For courses, there’s green, and then there’s green

By Jason Feldman

As he drove around the cart paths at Somerby Golf Club one morning earlier this summer, course superintendent Eric Counselman stopped and stared into some small trees lining a fairway.

"I’ve never seen one of those birds out here," he said. "We’ll have to add it to the log."

Counselman’s "log" is an extensive one. He and his crew detail every species of animal they spot on the course. They note the date, the location on the course where the animal was spotted, and how many of that animal were there.


And Counselman is more than happy to welcome new species to the course. The grounds crew does everything it can to maintain the animals’ natural habitat throughout Somerby’s 190 acres.

It’s that attention to the environment that has helped Somerby earn certification under Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary program.

"We write down what we see on a regular basis," Counselman said. "It’s just good to have recognition of that stuff and it’s good to keep track of from year to year."

Somerby became certified in February 2006 when Counselman was an assistant to superintendent Casey Conlin.

"He made the initial commitment and got us certified originally," Counselman said. "I’ve had more time in the past year and have refocused intensely on the environmental stewardship."

What’s being done?

Counselman has taken over where Conlin left off and has ramped up Somerby’s efforts to be more "green" while at the same time keeping the golf course in top playing shape for the club’s members.

"Audubon recognizes and understands you have to use chemicals and fuel to mow the grass," he said. "They’re just asking you to minimize it as much as you can. We still use fertilizer and fungicides; we just make every effort to reduce that usage.


"We use chemicals as little as possible to get the best effect."

He said Somerby’s members are supportive of the course’s efforts to become more eco-friendly.

"They might ask why there’s a patch of (dead or diseased) grass on a fairway," he said, "but when you tell them that it’s because you reduced the amount of chemical on that fairway, they pretty much always understand."

Less chemical spraying on fairways has become common, too.

"I wouldn’t spray, say, half of our greens and not the other half," Counselman said. "That’s not a risk I’d take. But in some fairways, we’ll spray maybe 10 acres instead of 20."

Some other ways that courses have chosen to help the environment:

• Reducing water use. Counselman said many greens are hand-watered, and fairways and rough areas are often spot-watered.

• Adding bluebird houses. Fourteen bluebird houses have been constructed at Somerby. Last year, the course had one nesting pair of bluebirds, with more this summer. Counselman said the bird population at Somerby has grown with the growth of more trees on the course. He said geese are about the only birds that are chased away, as their feces causes too much damage to the turf.


• Growing hardy grasses. In some areas on the course, Counselman and his crew have switched to grasses that need to be mowed only a couple of times each year, reducing the amount of gas needed for mowers.

• Manual removal of algae. "The course has 100 acres that get irrigated (tees, greens, fairways, rough) and 80 to 90 acres of native areas that are left pretty much alone. In ponds, we do as much manual removal of algae as we can," Counselman said.

Page D1: Somerby is a leader

What To Read Next
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.
Caitlin and Jason Keck’s two-year term on the American Farm Bureau Federation committee begins next month.