BERKELEY -- Placing a golf course within the boundaries of a regional park can present challenges far beyond those normally associated with operation and maintenance, since decisions must be made with an eye toward environmental sensitivity. But with these challenges come the rewards of being able to offer golfers the experience of a beautiful, natural setting within acres of open space.
Tilden Park Golf Course has managed to accomplish both and was recently designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the 67th in the United States.
Sponsored by Audubon International, the program helps protect and enhance natural areas and wildlife habitats and minimize the potentially harmful impacts of operating a golf course.
East Bay Regional Park District directors and park management began planning for certification in 2006. "Coordination began to find out what kinds of changes would need to be met in the way the golf course was operated and maintained in order to meet the qualifications," said Mark Ragatz, manager of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Unit.
The Sanctuary Program addresses six key environmental components: environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management and outreach and education.
Probably the largest challenge was the Wildcat Creek Restoration Project, necessary to repair considerable damage to Wildcat Creek during a 2005-06 storm. "It took a (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant and six years of planning, bidding and work until the project was approved and put into place in 2012," Ragatz said. "In going through the planning process, water quality was one of the considerations we took into account, as was the wildlife habitat value of the creek."
Major renovation brought the creek back to its natural state. It's now a free-flowing waterway, creek banks planted with native plants and step-pools creating habitat for aquatic life.
Because of its status as a United States waterway, chemical use on the golf course was another major concern. "One of the primary things that needed to be done was to come up with an Integrated Pest Management plan that would guarantee that chemicals used for fertilizing and pest management matched what Audubon International says is acceptable for golf course management," Ragatz said.
Jay Neunsinger, American Golf maintenance manager, explained that only fungicides are used and that his philosophy is to be as minimalist as possible in chemical use. "We're very conscious of not applying anything to hinder any seeding or that could enter the soil profile," Neunsinger said. "It's all based on public safety and the well-being of the environment."
Early on, an outreach program brought in local residents to plant native plant species around the golf course. Additionally, bird boxes have been built and installed to attract owls and western bluebirds, and water usage has been decreased by minimizing areas that need irrigation.
Neunsinger is presently working on an outreach program with Oakland Turfgrass Education Initiative to create field days for Oakland youths to get them more interactive with the game of golf. "We want them to get a better understanding of what we do to provide this golf course to golfers and give them an opportunity to enjoy the park and experience its serenity," he said.
Certification is in keeping with the East Bay Regional Park District's vision of managing parks in an environmentally sensitive way. "We want to make sure the golf course is helping rather than hindering that mission," Ragatz said.
As with many honors, being seen as an Audubon Sanctuary sends a message. "It creates the public image that we are very conscious of the environment," Neunsinger added. "It brings us into the spotlight and recognizes that our stewardship to the environment is first and foremost on our plate."
Tilden Park Golf Course: 10 Golf Course Dr., Berkeley, 510-848-7373, www.tildenparkgc.com