as cordgrass, cattails, pickerelweed and spike rush were planted, pesticide use was eliminated, and a beautiful Florida wetland has been established. This was once a constant and expensive challenge to maintain properly, and it has been restored and is alive with the sounds and sights of native wildlife. Now that’s what I call Florida Friendly!

For more information on how to improve the environmental quality of golf courses, please visit:

5 Comments on “Wildlife Management on Golf Courses is a Balance Between Conservation and Control

  1. Dear Dr. Wells,
    I admire your work to find the happy environmentally friendly balance of natural ecosystems within golf courses. We have found many supporters who wish to reinvent the abandoned , privately -owned West End golf course on Newberry Road in Alachua County, and are reaching out to our County government for their support as well. The golf course was the core of our West End Village neighborhood ; we have a dream to revitalize it. Looking forward to contacting you at a later time!
    Thank you.

  2. I am a huge fan of Greenspaces/ Golf Courses. I love the statement you make underlining the importance of golfcourse superintendents as “stewards of the land. “May I please quote you ?
    I’m writing our commissioners to help save an abandoned for sale golf course! I love seeing deer, red tailed hawks, Sandhill Cranes on this former course. I’ve also seen a pair of pileated woodpeckers, a flock of egrets, and bluebirds.

  3. Thank you very much, Gary! I have been impressed with the BMP efforts of the Brevard turf professionals I’ve visited and will most definitely be helping with the implementation of new programs and certifications in environmental stewardship. Stay tuned!

  4. This is a great article Bonnie. Thank you very much for taking the time to visit the courses and talk to the superintendents. I am sure that you were pleased with the knowledge and effort they use daily to be stewards of the environment. Many are BMP Certified but we need more to get this certification and implement new programs to make the best agronomic and environmental decisions on a daily basis.