From water conservation practices to monitoring bluebird fledglings, A.L. Gustin Golf Course has made a significant impact on the environment and the Columbia community as a whole. To honor the team’s hard work and dedication the City of Columbia awarded A.L. Gustin Golf Course with the 2019 Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement Award on March 14, 2019.
“It’s a great honor to receive (the award) on behalf of the University of Missouri,” said Golf Course Superintendent Isaac Breuer. “We do a lot of things to help with the environment and the property we have in the middle of town. I think it’s a sanctuary. We’re going to continue to do the right thing for the golf course, for the university and for the environment.”
While A.L. Gustin Golf Course was recently recognized for their efforts, the team has been committed to environmental stewardship for more than 20 years. In 1996 A.L. Gustin was distinguished as the first university course to be fully certified in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. As stated on the Audubon International website, this program is an “award winning education and certification program that helps golf courses protect its environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf.”
Breuer explained the certification is broken up into several different categories, including water conservation and environmental planning.
“For example, one thing we’ve done is water management,” Breuer said. “In 1996 we sprigged in zoysia grass which is a warm season grass. It doesn’t require a lot of water. Our old fairways were a cold season grass like your yard at home, most likely a fescue type grass, and it required a lot of water through the summer.”
Overall, the zoysia grass requires about ⅓ of the water that fescue grass does. In addition the creeping grass is more drought tolerant, further helping A.L. Gustin’s water conservation efforts year round.
“That’s just one example of our water management category,” Breuer explained. “We’ve done quite a bit on stream buffers (vegetated strip near a stream). We have a creek, Flat Branch, that runs alongside the seven. We’ve created a nice buffer around the edge of it for bank stabilization purposes.”
Stream buffers also prevent the team from getting too close to water sources when having to occasionally spray the course, Breuer said. The team implements stream buffers where necessary including another one around the pond located at hole five.
“We like to keep that buffer there because it does a lot for the environment,” Breuer said. “Birds are nesting in those trees along the bank. There are flowers growing. And the butterflies and the bees are benefiting from it as well.”
When it comes to other sectors of environmental sustainability, Breuer explained that the team began incorporating pollinator plots roughly 10 years ago. Over the years the team has developed five plots containing four to five different types of milkweed and 20 to 25 different types of wildflowers native to Missouri. These initiatives cut back on upkeep costs, while giving back to the insects and birds on the course.
“We currently have three beehives on the course,” Breuer said. “We also have 26 bluebird houses on the course. We monitor those every 7 to 10 days during the nesting season. To date we’re at 2,844 baby bluebirds.”
Breuer explained that to properly monitor the bluebirds, the team visits each house individually counting and surveying the amount of eggs or bluebirds present. After the eggs have hatched and the nestlings are ready to leave the coop, the team then rechecks the houses to make sure each and every bird left successfully.
Now, the environmental efforts do not stop there. When Breuer and his team are not monitoring bee hives, water conservation practices, bluebird fledglings and pollinator plots they are also giving tours to members of the community or hosting MU classes interested in seeing nature in action.
“I give tours every year during the blooming season to lots of different groups, such as Master Gardeners and Master Naturalist,” Breuer said. “We’ve had FFA out for some summer tours. A lot of people come out.”
Breuer encourages individuals interested in scheduling a tour to do so beginning in mid to late June when flowers and wildlife will be in full swing. To schedule a tour this summer contact the A.L. Gustin Golf Course at 573-882-6016.
“We would have a lot of stuff to look at,” Breuer said when discussing a summer tour. “Everything would be in bloom. We could see all the different pollinator plots. We could see the bees. We could see the baby bluebirds at that point. There would be a lot of things to look at and a lot of cool areas to go to.”