Photo: Eusaphzae/Shutterstock

9 Audubon Golf Courses That Prove Golf Can Be Sustainable

by Zanny Steffgen Jan 9, 2024

You don’t have to be a golfer to know the name “Audubon.” It’s the last name of John James Audubon, born in 1785. He was a painter and naturalist, but is most well-known for being an ornithologist – someone who studies birds. And now, 250 years later, his name is synonymous with not just birds, but wildlife protection in general.

And if you’re a golfer, you may have noticed that some golf courses have an “Audubon International” certification. The organization, not to be confused with the National Audubon Society that advocates just for birds, was first dreamed up by Theodore Roosevelt, widely known to be an environmental advocate. Since its inception, Audubon International has worked with communities and businesses to improve the health of their natural environments through education and resource management.

One type of business Audubon International works with the most is golf courses. It created the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) certification, given to courses that meet a set of rigorous environmental standards. Those criteria include practices like replacing turf with grass species that need less water, introducing plants and flowers that attract bees and butterflies, and rewilding the land beyond the greens and tee boxes (i.e. letting natural plants take over with minimal landscaping or interference.)

audubon golf courses - birds near a pond

Photo: Mike Casper/Shutterstock

Because of chemical use and heavy-duty irrigation, golf courses are notoriously not eco-friendly. But being designated as an Audubon golf course can be a great marketing tool, allowing the course to appeal to players interested in the support, but who also want to lessen their environmental impact. In an era of increasing eco-consciousness, Audubon golf courses can promise players a more sustainable round of golf.

While the actual experience of golfing at one of the 700-plus Audubon golf courses around the world is similar to any other course, the surroundings could be quite different. You might notice more wildlife hanging around, since Audubon-certified golf courses have to maintain on-property wildlife habitats. You may also notice that the spaces between holes are far less manicured and maintained, meaning you’ll want to be more careful than usual about keeping your ball in bounds.

From scenic courses that double as wildlife refuges to golf courses built between lakes, these are nine of the most fascinating Audubon golf courses around the globe.

Ria Bintan Golf Club

Audubon golf courses - ria bintan

Photo: willyalvadz/Shutterstock

Bintan Island, Indonesia

This golf club on Bintan Island, just a short ferry ride from Singapore, has been Audubon certified since 2009. The Gary Player-designed  course offers 18 gorgeous holes on the South China Sea. And since Ria Bintan is also a wildlife sanctuary, you may spot deer, monkeys, or even wild boars during your round. At hole seven, the surroundings change  from lush jungle to coastline, but smooth greens and abundant water obstacles remain constant throughout.

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: IDR 1,650,000 (about $107)
  • Course par: 72
  • Address: Jl. Perigi Raja, Lagoi North Bintan, Sebong Lagoi, Kec. Tlk. Sebong, Kabupaten Bintan, Kepulauan Riau 29152, Indonesia

Cape Kidnappers Golf Course

audubon golf courses - hawks bay new zealand

Photo: K Ireland

Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Cape Kidnappers calls this course “golf at the edge of the Earth,” and that’s no exaggeration. It’s on a peninsula in the South Pacific in the middle of New Zealand’s wine country. Hawke’s Bay is a safe haven for wildlife, and the golf club doubles as a sheep and cattle station. That means livestock roam free from the threat of predators and endangered birds dot the skies. But try not to get distracted by the spectacular surroundings during your round — the narrow fairways built on top of finger-shaped cliffs require your full attention.

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: $739 NZ (about $468)
  • Course par: 71
  • Address: 446 Clifton Road, Te Awanga 4180, New Zealand

The Bay Course, Kapalua Golf

Kapalua, Maui, Hawaiian Islands

Photo: Art Boardman/Shutterstock

Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, US

Kapalua Golf is perhaps better known for its Kapalua Plantation course, host of the annual “The Sentry” PGA tournament, but the Bay Course is more affordable, more achievable, and arguably more scenic, with two holes on the ocean. Kapalua Golf leads the pack in environmental practices, using rainwater from the resort’s Puu Kukui Watershed Preserve for irrigation and repurposing runoff throughout the grounds. The club also uses green waste from both courses to fertilize Kapalua Farms, an organic farm that grows produce for local restaurants.

Wildlife-wise, the courses are a habitat for 23 species of birds, including the endangered nene and Hawaiian petrels (plus Hawaii’s only native mammal, the ‘Ōpe’ape’a, or Hawaiian hoary bat).

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: $259 and up
  • Course par: 72
  • Address: 2000 Village Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761

Hacienda Pinilla

Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica

Located in the westernmost province of Costa Rica, the gated resort community of Hacienda Pinilla has 4,500 acres of wilderness, comprising tropical forest and a long stretch of coastline. The golf course also serves as a wildlife sanctuary, so don’t be surprised if a howler monkey interrupts your swing or you come across anteaters, parrots, deer, and abundant bird life on the course.

One of the best parts of the Hacienda Pinilla experience is that it’s rarely busy, so you’re likely to have the course to yourself as the greens curve between lush jungle and coastal terrain. Just watch out for steep bunkers and slick greens, two hallmarks of the course.

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: $150 and up
  • Course par: 72
  • Address: Hacienda Pinilla, Guanacaste Province, Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Aquarina Beach and Country Club

Melbourne Beach, Florida, US

Between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon is where you’ll find the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and the Aquarina Golf Club within it. This affordable resort course keeps things interesting with a number of contours, obstacles, and changes in scenery as it winds past lakes through marsh and forest. It’s not a surprise that it’s an Audubon golf course, as the surrounding wildlife refuge is both a loggerhead turtle nesting place and home to osprey, bobcats, otters, manatees, and wading birds like sandpipers.

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: $18 and up
  • Course par: 62
  • Address: 7500 S Hwy A1A Melbourne Beach, FL 32951

Real Club Valderrama

Audubon golf courses - spain

Photo: Isogood_patrick/Shutterstock

Sotogrande, Spain

Golf celebrity Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed this course, which has won multiple awards from leading golf publications. Valderrama has been an Audubon golf course for more than 30 years, thanks to the club’s use of advanced irrigation systems to minimize water waste, reliance on organic fertilizers, and rainwater collection system to irrigate the course without taxing water resources.

As you make your way down fairways lined with cork oak, keep an eye out for badgers, turtles, mongoose, and any of the other 500-plus species of flora and fauna that call Valderrama home.

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: €500 (about $552)
  • Course par: 71
  • Address: Av. los Cortijos, s/n, 11310 Sotogrande, Cádiz, Spain

Saadiyat Beach Golf Club

Saadiyat Beach Golf Club audubon golf course

Photo: Eusaphzae/Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi, UAE

On this Gary Player-design course, golfers get both ocean and city views, plus the occasional appearance from a mountain gazelle or one of the 160 birds that live in the course.

An extremely rare bird — the Steppe Whimbrel — was spotted at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in 2020 and the photos went viral, boosting the club’s reputation as a leading wildlife sanctuary. Other factors in its certification include the fact that the club’s beachfront is a protected nesting area for hawksbill turtles, it irritates plants with treated wastewater, and the course turf is a hardy, drought-resistant species of native grass, important in Abu Dhabi’s arid conditions.

As far as the golf experience goes, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is challenging. With sloping bunkers on much of the course, players better be comfortable with their sand game – you’re playing in the desert, after all.

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: 835 AED (about $227)
  • Course par: 72
  • Address: Sheikh Khalifa Highway – E12 – Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates

Pearl Valley

Pearl Valley audubon golf course, south africa

Photo: Nikki Fisher/Shutterstock

Paarl, South Africa

Designed by Jack Nicklaus, Pearl Valley is set against the striking backdrop of the Simonsberg Mountains, making it a scenic place for a round of golf. Expect lots of water on the course, plus a number of fairway bunkers that demand precise tee shots.

As far as environmental practices go, the course opts to use natural predators rather than poison to rein in burgeoning populations of gerbils and mole rats – which means you’ll see lots of eagles and kingfishers. The course is covered in native flora, including grapes. The whole area is a huge wine destination, creating an ideal place for an elegant golf-and-wine weekend in South Africa.

  • Greens fees for 18 holes: R 2705 (about $147)
  • Course par: 72
  • Address: R301 Jan Van Riebeeck Dr, Paarl, 7646, South Africa

Forest of Arden courses

Coventry, UK

There’s something enchanting about the Aylesford Course, located in the Forest of Arden, an ancient woodland where deer roam free, lakes teem with trout, and the course is shaded by stately oak trees. The Aylesford Course lives in the shadow of the neighboring (and more well-known) Arden Course, but Aylesford is just as well maintained and definitely underrated. They’re both worth playing.

The Aylesford course is a par 69, but it’s deceptively tricky, thanks to sloping greens and thick rough known to swallow golf balls. The Championship Arden Course is a par 72 with heavily wooded areas and no shortage of water features (which, incidentally, serve as a home for native waterfowl).

    • Greens fees for 18 holes: Starts at £60 (around $76)
    • Course par: 69 and 72
    • Address: Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel, Maxstoke Lane, Coventry CV7 7HR, United Kingdom

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