Credit: Vincent L. Long
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An entrepreneur with an ecological outlook, Rena Merchant decided that there had to be a way to tee off that wasn't toxic.
"I was sick of being sprayed whenever I played on conventional [golf] courses. The people I played with complained of migraines, itchy skin and eyes," she says.
So in 2001, Merchant, co-founder of surf clothing brand Billabong, opened Kabi Golf Course. About 25 minutes drive from Noosa at Boreen Point, it takes its name from the local indigenous people. The Queensland course is 100% certified organic.
Merchant, a self-described "old hippie from way back", has been eating organically for 25 years, but says that people still think of organic living as a mildewy habit left over from the '70s.
"The golf course idea started out as fun, but now it's serious," she says.
At Kabi, spraying has never entered the equation. Instead, seasonal weeds are controlled mainly by hand-weeding.
Pests such as mole crickets, black beetles and ants are kept in check through biodynamic practices and the use of various botanical oils.
Mulch around trees increases drainage from the greens and improves the soil. In addition, pinto peanut (Arachis pintoi), a low-growing legume, is grown around the treebases. This 'living mulch' suppresses the growth of weeds, increases the soil's available nitrogen and water retention and protects topsoil from wind and water erosion.
Troy MacLaren, Kabi's superintendent greenskeeper, has worked at some big-name courses on the Gold Coast and he says Kabi does everything differently. The secret ingredient to Kabi's success, he says, is vermicast, or worm poo.
"We take worm vermicast one step further and brew our own compost tea," he says.
Air, water and heat are applied to grass clippings, newspaper and worm droppings to create a liquid that's sprayed back on the course.
Not only does an organic course make a safer environment for the golfer, it also prevents toxic run-off into waterways and reduces impact on the native habitat and species.
Winner of the 2004 Sunshine Coast Environment Council's Sustainable Eco-Tourism Award, Kabi aims to go a step further and become as self-sufficient as possible.
"It's about showing that we can combine recreation, food production and a wildlife sanctuary in one place. Why can't we all share the environment?" Merchant asks.
"Why do golf courses have to plunder the native vegetation and replace it with palm trees and grass that need so much maintenance?"
The challenges have been many and diverse.
"The council is supportive now, but at that time, they couldn't understand that we actually intended to farm on the golf course, not plant ornamental trees," she says.
They also endured 18 months of pouring rain, which hampered construction and led to massive delays. "In hindsight, the rain was a godsend. It meant we were able to find out where the wet areas were, the best areas for the dams."
Kabi's golf component consists of an 18-hole par 3-course and a 9-hole 'Orchard 9', through the organic citrus orchards.
The golf course and orchard are certified by the Biological Farmers of Australia, a not-for-profit association that promotes organic farming; this makes Kabi the only golf course in Australia to hold such a distinction.
It's not a rubber stamp, says Andrew Walkley, general manager and PGA professional: "The BFA requires soil samples, water analysis and weather reports as well as fertiliser inputs, all of which must meet stringent guidelines."
Even the clubhouse itself is recycled, built in 1898 by William Olds as a holiday home in Noosaville. In 2000, the cottage was relocated to Kabi and has since been restored in every colonial detail.
The produce from the orchard is used in Riordan's restaurant at Kabi and sold to the Brisbane Organic markets.
Kabi is able to draw on the largesse of its sister properties, including Trickle Creek about 15 km away, where organic beef is raised along with the restaurant's supply of eggs.
The property also relies on its own dams for water. And the composting toilets reduce water usage.
There is certainly room for improvement, admits Walkley, including implementing solar power, and electric or battery powered machines.
The response of golfers - from tourists to professionals - has been positive. The fact that Kabi has attracted two Pro-Ams in the past two years is testament to that.