Arbor Links Golf Course
Nebraska City, Nebraska
Partnering for Sustainable Design and Education
In the late 1990’s a concept was conceived for a golf course in the state of Nebraska that would serve as an educational model for eco-sustainability and yet be affordable to build and maintain. To further that goal, a partnership was formed between the golf course builder, the golf course architect and the National Arbor Day Foundation. This team was committed to proactive environmental goals for the development of a golf course that would include:
- Conservation of wildlife habitat
- Protection and improvement of water quality of existing creeks and watersheds
- Restoration of degraded prairie
- Utilizing the course as a living classroom for education both in and out of the golf industry.
300 acres of land adjacent to the Lied Conference Center at Arbor Day Farms was made available for the new golf course. The preliminary review of the project site revealed that the existing prairie land and natural creeks that remained had been degraded by earlier farming practices. The banks of North Table Creek that runs through the property had badly eroded and water quality had also been compromised due to the heavy agronomic use of the land in previous years. Native grassland had become overgrown with a monoculture of species and wildlife habitat had become diminished.
A routing for the golf course was designed to best utilize the natural features of the site with minimal impact and movement of earth. This not only reduced the construction budget but allowed for little disturbance of the land. With a routing plan in place, the design of the course by the Palmer team decided on a natural concept that incorporated large areas for the establishment of native grasses and groves of trees. Bunkers with ragged edges were included to provide a natural and compatible appearance for the windswept prairie look of Nebraska. Water features, such as ponds with littoral shelves and created wetland hollows were added or adjusted to blend seamlessly into this natural environment.
The restoration of the indigenous prairie grasses in large out of play areas was important for enhancing wildlife habitat and also meant that little additional irrigation was required once they had been established. By incorporating these areas into the design, corridors of vegetation were created to connect habitat areas of different animal and bird species. In selected locations around the course, food plots are being incorporated to further encourage wildlife. Trees provide an important habitat for birds and with the knowledge that field breaks of trees were found around farmsteads of the Great Plains dating back to the 1930s, a tree planting program was implemented with Arbor Day Farm around the course. Varieties of native species from seedlings to large specimen trees were planted to reestablish this natural wind screen and to provide habitat. Restoring the landscape of prairie, wetland and forest created abundant habitat for wildlife and provided for more biological diversification. Utilizing Best Management Practices and an Integrated Pest Management plan that is designed to protect the environment also reflect cost efficient methods with proven results. Grass types were selected to reduce irrigation requirements and heavy maintenance practices. Estimates are that 140,000 gallons of water a day will be conserved during peak watering seasons. These grass types will be studied for their effectiveness from year to year.
The South Table Creek that runs through the site had been altered and straightened to gain more land for farming at one time. With assistance and support from the U.S. EPA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the creek has been restored to its original direction and methods were taken throughout construction to stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. To protect the water quality of the creek during construction, silt fence, detention ditches and soil erosion matting was used. At Arbor Links over forty acres of erosion matting was used to assist seed germination and prevent runoff in potential wash areas This replaced the need for sod on tee slopes, lake edges and green banks, which helped to maintain the course as a good steward of the land while keeping construction affordable. In addition, a buffer system of vegetation was implemented along the creek to filter runoff from the golf course. Some of this vegetation can be harvested periodically as biomass for energy production for the conference center.
To complement the goal of constructing a golf course that would protect and enhance the site’s natural elements, the design team and Arbor Day Farm elected to provide opportunities for education and research sharing. A variety of construction methods and techniques were employed by the golf course builder for future study. Four methods of greens mix and construction were utilized. The resulting turf characteristics, rate of growth and playing conditions of these greens are being studied and so far, no measurable differences have been detected in playability and quality of turf. The performance continues to be evaluated by the agronomic staff. A golf course pocket guide was developed to educate golfers on the conservation methods that were employed during the design and construction, as well as to provide information regarding sustainable maintenance techniques. One of the partners in this guide was the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Many companies within the golf industry contributed time, talent and materials toward the construction of this course in the knowledge that golf courses can be good stewards of the land with the proper information and guidance.
Arbor Links Golf Course was designed, built and is maintained to meet the initial environmental vision of the partnership. The course has hosted a summit with leaders from the golf industry and the environmental community. It continues to be recognized as a national environmental model and is an educational resource for the community, as well as golfers.
Erik Larsen, ASGCA and Victoria Martz, ASGCA
Arnold Palmer Design Co.
Landscapes Unlimited, GBCAA