Renaissance PineIsle Resort and Golf Club on Lake Lanier Islands has been recognized by Audubon International for its environmental stewardship.
The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System encourages golf courses to emphasize conservation. Renaissance has been in the sanctuary program since 1996, but only recently received certification in environmental planning.
Grounds director Anthony Williams said he soon expects to fulfill the requirements for the other categories of certification: wildlife and habitat management; chemical use reduction and safety; water conservation; water quality management; and outreach and education.
Shawn Williams, staff ecologist for New York-based Audubon International, said the sanctuary program has 31 sites in Georgia, 10 of which are fully certified in all categories. Nationwide, there are 1,855 member properties, 461 fully certified.
"Our goal is to show that golf courses can coexist with the environment very easily," he said.
Golf courses enrolled in the program don’t necessarily gain a business advantage. But Anthony Williams thinks they provide a better experience for their customers.
"Where golf originated in Scotland, it was about enjoying the lay of the land and the creatures that lived there," he said. "I think we’re a return to the traditional."
Golfers at Renaissance may not notice some of the environmentally friendly methods. For example, they can’t tell that only eight pounds of insecticides were used on the 167-acre property last year.
But other distinctions will be obvious.
"We look different from the average golf course because we allow natural areas to return," Anthony Williams said. "You can see 50 varieties of birds here. We have a nesting colony of bank swallows, which is unusual for this area."
Renaissance has put up boxes to house bluebirds and other species. Landscaping plants, both on the golf course and around the adjacent hotel, have been chosen to attract birds and butterflies.
Turfgrass selection also is important, said Shawn Williams. "Choose turf species that are adapted to your region and are drought-tolerant," he said. "Have a system of irrigation heads so you can water only the spots that really need it, rather than the entire course."
Managers are asked to be similarly judicious in applying pesticides. Anthony Williams said they’re supposed to walk the course frequently, monitoring for fungal disease or grub infestations.
"If you find something, you just need to spray that location instead of blanketing the course."
Water protection is also critical. Grass is allowed to grow higher around water holes, and no chemicals are sprayed within 50 feet of streams. Golf courses in the program are also required to test their water and soil for pollution.
And trees should be part of the equation. "Out-of-play areas can be naturalized to benefit wildlife," Shawn Williams said. "Deer, hawks, mice and squirrels can thrive if you have forested areas. Edge species such as rabbits do well, too."