A win-win for golf and the environment in Bristol

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 4/15/21

Meetings on the golf course are nothing new — though the rumble of earth-moving equipment was a constant at this particular one, last Friday morning on the site of the Bristol Golf Course, just …

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A win-win for golf and the environment in Bristol


Meetings on the golf course are nothing new — though the rumble of earth-moving equipment was a constant at this particular one, last Friday morning on the site of the Bristol Golf Course, just west of Ballou Boulevard. The mood was high as town officials met with Save the Bay and a landscape architect to review the progress of this groundbreaking new project. “There’s a lot going on here,” said Ed Tanner, town planner.

“It’s rare to have a win, win, win,” said Council Chairman Nathan Calouro. “But that’s what we have here.”

Topographically, the golf course occupies a high point about where Tupelo Street runs between Hope Street and Metacom Avenue. To the north, water runs downhill to Oyster Point, ending up in the Warren River. To the south, it runs through much of Bristol until it reaches the harbor.

Decades of abuse once saw this watershed at death’s door, though remediation efforts are having an effect. A major 2007 study on the health of the water shows how massive the Silver Creek watershed really is. It covers a good part of the interior of Bristol, encompassing not only the Tupelo Street golf course, but also the Broad Common Road manufacturing corridor, Mt. Hope High School, St. Mary’s Cemetery, and hundreds of private homes. It all adds up to a lot of pressure on an ecosystem that performs its important function best when it is simply left alone.

Contaminants enter the watershed from a variety of potential sources, natural and otherwise. Geese are a huge problem. Their droppings contain compounds that upset the nitrogen balance of the ecosystem. Fertilizers and urban and industrial runoff act much the same way, and it only gets worse downstream. An application of fertilizer, or the droppings of a flock of geese, percolate into the watershed up at the golf course. The contaminated water flows downstream to the high school, where Silver Creek picks up the chemicals from any fertilizer used on fields or nearby lawns, increasing the concentration of pollutants.

The water quality continues to decrease as the water branches, flowing through the cemetery, behind Benjamin Church Manor, and past Guiteras School. By the time creek flows into the brackish pond in front of Guiteras, the water is filthy. Here it receives a final splash of goose before flowing into the harbor with the next falling tide.

It’s environmental stewardship, with a round of golf

The Bristol Golf Course has been on the town’s radar screen for a long time. Mr. Tanner and Community Development Director Diane Williamson have long sought ways to address this issue, while still maintaining that land, purchased by the town in the 1980s as open space, as a recreational facility.

They consulted with Wright-Pierce, an engineering firm which has worked with the town on recent projects at Guiteras School, as well as at the Town Beach. Also on the team: Landscape Architect Tim Gerrish, who specializes in golf course restoration, and Wenley Ferguson, director of restoration with Save the Bay.

“We’ve been discussing this for 10 years,” said Ms. Ferguson, who has been consulting with the town for 25 years, since there was still a Cumberland Farms gas station at Silver Creek. She admitted she was “depressed” when she first heard that the Town was not going to completely return the property to wetland and was still interested in maintaining a golf course. “I originally thought of this as a restoration project, and the town decided to keep a playable course,” said Ms. Ferguson. She soon came around. “This has amazing water quality benefits — I was so excited that the town kept moving forward with this. And Tim is a landscape architect who gets it.”

“I understand Wenley’s goals and how to incorporate them into a golf course,” said Mr. Gerrish.

What’s more, because of the project’s primary goal as a wetland restoration project, federal and state grant money has flowed in, covering the lion’s share of the costs. “We got some good grants,” said Mr. Tanner. “It’s nice that others see the benefit of this.”

Better habitat, better to play

“This never wanted to be a golf course,” said Mr. Tanner, of the sodden wetland that was once pockmarked with concrete pillars, nets, and other atypical golf hazards. “The stormwater from Ballou Boulevard., this industrial cul-de-sac, used to go down the drain and dump into the grass. We’ve intercepted that.” A series of ponds, interconnected streams, and natural features will route the water into a sand filter treatment system.

And it’s all being incorporated into a new, nine-hold, par-3 course that will we interesting and fun to play. “Tim saw what we had here, and he thought through the whole process,” said Mr. Tanner. “He even incorporated a walking path for non-golfers.”

“We’re enhancing the golf course, but at its heart this is a water quality project,” said Mr. Tanner. With a natural stream and water trickling pond to pond, surrounded by natural plantings, the course will be dry, and geese, who like open spaces far from high grasses where predators lurk, should stay away. Much of the southern extension of the course will be allowed to return to its natural state.

Our goal is to connect recreation and the environment,” said Town Administrator Steven Contente. “We can bring in youth groups and have educational exhibits on stormwater, nitrogen levels, and how that impacts the harbor and  shellfish — and they can play golf.”

“It’s a huge investment in the community; we’re going to have something we’re all going to be proud of.”

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