LITCHFIELD BEACH, S.C. — A new study shows that golf courses can be good homes for more than one kind of birdie.
The study by South Carolina researchers tracked bird mating seasons for two years on 24 golf courses along the Grand Strand. The study found that natural vegetation on the region's courses increases the bird population and variety of birds, as well as drawing other animals.
An ideal course — one that retains natural vegetation, has trees and shrubs or connects to forested areas — allows birds and small mammals to move around undetected by predators, said researcher Stephen Jones of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's South Carolina Coastal Ecosystem Program.
A golf course is "a habitat that's got potential because it does manage natural vegetation, or can," said Dave Gordon, another researcher with the ecosystems program.
The U.S. Golf Association and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded the $60,000 study, which is the first to make the correlation between bird populations and golf courses, Jones said.
"People have the perception that the course is all grass," said Peter Stangel, director of the Southern Region of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
"Not this one," he said, referring to The Reserve Golf Club at Litchfield, where the study's results were unveiled.
Stangel said some of the environmental improvements — such as letting grass grow and breaking up continuous patches of turf grass — could be implemented immediately. They also could reduce costs for courses.
Bob Williams, superintendent of The Legends Resort's Moorland Course, said the suggestions could be implemented easily. Williams said he liked the idea of taking of advantage of the State Forestry Commission's farms to find small trees, shrubs and plants native to the area.
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