Superintendents have their hands full balancing course maintenance and geese populations.
Margaret Gibson likes to play golf, and the Mt. Hawley Country Club member enjoys looking at the wildlife on her golf course when she does play.
Recently, however, Gibson and the rest of the members at Mt. Hawley have one fewer species to admire.
“They destroyed two nests right in front of the geese,” said Gibson, claiming the grounds crew at Mt. Hawley took extreme measures this spring to eradicate the course’s population of resident Canada geese. “Those geese were honking and crying and going crazy. They should leave nature alone. I see no problem with a few geese. It’s not like we have flocks of them.”
Whether it’s a few geese or a few dozen, golf course superintendents universally consider the large birds a nuisance animal and make great efforts to reduce or eliminate them. The issue can become an emotional one. Golfers like to admire the birds for their graceful beauty. Supers admonish the feisty fowl for their foul droppings.
“An adult goose can drop 1½ pounds of feces per day,” said Pete Clarno, superintendent at Mt, Hawley. “It gets all over the course, all over the golfers’ shoes and they track it in the clubhouse.
“It can be a real mess. When they poop all over the place, we end up with a less-than-ideal playing surface.”
Geese on the golf course aren’t just a problem because they poop. They’re also fond of munching on grasses that maintenance crews spend lots of time and money cultivating.
“To me, they’re a huge problem,” said David Likes, superintendent at WeaverRidge Golf Club. “They pluck away at the greens and crap all over the place.”
WeaverRidge has a substantial resident population of Canada Geese, most of which populate the water hazards on holes 5 and 6. Likes said there were at least a dozen spots this spring on the 5th fairway where geese had completely defoliated the ground by eating turf.
“It was pretty bad,” he said. “The worst I’ve ever seen.”
The animals — when full grown are up to 45 inches tall, weigh 16 pounds and have a 76-inch wingspan — can also present a safety issue.
“When they’re nesting, they’ll chase you,” Likes said, speaking from experience. “They’ll fly right at you, jump in the cart and beat you with their wings.”
In 1998, WeaverRidge reduced by two its goose population in a rather unusual manner. Playing through a gaggle of geese on No. 5, Waterloo resident Terry Range thinned a 5-wood. TR’s low screamer decapitated the first goose it hit, then hit another, killing both instantly.
“That’s awesome,” said Likes, who had to clean up the mess. “He should be able to play here for free anytime he wants.”
But golf courses can’t count on wayward fairway woods to keep their honkers hushed.
There are a number of ways superintendents try to control their geese population, some more effective than others.
The first line of defense usually involves anything to disrupt the flock’s routine. Likes says geese are creatures of comfort, and if it’s no longer comfortable for them, they will move on.
These techniques vary. Wrapping string around wooden stakes along the shoreline makes it harder for geese to get in and out of the water. The birds appear to hate laser pointers. Audio equipment can be used to irritate them. Some courses have dogs trained to chase the birds away. Even radio-controlled watercraft can be used to spook them.
“That requires a certain amount of skill,” Clarno said. “I hear (Pekin Country Club superintendent) Geoff Kemp wrecked his in two days.”
Those techniques, however, are regarded as temporary at best. Golf courses provide serene habitat for the big birds, and if born there, will return to start their own brood.
The only way to permanently remove geese from a golf course is to destroy their nests.
Doing so comes under strict guidelines of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“We have to keep precise records,” said Clarno, who had to obtain certification to become a registered egg destroyer. “We have to record how many nests there are, how many eggs in each nest and whether (the eggs) were soaped or addled (shaken).”
Soaping an egg will clog its pores and prevent embryo development. Shaking an egg will also prevent its hatching. The key is to execute those tactics at the correct stage of embryo development, and do so without Mother Goose knowing it.
Neither Likes nor Clarno nor any other super will say they enjoy the process of eradicating these nuisance birds, but they also say they are serving the greater good. Clarno recalled a maintenance worker being bit on the arm, through some clothing, and sustaining a wound that required stitches.
“First of all, we promote wildlife on the golf course,” said Clarno, mentioning the fox, deer, coyote and several species of birds and pond animals that call Mt. Hawley home. “This course acts as a buffer between the woods and Pioneer Park.
“But when they’re nesting, geese are very aggressive and somebody would eventually get hurt. We have to be concerned for the golfers and what’s best for the course.”
Greg Stewart can be reached at (309) 686-3202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.