Golf Course & Conservation Community Blooming Near Augusta

The developers of a golf course and housing within a new community in Evans, Ga., are carefully making sure that minimal upheaval will occur to the surrounding environment. Located on property once owned by William Bartram, an American botanist and naturalist who catalogued nearly all native flora and fauna in the Southeast, the Bartram Trail Golf Club will preserve green space as well as the legacy of its namesake.

Under Columbia County guidelines, the project’s developer, Blanchard and Calhoun Real Estate Co., could have carved out of the 900-acre site upwards of 1,700 housing lots. But nearly one-fifth of the property will be preserved during construction, making the project the first example of a “conservation community” in the Augusta area.

“We’re trying to encourage responsible development,” said Turner Simkins, a senior development consultant for the developer. “There’s so much of our countryside blighted with the same old thing.”

Only 800 homes will be developed, along with a par-72 golf course designed by Robbins & Associates International of Cary, N.C. The 200 acres of protected wilderness include an old-growth section of hardwood trees, a rarity in the South, and a 3-acre African-American cemetery that dates back to the early 20th century.

The golf course is being developed by a separate nonprofit corporation – Bartram Trail CDC, which will then deed it to Columbia County after its $8.1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan is paid off in 30 years. This financing approach frees Blanchard and Calhoun Real Estate from carrying extra debt, while allowing the company to not be so concerned with developing every since square inch of the property. It will also result in a municipal golf course that was built without using a dime from county taxpayers.

In comments to reporter Damon Cline of The Augusta Chronicle, Jeff Westmoreland of Robbins & Associates said the course was designed to fit the property’s topography. “This golf course wasn’t forced on the land,” Westmoreland said. “It really represents how we like to do projects.”

To fulfill that mission of disturbing as little of the land as possible, several areas were cleared by hand instead of bulldozers. Instead of moving over 1 million yards of dirt, as is typical of many new modern courses, roughly a fourth of that was shifted during the construction of Bartram Trail. Perhaps best of all, there have been no extra costs associated with this “minimalist” approach.

“There may be additional costs as far as erosion-control items, but that is balanced out by the minimized cost of the earthwork. In the end, you get the same product,” said Steve Ganong of the course’s builder, Ryan Incorporated Central of Janesville, Wis.

In conjunction with Bartram Trail’s eye on preserving the environment, about 40 acres of the golf turf will be in the form of native grasses, which allow maintenance workers to use less fertilizer and related chemicals. The course, slated to open in summer 2005, will also receive Silver Signature Certification from Audubon International.

Natalie Archambault, a project administrator for the group, said Bartram Trail’s course will be one of only 44 in the nation and one of only two in Georgia with that lofty certification, which requires developers to make conservation a priority during the planning stages. “The whole idea of the signature program is, instead of telling people after the fact what they’ve done wrong, we teach them how to do it right from the beginning,” Archambault told Cline.

The conservation approach seems to be working. Nearly a month after sales went public, there was a waiting list of 200 people who wanted to buy a lot at Bartram Trail. Deke Copenhaver, the executive director of the Savannah River Land Trust, said he’s glad the project’s developer views green-space preservation as a virtue. “These guys (developers) are bottom-line oriented,” he said. “So they wouldn’t be doing this unless it was a win-win.”