Golf courses have taken a lot of shots from environmentalists over the years. Among other things, they tend to use a lot of water, fertilizer and pesticides, as well as mess with natural habitats and fragile ecosystems.
But now they have an unlikely ally in changing that equation: monarch butterflies, the beautiful insects whose amazing migration covers thousands of miles and enthralls nature-lovers.
Those nature-lovers have been increasingly concerned by a severe decline in the monarch population, with estimates as high as 90 percent, due to habitat loss, pesticide use and other factors. Environmental groups encourage people to help by planting butterfly gardens, with milkweed – which monarchs need to feed and lay eggs – and other nectar plants.
In January, Audubon International and the Environmental Defense Fund launched a program called Monarchs in the Rough to turn golf courses into breeding grounds and rest stops on the migratory highway.
The groups set an initial goal of 100 courses, but they’ve just announced that more than 250 have already signed up. Now the goal is 500 more, and a new website is spotlighting courses that are becoming monarch-friendly.
“The response from the golf community to helping pollinators recover from dramatic declines in recent years has been tremendous,” said Christine Kane, CEO of Audubon International. “Habitat loss is a key driver of the monarch butterfly’s decline, and golf courses are uniquely positioned to help create new habitat and turn things around for this iconic species.”
The Monarchs in the Rough program offers milkweed seeds for planting and advice on incorporating butterfly habitats into course layouts, changing mowing practices to support migration and protecting the sites from pesticides.
It’s just part of a larger Audubon campaign to make golf courses more environmentally friendly with increased emphasis on land preservation, wildlife protection, water quality and other ecological issues.
Audubon’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses declares that the sport has made much progress in recent years, adding, “Golf actually has a unique opportunity to protect and enhance our environment.”
At the University of Maryland Golf Course, which recently joined the monarch program, assistant superintendent Andrew Janosek told the campus newspaper that golf courses “get a bad rap.”
“If we have the opportunity to do something that’s going to look good and save some animals…and be more sustainable in any way shape or form, we’re going to do it,” he said.
At Echo Environmental, we hope golfers enjoy sharing the course with the amazing monarchs. And if you happen to hit a bad shot and break your club in anger – we’ll recycle it.