March 19, 2009

A river runs through it

An extensive creek cleanup improves a Pennsylvania golf club

Saucon Creek comes into play on several holes at Saucon Valley.

Saucon Creek comes into play on several holes at Saucon Valley.

At several spots along the nature trail that winds through the 60 golf holes of Saucon Valley (Pa.) Country Club are "wildlife sighting boxes" where members can record the unusual fauna they've spotted. James Roney Jr., Saucon's superintendent, periodically reads the deposited cards and is delighted at what members list as sightings: foxes, turtles, a mink, an osprey, a bald eagle and lots of bluebirds.

"Bluebirds are sensitive," Roney says. "An increase in bluebirds is a good indication of a healthy environment."

The sighting boxes and the abundance of wildlife are two of the reasons Saucon Valley is the National Private and overall winner of the 2008 Environmental Leaders in Golf Award, co-sponsored each year by Golf Digest and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Although Roney acknow-ledges his primary job is to provide great golf for his membership of more than 1,000 (and have Saucon's Old Course fully prepared for the U.S. Women's Open this July), his environmental work has added another dimension to the club.

Saucon Valley's nature trail winds 12 miles through the club's courses.'

More than two miles of Saucon Creek winds through the property. Utilizing state grants, Roney hired experts to re-establish the creek's floodplain, which had been clogged by "legacy sediments," material built up by 19th-century mills and logging operations. Soon after the widening was completed, a six-inch rainstorm hit, and for the first time in Roney's tenure, no green at Saucon experienced flooding. The stream reconstruction also created new fish habitats for brown trout. These cold pools are hot spots for members who enjoy fly-fishing in early mornings and late evenings. Roney says the presence of climate-sensitive brown trout, "the bluebirds of fish," is another bellwether of a vigorous environment.

Saucon has been over-run with wild turkey, so Roney teamed with the state Game Commission to catch some to be released in other counties. It was not a simple operation. It took a month just to lure a batch to a spot where a net powered by rocket-like fireworks could be thrown over four of them. "I had no idea turkeys were so smart," he says. "The least little change in conditions, and they wouldn't approach the blind."

Sounds like those turkeys knew wildlife has a good thing going at Saucon Valley.


OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL WINNERS

NATIONAL PUBLIC: David Phipps, superintendent at Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City, Ore., teaches a class called "golf course-quality lawns."

__NATIONAL RESORT:__Joel Blaker, superintendent, oversees hiking trails and a wild-life refuge at Coyote Moon, Old Greenwood and Gray's Crossing courses in Truckee, Calif.

__INTERNATIONAL:__Robin Sadler, superintendent at Silvertip Resort in Canmore, Alberta, established corridors for the undisturbed movement of wildlife.