Tee to Green

Elk damage golf courses in Bend, Sunriver

Many local courses struggle with the destructive animal

Kevin Duke

It’s their world, we golfers just live in it.

I am talking of course about the elk — large animals that call the Eastern slopes of the Cascades home.

And depending on where your course is, you may or may not have to deal with the damage they cause on a golf course.

Hoof imprints on greens, droppings that have to be cleaned up, urine that kills the grass, and, believe it or not, the occasional elk delay — all problems reported by area courses.

“Where else on earth can you have an elk delay?” asked Josh Willis, Sunriver’s director of golf. “I guess people like to live on golf courses and so do the elk.

Our joke is that they are our only residents that don’t pay association dues.”

Two herds

Willis and his grounds crew at Sunriver have already been dealing with two herds that call the resort home.

“We have a north and a south herd,” Willis said. “There’s one at Crosswater, and the other herd that ventures between the Woodlands and the Meadows courses.”

“The elk typically come down the most with the snow in the mountains, but we are already seeing them. They come out in the mornings and then they leave. But once there is snow in the mountains the golf courses become an elk haven ... and that’s when they create the most havoc because they don’t leave all day.”

The courses at the resort use a very simple “fencing” around the greens to keep the elk from treading over the delicate putting surfaces.

“The fencing is metal stakes all around the green with twine between them about chest high,” Willis explained. “Then we tie ribbon to it, and the ribbon flaps in the wind and spook the elk.

“If they wanted to get through it they could with no problem, but regular fencing can trap them.”

Plans are to fence off the greens around Tuesday, but the resort may hold off on putting them up until the weather turns.

“Our plan is to not put fencing up at this time, but to reopen Meadows and Crosswater,” Willis said. “As long as the weather stays good, we’ll keep everything open.”

Elk urinating on the greens creates a larger problem than the hoof marks at Sunriver.

“What we deal with is not so much the damage, but the urine,” Willis explained. “That will kill off the grass, so you have to sod it because it will not grow back.”

Courses in Bend

Courses on the west side of Bend typically start to see the elk in early fall and continuing into the winter.

The herds started appearing at Widgi Creek in September, but have since trailed off a bit, according to golf course superintendent Paul Rozek.

“They usually come through about the middle of September,” Rozek said. “We still have a few right now, but the main herd we haven’t seen for a while.”

Rozek’s crew put up similar elk fencing around their greens the week of Oct. 12, using stakes and rope between them as a deterrent.

But the elk beat them to the punch in September, with moderate damage on “nine or 10 of the greens,” Rozek said.

“There’s no consistent path every night, but they do have certain greens that they seem to like.”

Rozek accepts dealing with the elk as simply part of his job in the fall and winter.

“There’s not a lot we can do, so we just fix the damage they create,” he said. “We just kind of work with them.”

Amazingly, Tetherow head pro Louis Bennett reported that they really don’t see the elk at the club less than a couple miles up the road from Widgi Creek.

“I know they’ve had some issues at Broken Top and Widgi,” he said. “But we’ve never had a problem here, the elk don’t go on the course.”

Displaced herd at Awbrey

Recent development in Bend and increased outdoor recreation in the area has created an elk issue for Awbrey Glen, a course located in northwest Bend. That’s according to Cory Heath, a wildlife biologist at the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department in Bend. The department collared a couple of elk in the herd two winters ago, which allowed them to track the movements of the animals.

“What we’re seeing with this herd is what we’ve seen with displacement of herds throughout Central Oregon,” Heath said. “They are being displaced because of the growth and activities for recreation in the area.”

The herd used to winter in an area on the southwest side of Bend, he said.

“Awbrey is in a little different boat (than other courses) because the elk were not on that site,” Heath explained. “They would winter at Ryan Ranch and cross the river and winter in Elk Meadow ... now there’s a school and subdivisions.

“There is too much disturbance in the area to winter there, so they’ve moved north to Awbrey Glen and that area.”

“They started showing up about seven years ago,” said Mark Amberson, the general manager and chief operating officer at Awbrey Glen. “We went out one snowy Sunday morning and there they were, on the 14th hole on the west side of course.

“We hadn’t seen an elk in the first 15 years of having a golf course here, so we were a bit surprised.”

Awbrey Glen also ropes off all its greens even though the herd is typically seen just on the west side of the course, and takes care of any damage and droppings in the spring.

The club works cooperatively with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department, Amberson said, communicating on a regular basis with the department on when and how many elk they see on the course. They also communicate with property owners on the course about the size and movement of the herd.

Broken Top superintendent Scott Moffenbeier said he takes similar steps (roping off of greens, cleaning up any damage) in dealing with the elk that frequent his course.

Outside of Sisters, Black Butte Ranch reported a herd that winters on the range at Glaze Meadow and Aspen Lakes noted a herd that doesn’t come on the course, but winters on farmland about a mile to the south.

— Reporter: 541-617-7868, kduke@bendbulletin.com

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