Sentosa Golf Club is buzzing. And that applies in every sense of the word. Aside from capturing an array of honours for hosting prestigious championships, the club in Singapore has been an out-and-out winner on the ecology front. Here, its strength lies in helping to replenish the bee population at a time when these insects have been declared, “the most important living beings on this planet.”
No less an expert than Albert Einstein was alleged to have said, “If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live.” Though, thankfully, there is no evidence as yet to prove that point, it is a fact that 75 percent of the world’s food depends exclusively on bees. No less interesting at the moment is how they are the only living creatures who do not carry any type of pathogen.
An American, Andy Johnston, the general manager and director of agronomy at Sentosa, began on his bee project after revisiting Florida’s Broken Sound Club, where he had been involved in a course redesign. Shannon Easter, the director of golf at Broken Sound, seized the chance to show him his bee colonies and was not too far into describing the reasoning behind them when Johnston decided to follow suit at Sentosa.
He knew the idea would be a perfect fit for an island which looks after its wildlife as nowhere else. Indeed, animals in Singapore are so unfazed by humans that you can see otters lying out in the sun in the marina. By way of demonstrating his excitement for the new venture Johnston recalled how he had dealt with the bees nest beside the outdoor dining area which had taken root in his absence. “Previously, I would have exterminated the creatures,” he said. “Thanks to what I learned from Easter, I set about relocating them.”
So how did the Sentosa members feel about Johnston’s bees?
For a start, their main concern – one of getting stung – was not a problem. The bees at Sentosa are of the “stingless” variety but they can give predators a little nip should they feel their colony is under attack. Though Tony Jacklin, the former US Open and Open champion, once complained, darkly, about some “over-loud buzzing” at an overseas event, the Sentosa members had no worries on that score.
What worried them rather more was that the new arrivals might buzz round their heads while they were trying to hole a nasty 5-footer. The solution, which had been given to Johnston by Easter, was nothing short of ingenious. Would you believe that bees, like golfers, can be trained to change their flight path. In the bees’ case, it is simply a matter of adjusting their hives to encourage a steeper take-off.
Bees are smart. Scientists at the Queen Mary University in London – they may or may not have been golfers – trained bumble bees to roll balls into holes for rewards. (The experiment can be viewed on a Youtube video dating to February 2017.)
Johnston expects to have 10 colonies, some of which will be more of the honey-making variety than the originals, by the end of this year. A few will be sited near the first four around the famous pyramid at the back of the fourth hole, while the rest will be dotted around other areas where golf balls seldom stray. As he points out, any number of the courses around the world would have room to follow suit.
Some went down that path long ago, with Cantigny Golf, near Chicago, just one for whom the exercise has proved eminently worthwhile. Scott Witte, the longtime superintendent who has set up six hives over the last 16 years, along with some wild hives in the trees, tells how having bees made him understand more about the balance of nature. Indeed, one of the first questions he asked of himself was along the lines, “Why would I want to apply chemicals that would kill my bees?”
At Sentosa, Johnston has been helped by John Chong, the founder of Bee Amazed, an enterprise which runs a visitor centre in Singapore where people can learn about the bees’ role as pollinators. Chong’s first observation was that more local plant material needed to be included among Sentosa’s wealth of exotic plants.
As long as there is the suitable food source that Chong recommended, the bees can look after themselves, though they are checked on a weekly basis to make sure that they are not being disturbed by ants and other pests. Apparently, the sight of the pollens is an indication that the queen – a typical colony consists of one queen bee, worker bees, and drones during the mating season – is laying new eggs as the pollens provide proteins for the larvae.
If anyone mentions a queen bee at Sentosa, the members are apt to check on whether that person is talking “bees” or Paula Creamer. That former US Women’s Open champion is the player who so added to Sentosa’s name and fame in 2014 when she holed a 75-foot eagle putt there to win the HSBC Championship from Spain’s Azahara Muñoz.
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