Scottsdale golf course a sanctuary of nature - East Valley Tribune: News

Scottsdale golf course a sanctuary of nature

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Posted: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 9:11 pm | Updated: 9:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

T.J. Winzeler, superintendent of the Sanctuary Golf Course at WestWorld, has become an unlikely fan of the bobcat ever since a pair of them took up residence and began to eat the rabbits plaguing the links.

SLIDESHOW: Sanctuary Golf Course

T.J. Winzeler, superintendent of the Sanctuary Golf Course at WestWorld, has become an unlikely fan of the bobcat ever since a pair of them took up residence and began to eat the rabbits plaguing the links.

SLIDESHOW: Sanctuary Golf Course

The 18-hole public golf course, on the east side of the Central Arizona Project canal, south of Thompson Peak Parkway, is the only one in Arizona, and one of the first in the country, to be certified by the nonprofit Audubon International as a sanctuary for native wildlife and plants. With that certification comes a pledge to be environmentally friendly, meaning workers can't trap or kill rabbits and javelina, which ruin the grass.

Sanctuary Golf Course at WestWorld, Loop 101, CAP Canal, Cactus Rd., Thunderbird Rd., WestWorld of Scottsdale, Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Bell Rd., 94th St., Map by Scott Kirchhofer/EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE

Winzeler said he's tried noise-makers, garlic oil, and coyote and fox urine, but nothing keeps down the pests like bobcats.

"Fortunately, the two bobcats that moved in did more for that than we ever could. If I could have 10 or 15 more come out here, I'd let them," he said. "Almost every morning, we find the remnants of last night's dinner."

He said he's seen a couple of bobcat cubs on the course recently, as well. Wildlife travels down through the corridors that link the course to McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

"We've seen every large mammal that you'd find in the desert, except maybe a mountain lion," Winzeler said.

Sanctuary, which opened in 1999, was the first golf course in Arizona and the 17th course in the world to attain Signature Status from Audubon International.

The nonprofit, which grew out of the Audubon Society of New York State about 20 years ago but is no longer affiliated with the National Audubon Society, works with developers and golf courses to protect wildlife habitat and water quality. The group also aims to link such developments to nearby networks of more traditional protected areas like the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, according to the group's Web site.

Tom Beat, Scottsdale's community services contract manager, oversees the city's public golf courses. Beat said the city owns the land under Sanctuary's clubhouse and driving range, as well as some portions of the course. The federal Bureau of Reclamation owns the rest.

The land is part of the same federal storm-water retention basin as the city's adjacent WestWorld of Scottsdale events facility and the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale golf courses to the northwest. The basin is meant to retain floodwaters cascading down from the McDowell Mountains before it can swamp the CAP canal, Beat said.

SunCor Golf Management Co., which operates Sanctuary in addition to five other courses in Arizona and one in Utah, leases the land from the two agencies and paid to build the course, Beat said. In the agreement, the company was required to restore the course's surrounding area to its original native habitat and to maintain it using environmentally friendly practices such as water conservation, he said.

Sanctuary includes nearly 60 acres of "naturalized" Sonoran Desert and a five-acre wetland.

John Patzwald, golf director, said the course buys surface water from the CAP canal to irrigate the course. Half of the water purchased, however, is pumped into underground aquifers at WestWorld to stabilize groundwater supplies, he said.

Having sanctuary status creates challenges that other golf courses don't have, Patzwald said.

The course must reapply every two years to keep the status. Groundskeepers must do things like use specific types of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that don't harm the environment, and avoid killing wildlife that might harm the course, like rabbits, which kill the grass by urinating on it, and javelina, which dig.

"You wouldn't think rabbits would do a lot to a golf course, but they can," Patzwald said. "We're limited in what we can do."

Some things, like having vault evaporator toilets on the course that use no water, were inspired by the national parks system, he said.

Patzwald said the re-created wetlands on the fifth hole have been a success.

"It can withstand the high salt content in Arizona and survive drought," he said.

Roadrunners are known to pop out of the brush along the course and give golfers a run for their money, he said.

"They like to race the carts sometimes," he said.

Patzwald said he's unsure how much golfers really care about whether the course they are playing on is a wildlife sanctuary, however. What golfers want, he said, is a fair price and a nicely conditioned facility.

"I'm not sure the golfing public chooses a course on whether it's environmentally friendly or not," he said. "Does it generate additional play? I couldn't tell you one way or the other, to be honest."

About 40,000 rounds of golf are played each year at Sanctuary, Patzwald said.

The Bureau of Reclamation gets 4 percent of the course's gross revenue, while Scottsdale gets 2 percent. The city also receives a dollar from each round played, he said.

The course is slated to be closed for seeding from Sept. 28 to Oct. 9.

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