Integrating Golf and the Environment
Greg Muirhead, ASGCA
Rees Jones, Inc. / Wadsworth Golf Construction Company, GCBAA
The planning and development of the Nantucket Golf Club, located on Nantucket Island, Mass., is an extraordinary example of integrating a high quality golf experience into a diverse natural environment. Nantucket Island is home to a variety of unique plant, animal and cultural resources and therefore one of the most scenic and naturally diverse landscapes in North America. During the fall of I995, plans were conceived to develop a world class golf club on a 250 acre site near the southeastern shore of the island.
In order to responsibly integrate golf into this complex landscape, a thorough understanding of the site’s natural and historic resources was essential. Such an education required consultation with numerous environmental expelts, interaction with local environmental and special interest groups, the involvement of a variety of governmental agencies with jurisdictional authority over the property and input from the general island community. Prior to any conceptual design development, a comprehensive site analysis study was undertaken. This lengthy and highly detailed investigation identified numerous environmental attributes of the site, each of which influenceed the final routing of the golf course and the location and design of all ancillary facilities. The entire northern border of the site is adjacent to land owned and managed by thp Massachusetts Audubon Society (MAS). Early and frequent consultation with this organization, throughout the design and construction process, was invaluable to the eventual, highly successful integration of golf within the overall Nantucket landscape.
Several rare and “State-Listed” plant species were found throughout the site. Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of the golf course was routed to avoid any impact of these plants. In limited instances, in order to protect other immovable and high quality natural resources, avoidance was not possible. In these cases all plants were carefully excavated prior to any construction activity and either relocated to areas ofthe site designated to remain undisturbed, or temporarily relocated in the club’s “rare plant nursery” for subsequent transpIanting throughout the golf course after construction.
Throughout the island there exists a variety of “Sandplain Grassland” and “Coastal Heathland” vegetative communities. Although these plants are seldom found elsewhere, they thrive within the Nantucket microclimate. Project consultants and local environmentalist identified nearly 60 acres of these rare plants on the project site. These vegetative communities provide essential habitat and hunting grounds for two of the most rare and challenged species, the Northern Harrier Hawk and the Short-Eared Owl. Protection of this habitat, as well as the general environment necessary for these animals to prosper, was also identified as a critical planning issue. Project consultants and local biologists identified over 14 acres of jurisdictionaI wetlands on the site. In addition, protective “upland buffers” were established around the perimeter of each wetland. The site’s largest individual wetland was designated as prime Harrier Hawk and Short-Eared Owl habitat. The golf course was carefully located to avoid any impact of this wetland.
Based on the results of prior studies conducted throughout the overall island, the project site was suspected to possess both pre-historic and historic period archaeological resources. Accordingly, a complete archaeological assessment was conducted early in the design development phase of the project. Fieldwork included the survey of more than 500 test pits. The general survey work identified limited, potentially significant resource areas. Those areas determined to be of potential significance were tested in greater detail and either preserved in an undisturbed condition, or carefully excavated under the supervision of archaeologists, resulting in the complete recovery of all discovered resources.
Upon completion and evaluation of the site analysis phase of the project, the challenge confronting the golf course architect and design team was to harmoniously blend the desired golf experience with the aforementioned unique environmental characteristlcs of the site. In an effort to accomplish this, numerous golf course routing alternatives were prepared. Comments from various project consultants, local environmental experts and the general island community were then solicited and incorporated to refine each alternative, until a final plan was embraced by all, including the various local approval agencies. The final plan achieved the desired golf experience, while also accomplishing the following environmental objectives:
- Maintained 98% of the 250-acre site as impervious open space.
- By implementing a thoughtfully designed program, increased the total acreage of rare “Sandplain Grassland” and “Coastal Heathland” vegetative communities.
- No net loss of wetlands.
- A “Secondary Rough” component, comprised primarily of native grasses, was created to buffer the routinely maintained and “in-play” areas of the golf course from the undisturbed adjacent grasslands and wetlands.
- An on-site “rare plant nursery” was developed to accommodate transplanting of “state-listed” rare plant species during construction and promote future propagation ohare plant seeds.
- An Integrated Golf Course Management Plan was developed to reduce reliance on chemical methods of disease and weed control as well as to establish appropriate thresholds dictating future use of herbicides and pesticides on the golf course.
- Groundwater monitoring wells were established throughout the project site.
- Project ownership committed to the purchase, development and long-term maintenance of significant, off-site acreage to increase available Northern Harrier Hawk habitat.
The golf course architect and golf course builder worked together to achieve the desired design intent and meet the environmental objectives for the project. During construction of the project, the golf course builder was thorough in maintaining delineation and protection of the sensitive environmental areas. Over 80 acres of the site were protected by fencing and remained completely undisturbed.
A thorough site analysis process identified critical environmental issues to be addressed while planning and constructing the golf course. Without question, the ensuing design process generated a final golf layout and associated construction methodology that avoided and/or minimized environmental impacts on both plant and animal species. In fact, rare plant species and grassland communities were actually enhanced, thereby improving overall animal habitat. The creation of the Nantucket Golf Club has become a model for subsequent projects attempting to blend world-class golf facilities with unique natural environments.