Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Audubon Honors Wuskowhan
by Tom Cleary

Outside of what happens when the clubface of Tiger Woods' driver is introduced to a golf ball, the biggest collision in golf occurs each time a new course is proposed for an environmentally sensitive area. Michigan is no stranger to these pitched battles, and when they occur both sides usually end up bloodied. The golf industry, naturally, believes new courses almost always augment the work of nature by acting as buffers to encroaching development. Anti-golf forces sometimes believe new courses are a blight on the land they occupy, with great potential for disaster to neighboring ecosystems.

Regardless of which side of the argument you come down on, it seems undeniable some courses have gone to remarkable lengths to preserve and enhance the settings in which they exist. And one of the world's most respected environmental organizations, Audubon International, made a compelling case for that notion last November when it awarded Signature Sanctuary status to the Wuskowhan Players Club in West Olive near Holland.

By becoming America's thirteenth golf course designee of the Audubon status, Wuskowhan established its bona fides as an active and key partner in preserving the beauty and ecological integrity of the Pigeon River area, one mile from the Lake Michigan shoreline. And while golf is almost always the order of the day at Wuskowhan, General Manager Michael Kernicki says the preservation of the land in and around the course is never far from his membership's heart.

"Right from the start we decided we wanted to pursue this program with Audubon International. Someone who had visited the site early on referred to this as 'Nature's Course' and the more we thought about that, the more we liked it. Kernicki says the road to Signature Sanctuary status has been a long one, but also fulfilling. "We feel it's part of our stewardship both to the golf industry and to the local community. Last year we had visits from environmental groups and even had a 'Neighbor Day' for local residents. And I think every person from those groups who's been here has been impressed with what we've done."

The golf industry has noticed, too. In 1998 Wuskowhan was the runner-up for the Golf Digest "Best New Private Club" award, and during the survey was honored as having the best conditions of any new course in America. The club will get a chance to put its course and conditions on display May 24 when it hosts a local qualifier for the 1999 U.S. Open.

Now that Wuskowhan has received its long-sought Audubon designation, the club's goals remain the same. New superintendent Kevin Dushane will oversee efforts to make sure Wuskowhan follows the same stringent guidelines on all matters pertaining to the upkeep of the land and the club's environmental practices. Kernicki--who previously worked with Dushane when both were at Bloomfield Hills Country Club--calls his colleague, "one of the top people in his field in the state, if not the country. Kevin has a tremendous concern for nature and really has an understanding of all the things the Audubon designation requires us to stay on top."

Those things include care of the golf course and adjacent areas, proper disposal of waste water and chemicals and so much more. From the outset, great attention was paid to areas well beyond fairways and greens. Wuskowhan installed flow restrictors on lockerroom showers and also has reduced-volume toilets which help keep water use to a minimum. Additionally, the club went to the added expense of constructing equipment storage buildings with natural lighting, reducing electrical use.

Kernicki says that while all courses can be doing more to preserve natural resources and land, the reward goes beyond the financial savings such programs can help operators realize. "The environment ought to be important to all projects," he says emphatically. "And while we think these things will ultimately help us appeal to new members, it really makes us feel good knowing we've taken care of what was put here for us to use." The club has also made excellent use of its web site (www.wuskowhan.com) to keep membership informed of the Audubon process by providing photographs and information relating to the project in its various stages.

Now that Wuskowhan has earned its spurs from Audubon International, the quest begins to live up to the lofty standard to which the club has aspired for three years. And while golfers are the immediate beneficiaries of Wuskowhan's efforts, they'll soon by joined in the regard by Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops who'll visit this year to begin cataloguing birds and other animals who make their home in West Olive.

Young scouts and old golfers, fish and fowl, insects and environmentalists. In a sense, it's not unlike what happens when Tiger Woods launches a teeth-rattling drive: as the elements of Nature collide, the most amazing things become possible.

Editor's note: In March, Wuskowhan was notified by the Environmental Law Institute it was nominated for a "1999 National Wetlands Award in the Land Stewardship and Development" category. No doubt Wuskowhan is on a roll. In April, Golf Digest deemed it the fourth best course in Michigan in its annual "Best in each State" rankings.

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