Heron Lakes Golf Club is one of 19 Certified Cooperative Sanctuaries in the State of Oregon, and one of only a handful in the Portland Area. Audubon International bestows the designation upon golf courses around the globe that make concerted efforts to reduce their environmental impact. Heron Lakes joined the program in 1992 and was officially certified in 1996. Heron Lakes was the fourth to be certified in Oregon and just the 68th to be recognized in the nation.
Audubon International’s program is intended to “help golf courses protect our environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf.” The program focuses on key areas where courses must adhere to strict standards. Environmental Planning, Wildlife and Habitat Management, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, Water Quality Management, and Outreach and Education are the six areas that all courses must comply with.
One visit to Heron Lakes and you will immediately see the impact of the program. Waterfowl and wildlife abound in the property’s many ponds, but the true attractor is the course’s namesake bird. There are countless Great Blue Herons on the property, nesting just off the Greenback Course’s 7th tee. “Last year we counted 56 nests in the rookery,” noted general manager Stewart Koch, “That is highest number we have ever seen. The most interesting part is the herons were not present on this property before the course was built.”
Indeed, the birds arrived after Robert Trent Jones Jr. laid out his first course on the property, which was then named West Delta Park Golf Course, in 1972. When Jones Jr. returned in 1992 to open his second championship layout, the property was filled with herons. At that time, the original course was renamed the Greenback Course. The newer, the Great Blue, and the entire 36-hole facility became known as Heron Lakes Golf Club. The course is owned by Portland Parks and Recreation and managed by Northbrook, Ill.-based KemperSports since July 2008. Both parties have a track record of commitment to the environment and will surely continue the practices that Heron Lakes has established.
“Environmentally, we are in a very unique position,” said course superintendant Jesse Goodling, who has spearheaded the Audubon Certification process from the beginning. “We comprise this tremendous ‘green space’ located within the city. We are flanked by two major rivers and are essentially located on their delta. It is vital that we maintain our courses in an ecologically responsible way. The program has allowed us to cut our water usage and chemical applications drastically, and each year we reduce more.”
In an era where most businesses are forced to ‘go green’ because of political or social pressure, it is refreshing to see a course take the initiative on their own merit. Both Heron Lakes and the Portland Parks and Recreation should be commended for their efforts as they are not just sustaining the environment, but actually enhancing it.