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July 2019

Two Questions, Two Operators

By Steve Eubanks

Tom Fowler
General Manager, Bent Tree Country Club and Community
Jasper, Georgia

John Johnson
General Manager, Red Ledges
Heber City, Utah

In an otherwise untamed area, how do you manage golf and wildlife when one is bound to encroach upon the other? 

Fowler: We are not Audubon certified but we adhere to a great number of the Audubon Society’s criteria regarding wildlife. We put out as many notifications as we can warning people to not feed the animals, especially the bears. We also provide plenty of green space and habitat for the wildlife and we use environmentally friendly chemicals on the golf course so as not to harm any species. But the main thing is to constantly reinforce to the golfers, and to our homeowners, that you can watch the wildlife from a safe distance, but do not interact. These are wild animals. This is not a Disney movie.” 

Johnson: We take a position that the animals were here first and it’s their habitat too, so we do everything we can to protect them. We follow all federal, state and local guidelines. We have deer 365 days a year and elk that move in and out throughout the winter. So, it follows that we also have bobcats and mountain lions who are predatory and feed on the deer and elk. We also have coyotes and jackrabbits and bald eagles. We just do our best to coexist. Of course, we don’t allow people to actively chase the wildlife. We have a local firearms ordinance so people can’t hunt on the property. And we put out guidelines for people to give the animals plenty of room. But we especially tell people to mind their pets. Don’t have your dogs off-leash because they will chase the wildlife. That can create problems.

Was there an incident  where golf and wildlife intermingled that stands out?  

Fowler: We had a lady on our eighth hole who had hit her ball into a bush well into the trees right of the fairway. She saw her ball and went to retrieve it. As she leaned over to pick it up, she felt something cold. She had bumped noses with a black bear. Of course, it scared the bear as much as it did her, so both ran in different directions. But that’s a lesson for everyone: Be aware of your surroundings when you’re in an area known for wildlife.

Johnson: Last winter we had a large herd of elk run through the golf course. One of our members captured it on video. It looks like something out of National Geographic. You have hundreds of elk charging through the snow on the golf course. It was quite impressive.

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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