Pro-environmental measures go for naught in golf course’s quest to expand to a full 18-hole facility
By Mike Jiggens
ONE of southern Ontario’s prettiest nine-hole golf courses aspires to
double in size to 18 holes, but first it must overcome a major obstacle.
Sally Creek Golf Club, located in the heart of a developing 400-home subdivision in Woodstock, opened for public play in late 2008, yet it appears it will remain a nine-hole layout unless the local conservation authority budges on a decision it made two years ago.
In May 2008, when it was hoped work could begin to develop the back nine on 67 acres of adjacent land, the Upper Thames Conservation Authority declared the proposal to complete 18 holes “did not meet our mandate.”
Course superintendent Chad Ziegler said the authority’s ruling didn’t specify exactly how its mandate wasn’t being met, and ongoing negotiations with the authority have been left in the hands of course owners Sierra Construction and Kinsdale Carriers, both of Woodstock.
At the heart of the political roadblock are a number of environmental concerns which have stirred up some controversy within the municipality in recent years.
Ziegler said the parcel of land intended for Sally Creek’s back nine holes was recently put up for tender by the City of Woodstock, but was soon taken off due to a lack of response. Local farmers declared the land as too poor for agricultural purposes, and one suggested its only practical use would be to develop it as a golf course.
Because there are no water issues associated with the undeveloped section of land, the ruling of the conservation authority has baffled the golf course’s developers.
“That’s what’s puzzled us,” Ziegler said.
Sally Creek has prided itself on its pro-environmental approach to maintaining its existing nine holes and plans to carry the strategy over to the entire 18 if a favourable decision should one day be made.
“We’re not some pesticide-laden facility,” Ziegler said. “We want to get the word out that that’s not the case.”
The newest varieties of dwarf Kentucky bluegrass have been used on Sally Creek’s tees, fairways and rough, and were specifically chosen because of their resilience to disease and lesser need for water. The dwarf Kentucky bluegrass also has greater wear tolerance, requiring less inputs on tees and fairways.
The course’s greens were grown to T-1 bentgrass which is also known for its resilience and decreased susceptibility to many common turfgrass diseases.
“Pesticide use last year was basically greens only,” Ziegler said.
No fungicide applications were made to tees, fairways or rough.
“It doesn’t get a lot more pesticide-free than that nowadays on the golf course.”
He said it’s important for bodies such as conservation authorities to understand that times have changed in the way golf superintendents maintain their properties. The days of excessive spraying are long gone, he said, adding that those who sit on such governing authorities might not be up to date about how superintendents have since evolved into stewards of the land.
“Chemicals cost a lot of money, and we don’t just want to throw it out the window. We want to try to get that point across.”
Sally Creek has also begun its quest to become a fully certified Audubon cooperative sanctuary. It has protected its waterways with buffer and no-spray zones, monitors its water levels and quality, has enhanced wildlife and maintains an existing wildlife corridor, has planted native grasses in out-of-play areas, has installed proper drainage to filter areas, and has taken necessary measures to conserve irrigation water.
“It’s (certification) something that’s, hopefully, going to happen a little bit down the road. We’re still doing things to work towards our certification.”
The golf course itself has become ISOâ€ˆ14001 certified. The designation is given to business and industry which identify and control the environmental impact of their activities, products or services, and which continually improve their environmental performance by using the four Rs (reduced use of non-recyclables, reusing instead of purchasing more, recycling, and replacing with more environmentally-friendly products).
“It’s just one more step to show we’re heading in the proper direction,” Ziegler said.
A state-of-the-art irrigation system has allowed the golf course to keep better and precise tabs on its water usage.
“We’re not just dumping water here,” Ziegler said.
He said he thought it might be a good idea to have the conservation authority’s elected members visit the golf course to see for themselves what is being done—or not being done—and let them view Sally Creek’s records “so that they realize we’re here to take care of their land, not to ruin it.”
The golf course property is home to a number of deer and other forms of wildlife.
“The homeowners here are happy with what they have,” Ziegler said. “You have people who have moved here because of the golf course, and they don’t want to see it go downhill.”
The anticipation of a full 18 holes was a major selling tool in driving the sale of new homes in the subdivision called The Villages of Sally Creek. Several of the newly-built homes are already occupied and many others are under construction.
Ziegler, who had formerly been an assistant superintendent at three Kitchener-area golf courses before coming to Sally Creek, said he hoped the golf club would emerge into something akin to London’s Riverbend or Sunningdale clubs, with the golf courses and surrounding housing developments forming a special marriage.
The issue currently at hand, however, is if would-be residents of the new Woodstock subdivision are willing to settle for only a nine-hole facility in their neighbourhood. Approval of a second nine holes of the calibre of the existing nine would likely boost housing sales, he said.
Many of those who have already experienced Sally Creek have left their former courses elsewhere to take up membership with the new John F. Robinson-designed course.
“It’s a nice little piece of property,” Ziegler said. “A lot of people don’t realize what we have here until they actually come out here.”
The property had once served as a psychiatric hospital facility. Its clubhouse/pro shop was the hospital’s former power building. Ziegler’s office and some of his maintenance space is located in the old brick building’s basement which has its own access to the outside.
Features of the property’s former use were implemented into the design of the golf course. A tree nursery initiated by the hospital produced a large quantity of Norway spruce trees, 200 of which planted on the golf course property. In its days as a hospital facility, “tons and tons” of trees, including native maple, oak, linden, birch, pine and beech, were planted on the property, giving the golf course some immediate character and providing a sanctuary for wildlife.
Brick from some of the older demolished buildings were ground up and used as cart path material, and large stones taken from an old railroad bridge have been placed near water features to add to the golf course’s aesthetic appeal.
Bunker sand was obtained from a pit in Cayuga, approximately one hour away.
“It was pretty cheap as far as bunker sand goes,” Ziegler said. “It’s a nice sand to play out of and it has a nice colour.”
The Sally Creek itself winds through eight of the nine holes which, from the back tees, measure 3,000 yards for a par of 35.
The holes have been designed to give golfers the impression they are in their own little area, apart from the rest of the course.
“That’s what great about this property is that it’s spread out, and it’s like you have your own individual hole.”
The existing nine holes occupy 62 acres of land.
Ziegler heads up a maintenance staff of five people. The number was somewhat higher during the golf course’s grow-in period to enable washouts and other related issues to be dealt with accordingly.