Golf superintendents provide insight

Toqua Golf Course superintendent Chris Sykes, center, speaks with members of the Tellico Village Garden Club as The Links at Kahite superintendent Jordan Clark, left, and Tanasi Golf Course superintendent Wells McClure wait their turn.

A crowd huddled into the top level of the Yacht Club last week in hopes of getting a better understanding of what’s being done environmentally at the three premier golf courses in Tellico Village.

The intent was simple for members of the Tellico Village Garden Club during their monthly meeting. Tanasi Golf Course superintendent Wells McClure, Toqua Golf Course superintendent Chris Sykes and The Links at Kahite superintendent Jordan Clark each offered insight on what they do with their respective courses to improve the environment. Hopes were for members to take some of that knowledge home with them and apply it to their own yards or gardens.

“The garden club is also very interested in being environmentally correct in what we’re doing,” Carol Fenton, club president, said. “So these superintendents, they have planted a lot of natural grasses and it’s beneficial to help the environment and also to them as the golf course superintendents because it wouldn’t be as much work for them to do because the grasses they just grow naturally so you don’t have to mow them or anything.”

Tellico Village since 2017 has officially partnered with The National Audubon Society, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation.

“We already had that kind of mindset being environmentally friendly and integrated space management and all that kind of stuff where we were trying to do the right thing on the golf courses and it just kind of substantiated our efforts,” Sykes said. “… We were already doing 90 percent of it before we got officially certified.”

Efforts include establishing naturalized areas, erecting bird boxes and setting up bat boxes.

“We’ve got a lot of people that live on the lake, there’s a lot of water features out here,” McClure said. “People complain about mosquitoes, bugs and stuff like that. Well, with these bat boxes you can build are really supposed to help kind of mitigate some of those problems.”

The golf courses have naturalized 152 acres, Sykes said. Course superintendents also micromanage water and fertilizer inputs. An entire course has not been fertilized in five or six years.

Setting up lower maintenance, naturalized areas was a focal point of the presentation.

“You could incorporate those in your home land, for sure, strategically and we’re going to show them an example of how we’ve done that at the pavilion in Toqua as kind of a sample, and all the habitat,” Sykes said.

Superintendents stressed choosing the right plant material and favoring indigenous plants over foreign species.

“You always want to try to mimic Mother Nature because she’s going to tell you what works and what doesn’t work and what feels natural and not foreign,” Sykes said. “Some of the stuff that you’ll see introduced is pretty awkward and sort of set up to fail. In result, too, are these low maintenance areas and what we’ve done at the golf course serves as a big filter, a big natural filter for contaminants, so we’ve had water testing done, everything’s really clean.”

While garden club meetings in the past have included guest speakers, last week was a first listening to information on the golf courses, Fenton said.

“I think they’re hoping that many of us gardeners will take some of these ideas and use environmentally friendly grasses and plants in our gardens,” she said. “We like to encourage people to plant gardens that will attract the bees and the birds and the butterflies.”

Sykes said efforts are ongoing with improving the courses, including installing pollinator plants, constructing more nesting structures and bat boxes and planting a butterfly garden in the spring.

“We’re probably going to have something at all three courses, but I know at Toqua in particular it’s going to be behind the first green,” Sykes said of the butterfly garden.

The garden club will meet again in February with guest speaker horticulturalist Sue Hamilton from the University of Tennessee. For more information, visit www.tellicolife.org/TVGardenClub.