It's no secret that most golfers don't put cattails high on their list of favorite plants. In fact, when it comes to lakes and streams on the course, many players continue to demand the formal look of closely mown turf right to the water's edge. Unfortunately, while neat in appearance, this is a serious mistake environmentally and economically.
Common sense should tell us all that allowing vegetation to grow between the closely mown turf and the edge of the water will result in the interception and slowing of drainage runoff into the lake or stream. This runoff water has the potential to physically carry fertilizers and pesticides into non-target areas. This common sense theory has been substantiated through a great deal of scientific study. It just makes sense - allowing the turf to grow higher at the water's edge helps prevent environmental damage.
Buffer strips of higher mown turf can make a big difference. However, these areas do not do much to enhance bird and amphibian populations. That's where those cattails, willows, and other taller plants come in. In addition to helping to intercept fertilizers and pesticides, these plants provide food, safe cover, and habitat for many different creatures. Who would disagree with the beauty provided by the increased presence of Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, cranes, ducks and other birds? And how about more frogs, lizards, cicadas, fish and even the occasional snake? Bodies of water simply look healthier when they are populated with an abundance of living organisms. The ideal program is to utilize both methods. Mow the turf higher, creating buffer strips, and allow a variety of vegetation to grow along the banks and in the shallows of your course's streams and lakes.
Most golf course superintendents are aware of the benefits of buffer strips and aquatic vegetation. The hard part is convincing golfers that it is the right way to go. Note to golfers - consider one more not insignificant benefit - it is much cheaper to opt for the natural look! Supporting this program will allow your superintendent to concentrate available labor-hours and dollars where they can improve playing quality. This is certainly good news in these economic times.
A Red-winged Blackbird ventures from the nest to forage for insects in the nearby fairway.
So, to take a positive step environmentally, increase wildlife on your course, make the course more attractive, and save money in the process, put those weed whackers away!