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Golf's Other Green

JW Marriott’s Starr Pass Resort embraces conservation program.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Scott Kauffman
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In the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield, who played that classic country club golfer in the iconic movie, "Caddyshack," golf gets no respect. At least that's been the longstanding case from the environmental front. This view is understandable, considering golf’s historic reputation as an elitist sport and the common perception that courses consume gluttonous amounts of precious water and dangerous chemicals.

But golfers – and a growing number of non-golfers – are beginning to understand that many golf courses are actually more friend than foe when it comes to the environment. One environmental organization that understands this as well as anybody is Audubon International, a Selkirk, N.Y.-based non-profit agency that started registering golf courses in its Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program in 1991. Twenty years later, the program has more than 2,300 Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary members, 2,000 of which are golf courses.

Of the estimated 2,000 golf course members, 590 are “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries,” a distinction that members earn by implementing and documenting extensive efforts in six environmental quality areas: Environmental Planning; Wildlife and Habitat Planning; Chemical-use Reduction and Safety; Water Conservation; Water Quality Management and Outreach and Education.

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa in Tucson is one lodging enterprise that fully embraces these certified Audubon eco-friendly practices. When you’re surrounded by 40,000 acres of precious parkland, namely treasured Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro East National Park, it’s easy to see why.

Indeed, with Tucson Mountain Park as the backdrop, Starr Pass has always been keenly aware and respectful of its natural surroundings. Director of golf Todd Howard says JW Marriott Starr Pass is careful to incorporate various green practices that help to preserve his resort’s pristine Sonoran Desert setting. For example, Starr Pass Tucson Golf Club incorporates natural elements for its golf course hazards and conserves water by irrigating the golf course with effluent, rather than ground water.

Additionally, the golf club only overseeds fairways and tees to project that lush winter look, rather than the entire course from tee to green, ultimately reducing the amount of fertilizer usage and other pesticide inputs. Meanwhile, all fertilizers applied on the 27-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course are environmentally safe, according to the resort.

Perhaps the most noticeable sign Starr Pass is harmoniously coexisting with its natural surroundings is the plentiful wildlife seen throughout the property’s designated natural wildlife habitats. Whether it’s the abundance of deer milling around the course or jackrabbits often found sauntering across the Coyote Course, Starr Pass is an extension of the nearby Tucson Mountain Park.

Starr Pass has been a certified Audubon Sanctuary since February 2008 and receives regular audits to maintain such status. According to Howard, the costs associated with the Audubon program are inconsequential.

“We haven’t seen any huge cost increases or savings,” says Howard, who’s in his fifth year at the resort. “It’s pretty cost neutral. For us, we were doing a lot of this already so this just formalized it and lets everybody know what we’re doing.

“It documents it just gives us credibility because we have a third party outside agency auditing us every two years rather than us just saying what we’re doing.”

Howard says the fee to join the Audubon program is less than $500. As long as the golf course maintenance department is embracing sound water management and chemical application practices to begin with, the cost is irrelevant.

“In theory, the average golfer wouldn’t notice anything,” Howard points out. “The golf course is not necessarily any better or less playable. Does it bring any more golfers? No. But we do use (Audubon) for positive publicity, and it validates what we’re already doing.”

Scott Kauffman
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Scott Kauffman is a leading journalist on golf course development and luxury resort and real estate development worldwide. Kauffman has 25 years of journalism experience, including full-time writing and editing positions with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, USA Today and Orlando Sentinel newspapers, and Golfweek Group magazines. Over the last 12 years, the award-winning writer has specialized in golf course real estate and resort development and been published by more than 30 regional ...
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