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Arnold Palmer to design eco-friendly course

In a town famous for trees, Arnold Palmer wants to make sure a new golf course has plenty without spoiling the land that surrounds them.

Palmer is backing an environmentally friendly course in the Missouri River hills that will feature narrow fairways and wild rough requiring less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

Manicured areas outside the field of play will be minimized and, of course, there will be trees galore.

``We hope to develop a new visual image where people appreciate the environmental and aesthetic value of a natural woodland, rather than a parklike setting of grass mowed up to a few large trees,'' said John Rosenow, president of the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Rosenow figures his nonprofit foundation, whose million members nationwide are dedicated to preserving trees, is a perfect group to help advance those goals in the golf world.

Palmer is endorsing the Arbor Day Foundation's efforts. His company, Palmer Course Design, is designing the course in this southeast Nebraska city of 7,220, about an hour's drive south of Omaha.

``We want to find out what we are doing to the land with this project,'' the four-time Masters winner said. ``We can correct the bad things and use the good things in all of our projects.''

Expected to open next June, the 18-hole ArborLinks Home Course is being built in the town famous for Arbor Day, the tree-planting holiday founded in 1872 by Nebraska City native J. Sterling Morton.

The course was the brainchild of its builder, Bill Kubly, chief executive officer of a Lincoln-based golf course company, Landscapes Unlimited.

``My vision is we're going to have a golf course that looks like it's always been there, even though it's being built in a corn field,'' Kubly said.

Rosenow, Palmer and Kubly are advancing an idea that has grown steadily in the golf community over the last 10 years: Build courses that complement the lay of the land and minimize the use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation.

Concern for the environment was fueled in part by the growing popularity of golf and many more courses being built to meet demand, said David Bishop with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

About 350 courses opened every year during the 1990s, bringing the number in the United States to more than 17,000.

``Land use became a significant issue,'' Bishop said. ``Construction of golf courses had the potential to destroy valuable wildlife habitat.''

Not every course needs to have the sweeping greens of Augusta National, said Michael Hurdzan, a course architect in Ohio and leader in the field of environmental golf courses.

``I think a lot of people are afraid, if they don't provide things like Augusta, then they will lose business,'' Hurdzan said. ``Now, maybe we are realizing they don't have to be perfectly green.''

Hurdzan designed Widow's Walk Golf Club, 25 miles south of Boston, near the coast of Cape Cod in Scituate, Mass. The course was created out of a former gravel pit with limited use of chemicals and is used as a laboratory for studies on water use and the movement of phosphates and nitrates.

ArborLinks is being built on wooded hills and an old corn field northwest of the Arbor Day Farm, home to 60 acres of apple orchards.

Like Widow's Walk, it will be a testing ground.

Turf and plant specialists from the University of Nebraska will study disease resistance in grasses, erosion control and ways to minimize pesticides and fertilizers. National and regional conferences on golf course management and the environment will be held at the Arbor Foundation's sprawling lodge nearby.

Projects will be funded in part by greens fees. The course guide will include notes on environmental management at each hole.

``We're going to try some things that maybe haven't been done on a golf course,'' Kubly said. ``A lot of courses are seeing parts of this, but not all in the same place.''

Architects are shaping the course to the land. Design for the 16th fairway, for example, was altered to save a stand of 60-year-old black walnut trees. Hickory, honey locust, red pine, spruce and bald cypress trees will be added through the years.

``ArborLinks will have areas that you'll end up in once in a while and wish you weren't there, because there's going to be longer grasses and plum thickets and sumac,'' Kubly said.

Landscapes Unlimited and Palmer Design will own the course in cooperation with the foundation, which obtained the land. Kubly hopes to build the course and a small clubhouse for about $4.5 million.

``You wouldn't probably do it just to get into the business of owning a golf course in Nebraska City,'' Kubly said. ``If it is a home run, we can do more with the environment with what it does for us.''


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