North Carolina State University’s Lonnie Poole Golf Course has passed strict sustainability standards and become a certified Audubon International Signature Golf Sanctuary and member of the organization’s Signature Program.
Established in 1996, Audubon International’s mission is to work with others to deliver high-quality environmental education and to facilitate the sustainable management of land, water, wildlife and other natural resources in all places people live, work and play. The Lonnie Poole Golf Course is one of only two university-owned golf courses to earn the certification and among more than 90 projects that have received the certification.
The N.C. State golf course, located on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, meets Audubon International qualifications due to careful planning to fit managed turfgrass seamlessly into the surrounding environment. The golf course also serves as a living lab for sustainable turfgrass management and environmental stewardship.
Dr. Danesha Seth Carley, sustainability program coordinator for the N.C. State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was integrally involved with the planning and construction of the golf course. Carley said that Audubon International certification was always the goal.
“The success of the golf course industry transition towards sustainability will depend, ultimately, on changing the awareness of sustainability issues within the industry and its clientele,” Seth Carley said. “Everyone must understand the relationship between their everyday lives and the resources on which they depend. This course is specifically designed to uphold these sustainability elements.”
Dr. Charles Peacock, a professor in N.C. State’s crop science department, emphasized that the Signature Program is an elite Audubon International category. Peacock, who has worked for the past 15 years with close to 200 different Signature projects worldwide, said that only new locations are considered for Signature Program membership, making the certification particularly notable. There are only 92 other signature sanctuaries.
“It’s in a whole separate category, and it’s a very selective category,” Peacock said.
Extensive, undisturbed vegetative buffer areas are among the Lonnie Poole Golf Course’s distinguishing features. These buffers include mixtures of fine fescue and native warm-season grasses, loblolly pines, American beautyberry and butterfly weed. It is not uncommon for golfers to see deer, beaver and even foxes during a round of golf.
“These buffers were integral to the design and were a big part of what allowed us easy Audubon International certification,” Seth Carley said.
Dr. Tom Rufty, professor of crop science at N.C. State, helped lead the initial push for Audubon International certification during Lonnie Poole Golf Course construction in 2007. Rufty said the golf course maintenance staff, led by superintendent Brian Green, was key in the installation of the adapted plants and overall turf maintenance.
“The staff are aware of the importance of environmental protection and the distinction of the Audubon program,” Rufty said.
Another winning feature is the surrounding constructed wetlands.
“Wetlands are natural water filters,” Seth Carley said, citing research from N.C. State that the constructed wetlands provide many ecological benefits. “The biological, chemical and physical conditions within wetlands create ideal conditions for removing many pollutants from water.”
The Lonnie Poole Golf Course not only fulfills a recreational and athletics role but also provides the university with a functioning laboratory for research and teaching. Turfgrass Management, Professional Golf Management, Crop Science, Horticulture, Entomology and Plant Pathology programs as well as College of Agriculture and Life Sciences sustainability students all use the golf course in their studies and research.
Within the golf course, programs involving wildlife conservation, habitat enhancement and environmental issues are balanced with the economics, operations and practicalities of running a golf course. In addition, the nearby Centennial Middle School uses the facilities for sustainability lessons in their science curriculum.