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A Sanctuary for Golfers and More

By Staff | Jan 5, 2012

These Ibis make for a feathery flock of golf spectators on the 10th Green of Sanctuary Golf Club. (Photos by Josh Sweet)

During a visit to Sanibel Island’s Sanctuary Golf Club, one might expect to encounter birdies or even the occasional eagle, but rest assured that’s not something necessarily limited to golf scores. It is also a very real reflection of the wildlife that is abundant as the course is surrounded by the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. There’s more than golf balls flying over the greens, and soon that space will be complemented by fluttering flashes of orange, yellow and other shades thanks to the creation of a new butterfly garden.

Near a gopher tortoise habitat that is a small crawl away from the 17th Tee, members of The Sanctuary’s Wildlife Committee teamed with Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Native Plant Nursery Manager Jenny Evans and Charlie Ewell of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife to create something of a butterfly Garden-of-Eden in its offerings that include wild lime, corky-stemmed passionflowers, beautyberry, sunflower, penta and salvia… the very stuff that makes both butterflies and caterpillars salivate.

A dozen area children participated in the planting of the garden during a recent “Kids Camp Nature Experience” that the Sanctuary traditionally conducts twice a year.

In addition to getting their hands a little dirty in the planting process, kids got to freshen their perspective on the life cycles of butterflies typically seen on the course, such as Gulf Fritallary, Monarch, Barred Sulphur and Zebra Longwing.

Sanctuary Wildlife Committee Member Denise Carnell says now, the garden will grow to provide a new safe haven for the butterflies and additional educational opportunities during future kid camps. Of course, she notes, it will also add to the beauty of the course for golfers, even on their worst days.

Gulf Fritillary graces the flowers near the golf course at Sanctuary Golf Club.

And that’s a point not lost on Course Manager Kyle Sweet who has distinct responsibilities in overseeing a golf operation like none other in America. He says the Sanctuary Golf Course is the one and only course in this country which has to annually report to the United States Department of the Interior. Again, this is a condition arising from the course’s proximity to the National Wildlife Refuge.

In striving to ensure that the greens remain in tip-top condition for golfers, Sweet is also responsible for ensuring that environmental standards are adhered to in terms of the fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides used – of which all must be approved by the government.

But to be sure, Sweet says The Sanctuary’s adoption of those standards were more proactive than reactive. The Sanctuary regards itself as a partner in environmental stewardship, not just a place to play golf. That kind of thinking has helped the facility earn distinction for more than nine years now as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Golf Course.

“We have an extremely unique situation here,” says Sweet. “There are no fences, and we’re surrounded by a diverse habitat for wildlife.”

Sweet says wildlife encounters help ensure that no two days are ever alike at the course. Wildlife includes everything from birds and turtles to snakes, alligators and bobcats. Even on the 13th Green, one will encounter indications that a new wild visitor has recently frequented the course. This pertains to a certain black bear that suddenly arrived on Sanibel, but whose particular whereabouts are currently unknown. In addition to recent sighting throughout the Island, the bear was spotted at The Sanctuary and amidst efforts to tag the bear for tracking purposes, The Sanctuary has erected a bear trap at the course. Thus far, the bear has treated it much like golfers do the sand traps, as something to be avoided.

The Sanctuary Golf Club's new butterfly garden will allow all to more readily eye Buckeye like this one recently spotted on the course.

For now, Sweet says all at The Sanctuary are looking forward to a new year with a new offspring of caterpillars (which will delight local birds) and a new population of butterflies (which will delight in the pollenating practices of plants). For golfers, there is also certain advantages. If anything can counter the dismal display in a triple bogey, it may just be the beauty of the course at Sanibel’s Sanctuary Golf Club.