The U.S. Golf Association is teaming with the city of Waco, Texas to establish prairie vegetation on about 30 acres of rough, with plans to make Cottonwood a research site for how to make golf courses more ecologically friendly. To determine which unused areas of the course will be converted to native grassland, golfers were fitted with GPS devices to map their movements.
An experiment at Cottonwood Creek Golf Course may lead the way to restoring tall grass and wildflowers to Waco, Texas, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported.
The U.S. Golf Association is teaming with the city of Waco to establish prairie vegetation on about 30 acres of rough. Working with the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and Baylor University ecologists, they plan to make Cottonwood a research site for how to make golf courses ecologically friendly, the Tribune-Herald reported.
Once established, the prairie sections will need no water and will be mowed only once a year, officials said. They hope the miniature prairie, planted with little bluestem, sideoats grama, Indiangrass, firewheel, coreopsis and bluebonnets, will draw butterflies, wildlife and nature lovers, the Tribune-Herald reported.
“Ultimately, instead of having a 174-acre golf course, I’d like use to have a 174-acre park that happens to have a golf course on it,” parks and recreation director Rusty Black said.
The restoration and management techniques learned at Cottonwood could be applied to other parks and open spaces, such as the Cotton Belt Trail, roadsides and park areas that don’t have heavy foot traffic, Black said.
The U.S. Golf Association already has committed $60,000 to pay for consulting from the wildflower center, which is part of the University of Texas system. City officials haven’t yet calculated the cost of restoration, but they expect to do most of the work in-house, the Tribune-Herald reported.
Jim Moore, outreach and education director for the golf association, said the Cottonwood experiment will be studied closely, the Tribune-Herald reported.
“That’s the reason we’re supporting it,” said Moore. “We want to use Cottonwood as a case study or example for courses all over, not just in Texas. Basically, it’s a living laboratory for USGA and Lady Bird Wildflower Center.”
To determine which areas of the course will be converted to native grassland, Moore had Cottonwood staff fit hundreds of golfers with GPS devices to map their movements. They found large areas of rough, which are mostly buffalo grass, where no one ever ventured, the Tribune-Herald reported.
Much of that buffalo grass will be preserved, but the remote areas will be replaced with a much more diverse mixture of grasses and wildflowers that will be mowed perhaps once a year, or possibly burned. The roughs now are mowed about six times a year, so the real savings will be in maintenance, the Tribune-Herald reported.
The pocket prairie also will demonstrate new ideas for water conservation, superintendent J.D. Franz said.
“We want to lead the way,” Franz said. “We want to show that we’re trying as much as we can to conserve water. People might come out and say, ‘I like this kind of native landscape.’ ”
A related project involves installing a new irrigation system for the tee boxes that will reduce the area of irrigated hybrid Bermuda grass from 21 acres to 3 or 4, saving about 8 million gallons a year or about 10 percent of Cottonwood’s total water use, the Tribune-Herald reported.
The golf course uses treated city water, but uses an on-site well to put an equivalent amount of groundwater back into the city system, the Tribune-Herald reported.
City officials hope the prairie restoration and irrigation improvements will earn Cottonwood Creek certification under the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf, the Tribune-Herald reported.
Mark Simmons, director of research consulting for the Ladybird Wildflower Center, said the restoration work could begin this winter, but not to expect stunning results right off the bat. In fact, the prairie sections may look weedy for a few years, the Tribune-Herald reported.
“It isn’t like bedding out petunias,” Simmons said. “It’s a complicated system. A prairie has hundreds or thousands of species. When it’s been degraded, for whatever reason, you start pushing it through thresholds through which it can’t get back without a lot of work.”
Restoring the disturbed areas means battling aggressive non-native grasses such as Johnson, Bermuda and King Ranch bluestem grass. That takes time and vigilance, Simmons told the Tribune-Herald.
“One of the problems is the perception that if it’s native, it should be cheap and it won’t need watering,” Simmons said. “That’s not true. It takes effort to get things established. But there are long-term gains.”
Restoring the prairie will bring back butterflies, mammals and birds, including quail, which have all but vanished from the area. Cottonwood already gets its share of wild visitors, including foxes, bobcats, armadillos and snakes. A surveillance camera set out to catch vandals who were thought to be cutting cordon ropes around the maintenance shed revealed that the culprits were coyote pups sharpening their teeth, the Tribune-Herald reported.
Simmons is impressed with the vision and sophistication of the representatives of the USGA and the city on this project, the Tribune-Herald reported.
“If you start putting Blackland Prairie in city roadsides and parks, you’ll end up having one of the biggest preserves of Blackland Prairie,” Simmons said. “If you look at the city as a preserve, it turns everything on its head. You’d be one of the first cities in the country, maybe the world to do this. And you’ll beat Austin to it.”