Bighorns Taking To La Quinta Courses, Fence Proposed

As we get ready to see the PGA Tour head to La Quinta, longtime viewers know that a curious thing has happened: the bighorn sheep, once so rarely seen, now regularly come down to hang out on the Santa Rosa-adjacent courses. In recent years they've been lounging, bathing and eating as the Hope/Clinton/Careerbuilder has been concluding on PGA West's Arnold Palmer course (the Stadium Course now hosts the final round).

But as Louis Sahagun notes for the LA Times, La Quinta golf courses are resisting calls to install a fence that would stop the majestic creatures from setting foot on golf properties.

It's a bizarre and refreshing twist to see golf embracing the invasion of wildlife while environmentalists understandably want to protect the animals--even as they appear mostly content and safe. Except when they cross streets.

But the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club recently filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the city of La Quinta for failing to implement the barrier fencing requirements of a conservation plan designed to protect the endangered bighorns.

The Coachella Valley Multiple Species Conservation Plan requires that fences be installed within two years if bighorns roam onto urban places where they are subject to injury, or even death, from vehicle strikes, drowning in canals and swimming pools, eating toxic plants, exposure to respiratory diseases and ingestion of intestinal parasites present in watered lawns.

“How could it be that a wealthy capital of gated communities is balking at putting up relatively inexpensive fences to save these magnificent animals?” Ileene Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “All this obstinance by officials, agencies and golf club managers is heartbreaking.”

Twelve sheep have perished since 2012, with four drowning in the canal and one ingesting oleander leaves at PGA West.

Part of the resistance to the fence has to do with an affinity for the sheep, which indirectly creates interest in helping them survive and creating greater appreciation of a rare species.

The dispute hinges on a concern that barrier fences could destroy the ambience of sagebrush and steep slopes rising up from the fairways, and violate private property rights to reject the structures. Beyond that, bighorns are adored by golfers, golf club managers say, and benefit from the abundance of nourishment.

In an interview in his office on a rocky outcropping, Randy Duncan, general manager at SilverRock, smiled and said, “Golfers love these guys. Two weeks ago, we had 50 bighorns on the property happily eating and drinking.”

Rams have been seen bucking horns during mating season. However, “to my knowledge,” Duncan said, “no one has ever hit a bighorn with a golf ball.”