Tell me a bit about the status of Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program. What is it like working with golf courses around the world?

Christine Kane

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) is designed to help golf course superintendents blend environmentally responsible maintenance practices into day-to-day golf course operations. By enhancing the valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats that golf courses provide, improving efficiencies and minimizing potentially harmful impacts of golf course operations, the ACSP serves an important environmental role worldwide.

ASCP membership is open to any golf course around the world; no matter its size or ownership model. Today we have more than 2,200 ACSP member courses, 904 of which are fully certified as cooperative sanctuaries with the balance working toward certification in one or more of the program categories:

  • Environmental Planning
  • Wildlife and Habitat Management
  • Water Conservation
  • Chemical Use Reduction and Safety
  • Water Quality Management
  • Outreach and Education

Aside from the challenges of working in 34 countries around the world that you might expect, such as keeping track of time zones and cultural differences, we find that while many golf courses face the same basic management issues, each superintendent, regardless of location, inherently understands the positive environmental value their course can contribute to their community, are eager to tell the stories of what they’re already doing and excited to learn how to do even more.

What other projects are you working on that might include ACSP golf courses in the near future?

We’re currently working on a number of projects that will connect the work of individual ACSP courses to larger environmental initiatives. Several upcoming opportunities include water management across entire watersheds, creating large-scale habitat along migration corridors for Monarch Butterflies and other pollinators across North America, and a pilot project with United Airlines to relocate raptors away from airports in New York and New Jersey onto safer, high-quality habitats at golf courses. This project will not only help reduce aircraft bird strikes in busy airspace but also contribute migration data to national research studies on at-risk and threatened species like the American Kestrel.

In your work, how has the reputation of golf courses evolved in the eyes of other Audubon partners that you work with or the general public?

We are beginning to see a change in the way courses are viewed by other environmental organizations as evidenced by the breadth of the exciting project opportunities mentioned previously. In addition, as course personnel become more comfortable with the education and outreach components of the ACSP, they are offering their golf courses as places for educational events, hiking groups and birding trips by members of their surrounding communities on a regular basis.

Pollinator gardens create biodiversity for communities.

What are some challenges that golf courses will continue to face to earn trust and respect as environmental stewards to those outside the industry?

Unfortunately, golf is still battling outdated misconceptions among the general public and some regulatory agencies about its environmental footprint, particularly in the areas of water use and chemical use. Increased participation in programs like the ACSP and the GCSAA’s BMP initiative will go a long way toward demonstrating the industry’s understanding of and commitment to environmental stewardship.

When you look 10 to 20 years down the road, what does the future of sustainability mean to you? How can golf courses continue to be part of Audubon’s mission and other organizations looking to strike balance with economic, social and environmental factors?

Our work at Audubon International is guided by our 10 core beliefs, one of which is that finding the balance between environmental, economic and social systems is key to sustainability for all of Earth’s inhabitants. We recognize that nature is all around us, which is why we educate the managers of all the places where people live, work and play, golf courses included.

Our vision is for sustainability to become the normal approach to the way we act, whether as an individual or in business, rather than the exception.