By Matthew Knight, CNN
Eagles may be thin on the ground for most golfers at the Bear Trace course at Harrison Bay. But up in the treetops, it’s a different matter.
Bald eagles Elliott and Eloise have been par for the course at the Tennessee club for the past three and a half years, scoring highly with both local and global audiences thanks to a camera installed by their nest in a pine tree behind the 10th green.
“The eagles came in and started building a nest in December 2010,” explains golf course superintendent Paul Carter. “The first year they had two eaglets and both fledged successfully. We were just watching them from the ground not really knowing what was going on until about mid-May when two black heads popped up out of the nest.”
The discovery prompted Carter to install an Eagle Cam, which has been live since early 2012. This year, the pair—who were given their names by Carter’s daughter—welcomed two more eaglets who go by the more functional names of HB5 and HB6.
Bald eagles were once on the U.S. endangered species list, but numbers of the nation’s symbol have risen since the government banned the pesticide DDT—which contaminated the birds’ food sources. The wingspans of the female eagles, which are larger than the males, can be up to eight feet.
“Tennessee has had some good success with its eagle population, but this is the only one on a golf course that I know of. We are trying to show that golf courses can be a sustainable habitat for wildlife,” Carter told CNN ahead of Earth Day—an initiative started in 1970 aimed at improving the world’s environment, and marked globally this year on April 22.
Bear Trace’s round-the-clock live feed has received almost a million views to date. The virtual presence has also helped business at the club. “I’ve been in the pro shop several times and people come in and ask which hole Eagle Cam is on,” Carter says. “We’ve definitely had a considerable amount of play off it.”
The project is one of many environmentally minded measures Carter and his colleagues have tended to in recent years.
“It’s not just about how we mow the grass or what fertilizer we’re putting down. We have an education center which has environmental information, awards and pictures of the course,” he says.
Carter, who also writes about environmental improvements on a blog and gives talks, was recently recognized for his green leadership.
Last November, Golf Digest magazine awarded the course its Green Star Award and in February Carter was crowned overall winner of the Environmental Leaders in Golf Award for 2013. The prestigious prize, which is open to golf courses around the world, is jointly run by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and Golf Digest.
Historically, golf courses haven’t attracted praise for their green credentials but rather criticism, often being held up as examples of resource profligacy for over-watering and widespread use of chemicals. But this view may now be outdated, says Ray Semlitsch, Curators’ Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri.
“Golf courses are aware of some of these negative things and actually they have done a very good job over the last 10-20 years of trying to improve environmental practices,” says Semlitsch, who recently led a study on the effects of golf course development on salamander populations in the southern Appalachians. “We studied 10 golf courses, interviewing golf superintendents and managers. These were young, highly educated people—many had degrees in biology, turf science or wildlife management.
“They are well aware of these problems, and very excited and very willing to make changes and use environmentally sound practices.”
Carter says things have shifted “180 degrees” since 2001 when he started at Bear Trace, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course—noting that the club has substantially reduced mowing, fertilizer use and water consumption. “We’ve removed over 50 acres of highly maintained earth in the last decade. When you figure that out from a water standpoint, we save 7.39 million gallons annually.”
As individuals and organizations around the globe mark Earth Day, it’s good to know that people like Carter are keeping an eagle eye on the environment—not just today but all-year-round.