Nine months ago, a man called Paul was on a golf course. “Hmm”, he thought, as he picked out a new club to replace the one he’d somehow bent on a particularly hard piece of air. “Looks like there are a fair number of trees around here. That probably means possums”.

Most people would have shrugged the thought off, but Paul had a secret identity – he ran the CREST conservation group that covers the length of the Manukau Harbour from Karaka to Clarks Beach. And this was the Clarks Beach Golf Course.

“Wouldn’t it be nice”, mused Paul as he sliced another divot off the green, sending it spinning miles out into the open sea, “If we could get some good predator control going here. I mean, it’s really close to the beach, which would be good for the dotterels, and tūis would probably like these trees, and – “

At this point he rocketed his last ball past a somewhat confused magpie into the middle distance, and was forced to retreat to the clubhouse.

But the idea of a pest-free golf course stayed with him on the walk, and whilst drowning his sorrows in a cool beer, he ended up chatting about it to a lifetime member of the golf club called Lew White.
“Sure”, said Lew. “We lease the golf course land from Auckland Council, and they’re pretty keen on this pest control stuff too. I reckon they wouldn’t mind if we set something up between us. Let’s try a few traps”.

So in April, the CREST provided Lew with 15 “Flipping Timmy” possum traps, which went up on trees all over the golf course. Lew and a keen young man called Reon checked them every morning and evening, and the results were incredible – between eight and twelve possums every night. Over the first ten days they got 82 possums! None of the golfers seemed to mind the trapping, nor did the dog-walkers who used the course. One lady did say she’d seen a dead possum hanging out of a trap, but she wasn’t upset by it. Her dog’s opinion about the dead possum remains unknown, but is presumed to be favourable.

“It’s going really well”, said Paul to Lew, “but Reon’s noticing a lot of rat poo around when he’s clearing the possum traps. Could we do something about them as well?”
“Can’t put rat traps down”, said Lew. “All the golfers’d be catching their fingers in them trying to get the golf balls out”.
“Oh no,” said Paul. “We could use bait stations. Much safer”.
Lew regarded him suspiciously, but then the light of inspiration flickered in his eyes. “We’ll give it a go”, he said. “But only if you promise to use foot-long tees on every round you play here from now on. Deal?”
“Deal”, said Paul solemnly, and they shook on it.

So twenty brand new Pied Piper rat bait stations went out, and signs went up, and Reon checked and filled the bait stations. The initial bait take-up was huge but after a while it settled down so Reon only needed to fill them each school holiday. A sign that the rat population was thoroughly supressed. Meanwhile the possum catch in the traps had dropped to only about six per week, so Paul organised a few Philproof bait stations to mop up any stray possums and keep the population down. A few Doc200 traps in boxes went in to cover other pests like stoats (and they also caught a few rats).

Every pest control device was logged on TrapNZ, so progress could be tracked. After a month of baiting, Reon put out some wax tags to see how many pests were left. He found a few chew marks in places well away from where the traps and bait were. Places that would soon be covered! Reon set off at speed, with a gleam in his eye.

And that is the story of how Clarks Beach Golf Course is not only the top-voted golf course in New Zealand, but may also now be the most pest-free golf course in New Zealand.

And the best thing about this? The recovery of the birds.

Before Lew and Reon started their work there were no tūi or kingfishers on the course, or indeed any birds except magpies and sparrows. Now, wherever you are on the course you can see or hear a tūi or a kingfisher. In some places you can spot ten or more tūi at once. There are berries hanging on trees which would once have been stripped bare by the pests.

In short, it’s full of birdies.

So if you think your local golf course needs more birdies, then have a chat with them about following the example of Clarks Beach. If they say it’s too hard, get them to call Lew to get the lowdown on the benefits. He’s gotten pretty keen about pest control now he’s seeing the results. Meanwhile, Reon has learned heaps about trapping and baiting, and he’s also become a pretty good photographer. In fact, all of the photos in this article were taken by him out on the golf course.

And Paul? They say that sometimes, on a cool and misty morning, if you listen very hard, far away you can hear the cry of a man shouting: “Bugger! I’ve lost another ball”.