Fort Wayne, Ind. Clubs Cut Maintenance Costs with Native Wildflowers and Grasses

By | June 14th, 2018

Fort Wayne Country Club and Colonial Oaks GC have installed native wildflowers, grasses and other “prairie plantings and patches” in out-of-play areas and are realizing cost efficiencies from reduced mowing and watering. Golfers’ reactions have been mixed but the trend is likely to continue, in part because of the support and positive reaction the courses have received from environmental organizations and the surrounding community.

Golf courses are known for their finely manicured greens and fairways. But some clubs in the Fort Wayne, Ind. area have found a way to beautify their courses while also saving money on maintenance costs, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel reported.

Fort Wayne Country Club and Colonial Oaks Golf Club have both  installed native wildflowers and grasses in areas where golfers typically don’t hit errant shots, the News-Sentinel reported.

“There’s always something blooming,” Mike Riley, owner and golf pro at Colonial Oaks, told the News-Sentinel.

The prairie plantings also attract a lot of bees and butterflies, along with birds and animals such as rabbits, Riley said.

Fort Wayne CC, which planted its first prairie patch in 2002, was likely one of the first golf courses in the area to try the approach, said Brian Chalifoux, who now is in his 31st year as the club’s Golf Course Superintendent.

Seeding native plants in out-of-play areas allows his grounds crew to skip mowing, fertilizing and watering those areas, Chalifoux told the News-Sentinel. The native plants and grasses still look green and bloom without the pampering required by other areas of the golf course.

About the only maintenance required at Colonial Oaks is mowing the area once a year for some areas or burning them, Riley told the News-Sentinel. And Fort Wayne CC burns its prairie areas every two years, said Chalifoux.

Fort Wayne CC and Colonial Oaks are among the few golf courses that have planted native wildflower areas on their courses, Mike Van Laeken, Director of Heartland Restoration Services, told the News-Sentinel. Van Laeken’s organization worked with both local golf courses to provide the native plant seed mix they used to start their prairie areas. The plants include those with interesting names, such as Ohio spiderwort, rattlesnake master, foxglove beardtongue and ironweed.

Heartland Restoration has noticed increasing interest in planting wildflower areas from private landowners, but not much change by golf courses, Van Laeken told the News-Sentinel.

Both Chalifoux and Riley said they plant the native wildflowers and grasses in areas where golfers rarely hit balls, because some of the plants grow to six to eight feet tall. Any ball hit in there won’t be found.

To make it easier for golfers to play out of native plant areas, Fort Wayne CC has also planted two areas–at holes No. 4 and No. 11–with native fescue grasses that have short blades at their base and taller seed stems reaching up to 18 inches tall, Chalifoux said.

Golfers will be able to find and play balls hit accidentally into the fescue grass areas, he noted, but the grasses don’t require mowing, fertilizing or watering.

Response from golfers about the native areas at both courses has been mixed, the News-Sentinel reported. Some like the color and changing blooms the native plants add to the courses, Riley and Chalifoux said. Others don’t seem to notice them, or think of them as weeds.

But both men think golfers will see more areas planted in native plants and grasses at golf courses in the future, because it’s both cost-effective and good for the environment.

Their efforts also won praise from Alex Cornwell, organization manager and co-lead beekeeper for Southwest Honey Company in Fort Wayne, the News-Sentinel reported.

“Golf courses are typically large lots of land, consisting of only green grass,” Cornwell said. “This equates to a desert for pollinators, because there is so much open space with little foliage to gather nutrients from and few undisturbed areas for pollinators to live in. However, utilizing the space to create more habitat for pollinators will help them.”

Pollinators, other insects and animals also would benefit from the reduced use of pesticides and chemicals on golf course grass, Cornwell said, especially near pollinator-friendly areas and water run-off or ponds where insects and animals may go to drink water.

For the News-Sentinel’s full report, go to

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