Longform

How Green Is Too Green?

Page 6 of 6

According to a DERM engineer, the problem results from a combination of ills, including undersize drainage pipes and deviations from the original design. (Says David Heatwole, Golden Bear's lead designer on the La Gorce project: "There were [flooding] problems before and we tried to help alleviate that with the new design. There are still some problems. They had a good course, and now we think they have a better course. Hopefully the thing will be settled and we can all move on.")

A similar situation has plagued the Golf Club of Miami, which underwent a redesign in 1989. According to the course's agronomy consultant Earl Grey, who is also a member of the team that took over management of the course in 1994, the links were built two feet too low and will require the addition of a couple of pumps to handle the water that floods the course after heavy rainfalls.

Those are the flops. At the other end of the county, in the plush condominium hideaway of the Deering Bay Yacht & Country Club on the edge of Biscayne Bay, legendary golfer Arnold Palmer's redesign of the old King's Bay course has been praised by golfers and environmentalists alike. To be fair to Nicklaus, Palmer had it a little easier: While prohibited from draining into the bay, he was permitted to divert stormwater directly into the course's ponds rather than into a retention area like La Gorce or through an exfiltration system a la Melreese. This is because, according to Elie Mehu, the groundwater beneath the course is so brackish it would never be used as a source of drinking water; therefore, it requires a lower level of protection.

But Palmer went well beyond what was required: He created several wetlands on the course; he dug a mangrove-lined channel connecting an inland lagoon to the bay, providing a migratory route for fish and other aquatic life; and he implemented a water-recycling system whereby rainwater that drains into the course's ponds is used for irrigation. In addition, stormwater runoff from the townhouses and condos in the development is channeled into the course's drainage and irrigation system. Ringed by mangrove trees, the course teems with wildlife. The Tropical Audubon Society conducts bird-spotting tours of the area; crocodiles patrol its ponds.

Says Rick Alleman, senior environmental scientist for the South Florida Water Management District: "I could justify playing golf there!"

But Deering Bay is only one course. And aside from DERM's regulators, who are primarily focused on new construction and potential redesigns, no one seems to be questioning golf's impact on South Florida's environment. While the environmental debate rages in other parts of the country and around the world -- a Tokyo-based international group called the Global Anti-Golf Movement, or GAG'M, claims to have stopped the construction of hundreds of golf courses in the Far East -- South Florida has remained a rancor-free bastion for the golf industry.

Some preliminary sense of the threat to the local ecosystem should emerge from the upcoming county/state monitoring-well survey of the aquifer beneath five golf courses. Golf advocates aren't at all worried: An ongoing USGA-funded study at the University of Florida, they say, has demonstrated the effectiveness of turf as a sponge for filtering out chemicals.

Anne Leslie, a chemist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta, certifies these findings -- sort of. "This is the advantage that turf gives: Grass is a tremendous absorber of whatever chemicals you put down," she says. "Very little gets through to the groundwater."

Unless, she adds, the groundwater is near the surface.
Like in Dade County? "Well, yes," she ponders. "You could have some problems there."

During the past year, though, as part of a $3.9 million redesign undertaken to improve the course, workers killed the old grass, ripped out scores of trees, and reconfigured the water hazards. Having carted in 150,000 tons of sandy topsoil and shoved it around with bulldozers to form the current desertscape, workers recently began cultivating a lush blanket of Bermuda grass.

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Kirk Semple