Golf course philosophy: Brown is better


It is a beautiful setting in which to watch wildlife. It's a place for people who like to look at deer or hunt birdies. Yes, it's a golf course.

Tim Powers is the superintendent at Crystal Springs Golf Club in Burlingame. If the greens run too fast or too slow, he's the one to blame. When the wildlife flourishes, he receives much of the credit.

In a world where critics describe golf courses as a waste of space and a drain on resources, here's the opposite. Crystal Springs has received six different certificates from Audibon International and earned the rating of cooperative wildlife sanctuary.

"There is a method to the madness. Superintendents are good environmental stewards. We're not just throwing chemicals and fertilizers just out there," says Powers.

As environments go, this was already a tricky one because water from the course drains into a reservoir serving San Francisco.

When asked if the runoff was clean enough to drink, Powers says he would. "I'd drink the irrigation water. It's cleaner than what comes out of my tap."

For instance, when maintenance crews clean their equipment every day, the runoff goes into a charcoal filtering system. As for watering the course, they try to control every drop. They use as little fertilizer as possible, allowing some portions of the golf course to go brown.

"You don't realize how off color it is until we go and treat it. And then it's, "oh, it's ugly, but it plays well,'" explains Powers. "Brown is not a bad thing. Everyone thinks it has to be green. Brown plays well."

Actually, brown is traditional. Some American players may not appreciate it.

"The fairways are a little bit not so good... needs a little bit more grass," says a golfer.

Just look at some of the finest courses in Britain, you might notice a similarity.

"People don't appreciate watching the British Open. They say that's so horrible. But those are great playing conditions," says Powers.

But at Crystal Springs, brown serves a more natural purpose. Several years ago, they allowed 15 acres to revert to their original form. It's a savings on fuel, fertilizer and water. They've put up perches for birds and left piles on the ground for rodents.

It's a simple concept. If you allow a golf course to return to nature, nature will return to a golf course.

"Watching a doe milking her fawns in the morning, that's pretty special. You can't pay for that," says Powers.

If you take the time to look, there is so much wildlife at Crystal Springs Golf Course that a guy could have a field day with a camera. In fact, Powers has one with him all the time.

"My Christmas card always comes from the golf course – always," says Powers.

Golf and the outdoors, here at least, they're one and the same.

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