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Warren Golf Course and its Partner in Life, Juday Creek
by Chris Whitten

From a distance Cory Bishop could see the figure in the middle of the road. Seemingly lifeless, the body lay belly-down on the cool cement. As Bishop stopped his car to help, he saw the head hidden inside the snapping turtle's shell.

Bishop is a member of the grounds crew at the new Warren Golf Course at the University of Notre Dame. Last Spring when he spotted the stranded turtle, he immediately though of a suitable home for it the newly formed section of Juday Creek at the golf course. Two years earlier, however, the creek wouldn't have been such a welcoming environment for any kind of wildlife.

In 1930 Army engineers widened and straightened Juday Creek, changing it from a winding, meandering stream that one could step across, according to Army reports, to a drainage ditch. Since that alteration, the creek has continued to degrade ecologically due to more Army digging, agricultural fertilization, and careless maintenance by homeowners. In building the Warren Golf Course, Notre Dame hoped to be able to restore the creek to its original condition, both aesthetically and ecologically.

When plans were finalized to construct the Warren, a course that would host Big East Conference championship tournaments and, hopefully, NCAA finals in the future, the property required little physical change to accommodate a challenging layout. The acreage was enough to create long par fours without fairways running side by side. The bluff and wetlands that stretched through the back half of the property were positioned so one could visualize curving fairways and false fronted greens set into the natural landscape. There was also a portion of Juday Creek, a 13 mile long stream that ran through the area and would define the character of several holes, if not the entire course.

The process was running smoothly until the state of Indiana reviewed the plans. The creek was already under the strain of chemical pollution and high silt levels from erosion, and the reviewers concluded it could not be exposed to the added sunlight that would result from the clearing of trees. The creek was a spawning area for Brown Trout, and they would not be able to survive in warmer waters.

The restriction made the South Bend golfing community ask the question that has faced each of the 17,000 courses in the U.S. in some form: can golf courses exist without irrevocably damaging and polluting water supplies, soil conditions and wildlife?

Under the direction of a pair of Notre Dame biology professors, a 2,600-foot section of the stream was rerouted away from the course with the intention of restoring it to the original condition. Ronald Hellenthal, Ph.D., and Gary Lamberti, Ph.D., helped the course architects design a self-maintaining system of pools, bends and rapids that would aerate and filter the creek water.

The banks of Juday Creek, like many other urban streams, suffered from severe erosion due to the clearing of natural grass upstream by homeowners. The weaker root systems of lawns cut to the edge of the stream were not strong enough to hold the banks' soil in place, and the water had become filled dirt and dust. Dr. Hellenthal calls the situation "an urban compromise." While larger landowners, such as the University, hold more environmental responsibility because they make an impact on more land, Hellenthal insists that "streams are killed by individual decisions."

"Even though one or two homeowners shaving their lawns to the edge of the water might not have made a difference in the quality of the water," he continues, "the culmination of lots of decisions had terrible effects."

In the case of Juday Creek, the state of Indiana and Notre Dame took a proactive approach. Targeting homeowners along the creek upstream, an educational program was established to teach about erosion and responsible pesticide use. Although immediate recovery was doubtful, it was hoped that the University's example of responsible behavior could carry over into the community, affecting the stream's future.

Notre Dame met the rare challenge of building a golf course that would improve environmental conditions with what Hellenthal calls, "effort, time and expense" of $ 250,000 for rerouting the creek alone. Additional funds would be required every year for monitoring, and occasionally adjusting, the original work.

Although Juday Creek would be rerouted away from regular play areas of the course, the architects were still determined to include water hazards on several holes. They designed amenity channels, or artificial creeks that would run across the 10th and the 18th fairways, each with a drain and pump that would circulate the water, creating the allusion of real streams.

The design of the course around the actual and artificial creeks was also intended to control runoff. A major environmental issue for all golf courses is preventing pesticides and fertilizers from reaching natural water supplies. Calculated land contours can drastically alter the effects of heavy rain and normal watering. While rivers and streams are often found at low points in landscapes, course architects are able to slope the ground immediately next to water, creating safe collection areas for rain and sprinkler water.

The easiest way to prevent runoff into the creeks at the Warren would be to create buffer strips, substantial areas of natural woods or grasslands that would separate the stream from the normal play area of the course. Also, in areas where the stream or the artificial creek would come into play, the edges of the water would be left natural, a technique called burming. The developed root systems of the vegetation surrounding the waters would hold the banks in place, preventing erosion and helping to catch some of the chemical excess before it reaches the water.

The Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame is in it third full season, but the work to ensure that the property is more environmentally sound will never be over. Daily management of the course, overseen by Kim Hocker, Head Golf Course Superintendent, is an extension of the careful planning at the course's conception.

The course is constantly reevaluated and assessed for fertilizers and pesticides. Rather than applying chemicals en mass to the entire course, only specific areas are treated when the need is present. The US Golf Association and the Golf Course Superintendent's Association has encouraged use of a system called Integrated Pest Management that has become increasingly popular with courses everywhere. Not only is the course spared from harsh, unneeded chemicals, but superintendents also save on costs.

A similar trend at older golf courses is also developing. Kevin Dushane, Head Superintendent at Wuskowhan Players Club in Muskegon, says, "A lot of courses that are 50, 60 or 70 years old are beginning to allow out of play areas to return to their natural state. They are letting high grasses grow back and wooded areas to fill in." This scheme provides more habitats for wildlife and also reduces mowing costs.

Wuskowhan, designed by Rick Smith and Warren Henderson and opened in 1996, has been named a Signature Cooperative Sanctuary Golf Course by the Audubon Society. The course demonstrated superior environmentally conscious design, integrated technology such as a computerized irrigation system, resource conservation, wildlife management, community education and outreach, and a successful Integrated Pest Management System.

The award has gained Wuskowhan much attention and has prompted other superintendents to think in ecological terms. In 2001 the Warren became a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program by meeting criteria in areas such as water quality, outreach and education, and wildlife management.

Although the Warren has not been open long enough for clear results to demonstrate progress in improving the environment, Hellenthal believes the course is headed in the right direction. "It's really hard to find fault with anything that was done," he says. "For all of the time, money and testing that has been put into the property, I think good things can definitely result."

He has heard both sides of the golf course debate. Environmentalists may never be satisfied, and, truthfully, leaving any land in its natural state is probably the best thing for it, but those who side with the golf industry feel they can act responsibly while benefiting communities and the economy. Hellenthal says, "The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. In areas that are already impacted, as in Notre Dame's case, the course can make it better, but historically, golf course have caused some major problems and it will take a long time for the public to forget that."

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