AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Some golf courses have cut back on pesticides and mowing in recent years to make their land more environmentally green. But in Wisconsin one course may take the ultimate green step, as in saying goodbye to golfers all together and becoming a wildlife sanctuary. A conversion from duck hooks to migrating ducks would be rare but comes as the U.S. golfing industry finds itself in a prolonged slump.

Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH: The Squires Country Club is an 18-hole course that sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Privately owned by open to the public, the course has been here since the 1930s. A meticulously mowed 140 acres have been a destination for people from the city of Port Washington or even from Milwaukee just 25 miles away.

But open space in the surrounding rural town of Belgium is slowly disappearing.

(Soundbite of truck)

QUIRMBACH: As he drives a golf cart along one edge of the Squires, Shawn Ralph of the Ozaki Washington Land Trust points to a cluster of large, relatively new homes just to the north.

Mr. SHAWN RALPH (Ozaki Washington Land Trust): You know, everybody needs a place to live but we support compact housing building from municipal centers out. So, when you start jumping into the towns and you start having fragmented little sections of housing developments or commercial developments start up, you're basically bisecting environmental corridors.

QUIRMBACH: Ralph says his organization has never objected to the Squires, but as developers got their hands on the golf course, a migratory bird corridor would be threatened. So, after a local company recently dropped a housing plan for the club, Ralph revived another idea: raise $2.5 million from government and private sources, buy the golf course and turn it into a nature preserve. The Trust has a tentative deal with the course's owner.

(Soundbite of law mower)

QUIRMBACH: As a law mower clips the grass at the 13th tee, Squires co-owner Bruce Blamer says it's time to sell the place. He blames rising gasoline prices for tripling mowing and golf cart costs in recent years. Blamer also says the run-up in gas prices is keeping golfers home.

Mr. BRUCE BLAMER (Co-Owner, The Squires): I mean, when their cost of fuel in their automobiles goes up $250 a month, they just have less money to spend on recreation.

QUIRMBACH: The number of rounds played at golf courses across the country has dropped during this decade. Mike Hughes of the National Golf Course Owners Association says there was a big increase in golf courses in the 1990s.

Mr. MIKE HUGHES (National Golf Course Owners Association): Now, you know, the market's basically shaking out. They're finding the balance between supply and demand. That's what we're observing essentially the last two years. There's been no net increase in golf courses.

(Soundbite of club hitting golf ball)

QUIRMBACH: As Ron Pubello(ph) launches a tee shot at the Squires he also laments the possible loss of this course. Pubello lives nearby and is a member. He says he plenty of sees plenty of nature.

Mr. RON PUBELLO (Golfer): And as I walked the golf course every day like I do, I see birds, I see wildlife. I see everything.

QUIRMBACH: But others who play here say there are other golf courses relatively close by. Ryan Angieski(ph) of Port Washington says he might even walk the wildlife sanctuary.

Mr. RYAN ANGIESKI (Golfer): It's right on the lake so I love the water and the nice breeze that comes off the lake, all the birds. You know, obviously you can hear those. And, I don't know, there's families out here so I'm sure it'd be a good opportunity to either talk to them and take a nice walk.

QUIRMBACH: The Land Trust has until November to raise the money to buy the Squires. Trust officials say fundraising and the current economy is a challenge. But by next year they hope to be tearing out creeping bent grass being used on the greens and substituting native and wild grasses instead.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach.

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