With its gnarly rough, slick greens and towering pines, the No. 2 course at Pinehurst, the site of next week's U.S. Open, should be one of the world's least birdie-friendly layouts. But the opposite is true. "We're a giant playground for wildlife, especially birds," says Brad Kocher, the director of golf course maintenance at Pinehurst. "We have at least 65 species of birds."
The rarest is the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species that thrives at Pinehurst because of a unique habitat-protection program called Safe Harbor. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Safe Harbor eases development restrictions for private landowners who cultivate habitats for indigenous endangered species and protect the animals during breeding season. Safe Harbor was the result of work by Jay Carter, a biologist and environmental consultant, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Carter, whose Ph.D. research focused on the red-cockaded woodpecker, thought Pinehurst was the ideal place to offer protected habitat for the species and asked EDF to design a program that would make that possible. EDF, in turn, worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With the help of Kocher, the Pinehurst program was instituted in 1995.
Golf courses in the North Carolina Sandhills provide choice habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers—one of 22 species of woodpeckers in the U.S.—because the birds prefer forests with little underbrush and few trees except for tall pines. One of the six family groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers at Pinehurst lives on the No. 2 course, near the 5th tee.
The Safe Harbor program is now expanding to cover other species, including the Aplomado falcon and the Attwater prairie chicken in Texas, and the nene (Hawaiian goose) on the island of Molokai.
Says Michael Bean, chairman of the wildlife program for EDF, "What Pinehurst did was very progressive. It opened the eyes of other large landowners to the fact that they could contribute to the conservation of other species without compromising their objective of maintaining a nationally recognized golf course."