It's a nature preserve as well as a golf course June 20, 2010 By Andrew Blair

The WAPL championship site welcomes all sorts of critters, and also saves water

Notre Dame, Ind. – While tending to his daily responsibilities maintaining The Warren Golf Course, superintendent Matthew Cielen often has plenty of company in addition to his superintendent crew. During his busy day, Cielen recently looked up and saw a four-legged friend, a deer, staring right back at him as if to say, ‘What are you doing here?’

That’s because the site of this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship is much more than just as links-style layout. It’s also certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, making it home to an extensive species of diverse wildlife.

In an area like this, they feel safe, Cielen says. They know that nothing is going to hurt them. The deer, in some cases, will let you get within 20 yards of them. They have no problem letting you get that close to them.

Some holes on the back nine are seemingly home to everything except crocodile and reindeer. At least, that’s what Cielen thinks.

We have turkey, pheasants, coyote, reptiles. Deer. Absolutely everything.  You name it, we’ve got it, he says.

The natural manner in which the course communes with nature is no accident. Juday Creek, a 13-mile stream that was polluted for years, meanders through the course and presented Notre Dame biologists and the design team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore a unique opportunity during the planning process.

When the creek was rerouted, the designers and scientists subsequently helped to create a self-maintaining ecosystem of wetlands and water.  The creek creates strategic challenges for competitors, especially at No. 10, but also provides habitat and protection to a growing assortment of birds, animals and fish. When the creek was redirected through wooded areas, the water temperature decreased, signaling a boon for aquatic life and the stream’s population of brown bass.

In some areas they relocated the creek by as much as 50 feet and by as little as 10 feet in other areas, Cielen says. The [Department of Environmental Quality] didn’t want to alter the habitat for all the animals. What they required was that the water that comes into the property cannot change temperature once it leaves the property.

When the course isn’t hosting championships, one of its unique elements is that a specific par for the hole is not listed on the scorecard; borrowing from Muirfield Golf Club, golfers assign a par for each hole. Using the Integrated Pest Management system, the layout is also unique in the way it is maintained. The course has a number of environmentally-sensitive areas similar to courses that golfers might otherwise find in the southeastern United States.

There are some things that we need to do differently from a normal golf course. We have to maintain a lot of water edges, Cielen says. We take steps to ensure that chemicals and fertilizers stay out of the waterways and drainage ways.

The course was recently re-certified as an Audubon Sanctuary for 2011.At the final two holes, Nos. 17 and 18, golfers aren’t even allowed to retrieve a ball that they can see in the wetlands, though Cielen admits, The education process continues.

An updated list of species taking up residence at the course is maintained by the university. As the debate continues on golf’s tenuous relationship with the environment, The Warren Course is Exhibit A in the affirmative.

I think they go hand in hand with one another, Cielen says. Nowadays, most people don’t have a lot of time to spend outside. This is an opportunity for people to enjoy the game of golf and be a part of nature.

As superintendents continually make efforts to reduce water usage on golf courses, Cielen and his staff draw from a well that fills an irrigation pond to supply water to the course. Ultimately, that typically translates into a track of classic characteristics with a touch of modernization.

All we’re doing is providing a better playing surface by keeping it firm and fast, he says. Is it a little bit more difficult to manage? Yes. But in the long run, it’s better for everybody.