Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: This Cranberry golf course is so much greener than you think
April 17, 2017 12:00 AM
The 12th hole at Cranberry Highlands Golf Course.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Cranberry Highlands Golf Course was created 15 years ago at the insistence of residents who wanted green space instead of development on the publicly owned 186-acre tract. Development is springing up all around it now, because Cranberry is still crazy-busy at growing.
But in its wisdom, the township remediated a site that the municipal water and sewer authority had used to store treated sewage and created more than a golf course.
Golf courses often get a bad rap for using enormous amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides to be lush and pristine-looking, especially where water is scarce. But it was the U.S. Golf Association that funded Audubon International’s nascent cooperative sanctuary program to certify golf courses that practice sustainable management.
And Cranberry Highlands is one of 900 golf courses in the world it has certified.
Tara Donadio, director of the sanctuary programs, said these golf courses are making the grade in water conservation, water quality management, wildlife and habitat management, chemical-use reduction and safety, and outreach and education.
The Cranberry Highlands Golf Course could have been just a paragraph in my Sunday story about four municipalities that are making their own high grades from Sustainable Pennsylvania, but here it is, getting its own column.
Dave Barber, the golf course superintendent, and his assistant, Matt Krepp, took me to an aerated pond from which water is pumped to 1,500 irrigation heads around the course. All the water in the pond is effluent water sent via pipes from the Brush Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The pond is the equivalent of three acres, including depth. That water is minimally treated to be safe for release into streams and rivers, but its use on the golf course means tens of thousands of gallons of water per season is reused by the township.
“When the pond drops, we have an automated system that tells us how much we need” to have replenished, Mr. Barber said. “The only city [potable] water we use is in the clubhouse and if someone needs a shower.”
Stewardship at the golf course includes use of low-impact fertilizers, native plants that require less maintenance and attract pollinators, and 60 acres of natural landscape that never needs to be mowed or sprayed.
“We compost all our leaves and grass so we never have to buy topsoil,” Mr. Barber said, adding that the course includes bird boxes.
Golfers, who pay $34 a pop to play 18 holes, might notice signage around the course and in the clubhouse explaining the course’s certification by Audubon International.
Audubon International is not associated with the National Audubon Society or any of its state or regional chapters. It grew out of the New York chapter in 1996 and became its own entity with an educational mission.
“We have taken conservation and sustainability to focus more on developed properties to educate people,” Audubon International’s Ms. Donadio said.
The organization started its certification of golf courses 25 years ago.
“The U.S. Golf Association recognized the need for sustainable property management, considering their watersheds and using the space to benefit wildlife habitats,” she said. “The certification is a six-step process, starting with an environmental plan, and we ask for documentation of core areas of management.”
Cranberry was certified in 2009 and has been recertified every two years, with documentation.
Inexplicably, some people ridicule environmental stewardship, as if they live in a different world, so it is heartening to talk to city, borough and township leaders who care about it. Cranberry’s entire township council is Republican, so it is clear that this issue, which has become so partisan on the national level, is completely non-partisan when you get local.
It will be on the local level that we continue to reap the benefits and value of wasting less and honoring the integrity of our air, land and water.
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626. The other Audubon certified golf courses in Western Pennsylvania are the Meadville Country Club, the Tam O’Shanter in Hermitage, Treesdale Golf and Country Club in Pine, Diamond Run in Sewickley, the Bob O’Connor course in Schenley Park, Westwood Golf Club in West Mifflin, the Youghiogheny Country Club in McKeesport and Cherry Creek in Greensburg.
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