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Beautiful geese making messes on golf courses

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A few of the 500 or so Canadian Geese that call Glendale Golf Course home go about their business.

A few of the 500 or so Canadian Geese that call Glendale Golf Course home go about their business.

Ryan Long, Deseret Morning News

With their long black necks, distinctive white patches on their faces and plump, tan bodies with black and white feathers in back, Canada geese are among the most beautiful creatures on earth.

Just don't ask golf professionals and course superintendents about Canada geese. Their response usually begins with an "Ugh" or perhaps "&*%$# @!"

Over the past 15 years, geese by the thousands have decided to make Utah's golf courses their homes, not only in the winter, but year round. While they don't get in the way of golfers much, it's what they leave behind on the green grass that aggravates golfers and those who take care of the courses.

The Canada geese, which were nearly extinct back in the early 1960s, used to fly south over Utah on their way to warmer climes. However, when the state started experiencing milder winters, a lot of the geese decided "this is the place" to make their homes.

Now almost any golf course with a large body of water has Canada geese living there.

Glendale may have the most with as many as 500 sometimes, but Nibley Park, Forest Dale, Central Valley, Stonebridge, Mick Riley and Wingpointe in Salt Lake City all have their share of birds, as does Riverbend in Riverton and East Bay in Provo. Davis County courses such as Davis Park, Valley View and Lakeside may have a handful stick around in the summer, but most of them settle on their courses in the fall and winter.

The birds love golf courses because of the wide-open spaces, water and lack of prey. Humans invade the courses from March to November, but the geese get so used to them, golfers can usually get within a few feet without the birds minding.

"It's perfect for them," said Mike Forrest, course superintendent at Glendale. "They can eat the grass, lie in the shade and swim in the water. But they are a nuisance."

Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for Utah, says Canada geese have come to Utah in increasing numbers, particularly over the past five years.

Last winter, a count revealed as many as 10,000 Canada geese in the Salt Lake area.

Aldrich said because the geese are grazers who eat "new shoot grass" such as freshly mowed grass found on golf courses, that's where they go. "Where there is adjacent water, they've got just about everything they need," he said.

Aldrich said the geese are very tolerant of people, so they're not bothered by golfers, unless they happen to get hit by a stray Titleist.

That leaves golf courses with a problem on their hands when the geese show up and don't leave.

"They're very smart and clever," said East Bay director of golf Kean Ridd, who has dealt with the birds ever since the course opened 17 years ago.

East Bay's problem is that it has more water than almost any course in the state. Ridd said his course used all of the tricks from the propane cannons to horns to firecrackers to netting around the lakes.

"It seems like everything we do, they find a way to adapt," Ridd said.

East Bay's best solution to the problem has been a dog — a border collie, specifically trained to chase the birds away. Border collies are usually used to herd sheep, but their natural instinct of herding works on birds also.

Ridd said East Bay got its dog from a breeder in Kentucky, where the dogs are trained to "herd the birds." The dog obeys hand signals and can spot the geese from two or three fairways off.

"He chases them and herds them off," said Ridd. "The geese get tired of moving."

Bryan Witzel, the assistant superintendent at Nibley Park, also uses a dog, his own golden retriever named Kuda.

Kuda chases the geese into the lakes at Nibley, but that's as far as he goes since he doesn't like to swim. Some of the birds fly to a nearby park or over to nearby Forest Dale Golf Course. The birds have learned to keep an eye out for Kuda and head for the water when they see him.

"It's like a game," said Witzel. "We chase them off and they come back."

Witzel says Nibley has as many as 100 geese on a given day, but just a couple dozen who stay all the time.

Then there's the, ahem, mess the geese leave all over the course.

Golfers don't like having their ball land in goose droppings or having to walk through it. Usually the nasty stuff is concentrated near lakes and streams, but the geese like to wander over the fairways and do their business wherever. One of the biggest complaints from golfers is getting the droppings on their shoes.

It keeps grounds crews busy, getting rid of the stuff, but they mostly concentrate on keeping it off the tees and greens. Forrest said mowing is the best way to take care of it on fairways.

"Sure it's a mess, but it doesn't hurt the turf," Ridd said. "It's more of an eyesore than anything."

At Glendale, the majority of the geese congregate near the lake between the No. 1 and No. 9 fairways or at the lake at No. 12. Sometimes you'll see them spread out on one of the fairways with as many as 100 geese, including many young goslings. Forrest also uses a dog to chase them, but doesn't at this time of year when there are so many goslings.

As much as he tries to get rid of them, Witzel found himself in an awkward position earlier this year when he discovered several baby geese falling out of their nests. He stood under the nest and caught them so they wouldn't die.

Wingpointe used to have more than 100 geese, but now the course is down to less than a couple of dozen.

In this case it has nothing to do with protecting the golf course; rather it's for safety reasons, since Wingpointe is located right next to the airport. A stray sparrow sucked into an engine wouldn't bring down a plane, but a 20-pound Canadian goose is another story.

According to Wingpointe pro Lynn Landgren, every day a person hired by the airport authority visits the course to scare off geese with paint ball pellets. They don't injure the birds, but are supposed to scare them and keep them away from flight paths.

A large lake guarding the par-5 No. 15 hole at Wingpointe even had to be drained because of the geese. It was too close to the west runway, so rather than attract more birds at the water, the old lake is now just an super-size bunker with no sand.

The few geese that are left at Wingpointe hang out at the lake near holes 3, 4 and 5. They still get chased by the guy with the paint ball gun and if you play a round at Wingpointe, you'll often hear the booming sound of propane cannons used to scare the birds away.

Despite dogs and other distractions, there's no final answer to the problem, said Ridd.

"There's no solution," he said. "You just have to learn to live with them."

E-mail: sor@desnews.com