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Flatirons Golf Course Environmental Practices

Flatirons Golf Course is owned and operated by the City of Boulder and is a fully certified member of the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Courses. We are committed to operating with the highest level of environmental responsibility possible while still producing exceptional golf playing conditions.

Historically, golf courses have been noted for their lack environmental awareness and practices. As the golf industry has taken great steps in the past 20 years to remedy this perception, public outreach efforts have fallen short and many people are not aware of the positive environmental actions being taken by the golf industry. While examples of environmental irresponsibility still exist, Flatirons Golf Course is a proud example of the new, environmental management practices becoming more prevalent in the industry each year. Please peruse the links and downloads on these pages to gain a better understanding of the environmentally sustainable efforts at Flatirons Golf Course.

Flatirons becomes a fully certified Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary

Flatirons Golf Course has achieved designation as a "Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary" through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, an Audubon International program. Doug Cook, PGA Director of Golf, has led the effort to obtain sanctuary status on this course and is being recognized for Environmental Stewardship by Audubon International. Flatirons Golf Course is the 33rd course in Colorado and the 782nd in the world to receive the honor.

"Flatirons Golf Course has shown a strong commitment to its environmental program. They are to be commended for their efforts to provide a sanctuary for wildlife on the golf course property," said Jim Sluiter, Staff Ecologist for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Programs.

"To reach certification, a course must demonstrate that they are maintaining a high degree of environmental quality in a number of areas," explained Sluiter. These categories include: Environmental Planning, Wildlife & Habitat Management, Outreach and Education, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, and Water Quality Management.

The Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, endorsed by the United States Golf Association, provides information and guidance to help golf courses preserve and enhance wildlife habitat, and protect natural resources. Golf courses from the United States, Africa, Australia, Canada, Central America, Europe, and Southeast Asia have also achieved certification in the program.

Chemical use, reduction and safety

Flatiron Golf Course's approach to pesticides:

  1. Insecticides  At Flatirons Golf Course we only treat insect invasions that occur only above our very high threshold of tolerance and only on the putting greens. For example, the unusual weather conditions in 2009 created such a unique micro climate that the golf course did treat for a high level of cutworms on some greens. This was the first application of any insecticide used on the entire property in the last 15 years. Algaecide controls algae in water features. Flatirons Golf Course has no record of treating any course water features at any time. To encourage our water features’ natural health, Flatirons Golf Course relies on water flow, natural bank areas and mechanical aerators (fountains).

  2. Fungicides:  We only apply fungicides on putting greens (when needed). We do not treat any tees, roughs, fairways or any other areas on the 130-acre property with any form of fungicide; nor do we treat trees or shrubs with fungicide at any time. Golf greens can be very susceptible to fungi during periods of extreme weather. Common examples of pests/diseases we see on our greens are: dollar spot, anthracnose, pythium blight, fairy ring, moss and snow mold. When any of these diseases appear, we first attempt to use cultural practices to alleviate the condition naturally. Vertical cutting, aerating, top dressing, fertilizing and watering variations can usually give the turf enough strength to recover on its own. If cultural practices fail and our tolerances for compromised playing conditions are exceeded, we will selectively treat the affected areas with the lowest toxicity fungicide and minimum amount necessary to mitigate the problem. In a typical year, maintenance staff resort to selective fungicide application no more than twice affecting 50 percent of the greens (this equals less than 4 percent of the playing turf on the golf course).

  3. Avicide:  Flatirons Golf Course embraces and welcomes a wide variety of birds. We do not employ chemical bird controls and have no record of ever using an avicide to control birds.

  4. Herbicides:  Due to our city’s commitment to the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) and our association with the Audubon Society, we minimize the use of herbicides. We treat our turf mostly for invasive weeds that can compromise playing conditions beyond a threshold of tolerance. Only treatments and procedures approved by the City of Boulder’s IPM policies are used. When products are approved for application, course staff notifies the City of Boulder’s information hotline and posts signs at the golf course before any treatment begins. Products used are always approved and in the lowest toxicity class available for each particular weed. When applying herbicide, staff never uses a broadcast treatment. We only treat individual plants or affected areas. An example of a broadcast treatment would be to apply a fertilizer/weed killer product as is common on private lawns. We never use herbicides in this way; we only treat weeds or weed infestations above our tolerance with very targeted applications.

Water quality and conservation

Howard Ditch

Established in 1860, the Howard Ditch is a spur off of South Boulder Creek and enters the golf course near No.17 green. This untreated ditch water provides the course’s irrigation via a pump station near No.17 pond to about 800 sprinkler heads. Water not used for irrigation is released from the pumping pond through the chain of streams and ponds on No.16, No.15 and No.11. Twice a year, the water is tested at the entry and exit sites for nitrates or other contaminants. There has never been a test result indicating contamination by harmful substances.

Dry Creek No.2 Ditch

Dry Creek No.2 Ditch enters Flatirons GC on the west border midway down hole No.5 and exits to the north between No.8 green and No.9 tee. The water in this ditch is not used for irrigation and consists of runoff from surrounding neighborhoods. The water is tested each season at the entry and exit sites. Past reports show that contaminants that are contained in the water upon entry are not present upon exit. Turf grass is widely regarded for its ability to act as a filtration system for water effectively cleaning the water as it passes through. The cleaning power of vegetation, thatch and micro-organisms in the ditches, streams and ponds at Flatirons Golf Course have proven effective at purifying this flowing runoff water.


Flatirons Golf Course retained the services of an irrigation designer in the fall of 2009 with the intent of replacing the course’s irrigation system over the next four years. Phase 1 is scheduled to begin on March 15, 2010 and end by May 15, 2010. This phase involves upgrading the sprinkler heads around all of our greens, driving range tee and three of the four par three holes. Phase 1 will also include a state-of-the-art control system that will give our maintenance crew the ability to control the amount and direction of each individual sprinkler head’s water emission. Phase 2 is currently scheduled for 2014 and will include replacing the 10-inch mainline piping, tees and fairway piping and sprinkler heads. All new irrigation pipe will feature the eco-friendly, 50-year HDPE pipe (as opposed to the less environmentally responsible PVC).

The new system increases the number of sprinkler heads from 800 to a projected 1,700 by reducing the distance most heads will throw water (from 80 feet to 60 feet). This spacing will enhance our target watering initiative and is projected to decrease our water (and electricity use for watering) by up to 39 percent.


Flatirons Golf Course is a natural habitat for many diverse species of wildlife.

We maintain areas of the golf course specifically as habitats for wildlife. Along with the abundance of trees and ponds conducive to nesting, breeding and feeding, Flatirons Golf Course installs and maintains bat boxes, swallow shelters and duck houses to encourage wildlife habitation. We also maintain natural areas by leaving dead trees for woodpeckers, creating undisturbed brush piles, and preserving eight acres of “no-mow” native areas to keep the grass long enough for ground nesting bird species.

Flatirons Golf Course provides short- and long-term habitat for many animals.

Did you know:

  • More than 30 species of birds have been identified as permanent residents of Flatirons Golf Course. (a link to a bird survey will be posted when it is available.) The most plentiful birds are the crackle, house finch, American robin, and Canada geese. The most unusual birds sighted at Flatirons GC include the Eurasian collared dove, cedar waxwing and the sharp-shinned hawk.
  • Two families of fox are residents at Flatirons GC, with their movements frequently identified by tracks in the snow or visitor sightings.
  • Skunks, raccoons, squirrels, giant snapping turtles, trout, blue gill, carp, bass, catfish and bullfrogs all are in abundance on the property, along with a healthy population of honey bees, butterflies, hornets and seasonal mosquitoes.
  • Sightings of transient wildlife in recent years include: two black bears, deer, eagles, grey heron, coyotes, wild turkey, carrier pigeon, a rogue steer and a camel (not wild; just getting exercise).

We encourage patrons and visitors to the facility to notify golf staff of any wildlife sightings so we can add it to our log. Take a picture if possible and email it to: [email protected]

Horticulture and soils

There are more than 1,400 trees on the Flatirons Golf Course. Approximately 1,000 deciduous trees and 400 conifers share the 130-acre property. We consistently replenish the aging inventory of trees with new species, native or well-adapted to the region. Conservatively, we estimate that over 500 new trees have been planted on the property since the City of Boulder began operating the golf course in 1986. The latest tree inventory in early 2009 shows the following varieties and quantities of each:

1 Apple/Crabapple 8 Linden American
143 Ash Green 22 Linden   Littlelea
1 Ash White  19 Maple Amur/Tatar
3 Baldcypress 9 Maple Norway
4 Boxelder 4 Maple Silver
2 Catalpa 4 Maple Sugar
3 Cherry 8 Oak Red
307 Cottonwood  2 Oak  Swamp  White
6 Elm American 182 Pine Austrian
119 Elm Siberian 9 Pine Bristlecone
47 Fir White 37 Pine Pinyon
7 Hackberry 4 Pine Scotch
8 Hawthorn Thornle 19 Plum 
3 Hawthorn Thornle 185 Spruce Blue    
48 Honeylocust 57 Willow 
12 Juniper 25 Russian Olive
110 Popular Silver  

In addition to the abundant tree inventory, Flatirons maintains 16 annual and perennial garden beds. These gardens mostly consist of perennial plantings with a few show gardens planted with annuals. Some of the gardens are specially designed to provide food for wildlife and attract butterflies. The garden on Hole No.15 tee is our best example of this type of plant selection.

We intensively maintain and irrigate turf grass to golf play standards on approximately 57 of the 130-acre property. The putting greens account for 4 acres in total area and are primarily poa annua grass with some bentgrass. Our 3-acres of tees and 50-acres of fairways are mostly bluegrass with some bent, rye and poa annua grasses. Another 33-acres of turf, mostly consist bluegrass rough, is not maintained to special golf specific heights or standards.

Successfully managing turf for golf is best accomplished by encouraging the growth of healthy grass. We rarely apply synthetic chemical treatments to our turf. Rather, we embrace a philosophy that our best treatment for pests and disease is prevention. We achieve this through carefully nurturing turf health. We have gone beyond simply applying fertilizers and monitoring ph levels. We now regularly test our soils and assess the nutrient contents of turf grass to determine deficiencies. This enables us to treat them specifically, naturally and economically. Professional golf turf management allows us to see within the “body” of soils and plants to determine the nutrient needs and identify natural source to grow healthy, disease-resistant turf. This prevention through health philosophy has been implemented at Flatirons for the past 20+ years and has yielded some of the most highly regarded playing surfaces in Colorado golf.