Protect and preserve 247 acres of pristine forest close to Kohler Andrae State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan or build yet another golf course (number 5) in Sheboygan County? It is now clear that the Kohler Company, which owns the forest land in question, prefers the latter choice.
And what about the rest of us? Speaking as a conservationist, I question whether constructing another 18-hole course on forested land beside Lake Michigan is a wise choice. While a golf course can be fairly environmentally benign if managed properly on already developed land, do we really want to replace a good-quality forest beside an ecologically stressed Great Lake with a fifth Kohler-owned golf course? Especially a piece of land that lies just north of one of the most beautiful and popular state parks?
Back in May of 2008, Golf Digest magazine interviewed a number of people on the subject of the greenness of golf. Here’s what the former president of Friends of the Earth, Brent Blackwelder (also apparently a pretty good amateur golfer), had to say about where not to build a golf course :
“There are certain places where you don’t want golf courses. I fought to keep a course off of the Crystal River in Northern Michigan, where we taught our kids to canoe, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A prime, sensitive area with pristine water, very rare plants and so forth — a golf course would be compromising the environmental integrity of that land. We were successful in keeping that one away. On the other hand, I grew up playing a course that was reseeded over farm fields and has very little chemical usage, Silver Lake Country Club in western New York state. I still play it when I’m there every summer. Any conversion of farmland to a golf course does not present very many problems. In fact, you might even be able to restore the land to some degree. Also, golf courses restoring quarries or mines or other degraded land. But if you’re going into a forest and cutting down trees to put in a golf course, losing biological diversity, reducing the species that are present, and compromising the water quality, that’s at the other end of the spectrum.” [Bolding mine for emphasis.]
I wouldn’t want to see more golf courses than farms in the state, but the forested land in the Town of Wilson certainly seems to meet Blackwelder’s criteria for a golf-free zone. But according to the town’s attorney, a golf course already meets the zoning requirements of that land. So a forested shore is pre-approved to become something as utterly transforming as a golf course? I suppose a golf course is “greener” than a parking lot or an industrial park or even a housing development, but the chance to preserve a 250 acre forest along Lake Michigan is a rare event these days. Surely Wilson and Kohler can do better.
But if the town’s hands are tied and Kohler won’t relent, then it is up to the state and/or federal government, as Wilson Town Board Chairman David Gartman points out, to step in and protect the land. Adding the forest and shore to Wisconsin’s state park system, given its proximity to Kohler Andrae, makes far more sense for the overall health of land and people in Sheboygan County than another golf course. I have nothing against golf or a golf course that is well-sighted and managed ecologically. This is a matter of how we best use our shrinking open space. Perhaps Kohler could sell the land to the Nature Conservancy if that’s a better economic deal.
In the end, a forest of tees and manicured grass is no substitute for a forest of trees.