South Korea’s River Bend Golf Course welcomes vampires, bats

Superintendent Brent Borelli and his staff work to encourage biodiversity at the South Korea course.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
A juvenile “vampire deer” in an out-of-play area at River Bend Golf Course in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. Photo by Brent Borelli

Snakeheads, racoon dogs, leopard cats and vampire deer might sound like the stuff of nightmares, but Brent Borelli and the staff at River Bend Golf Course go to great lengths to ensure those creepy (sounding) critters are as comfortable — and plentiful — as can be.

“I have always been fascinated with science — wildlife, bugs and Mother Nature,” says Borelli, a 26-year member of GCSAA and superintendent at the Pyeongtaek, South Korea, golf course since before it opened in 2019. “This was a big part of what drew me into becoming a superintendent. There’s nothing like seeing a moose, bear, fox, racoon dog, raptors, etc., in their natural habitat. It beats working in an office and not seeing the light of day.”

Borelli, a South Portland, Maine, native, hasn’t been able to avoid that fate entirely. Summers in South Korea mean monsoons, which Borelli describes as “brutal.”

“June, July and August are hot, humid and wet,” he says. “It’s Mother Nature’s incubation chamber. You need to be on your toes to keep your cool-season greens and tees alive. You really need to go into summer with healthy turf and roots. This year has been an extremely wet monsoon. So far so good. I have mad respect for Korean superintendents. Keeping cool-season grass alive in the summer is an art when it’s 85 to 95 degrees, you’re saturated, and humidity is through the roof.”

The Robert Trent Jones II-designed course, located at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, features zoysiagrass fairways and roughs, T1 bentgrass greens and Midnight Kentucky bluegrass tees.

Those disparate turfgrasses and the rest of the greenery are a feature, not a bug, at the course, which is sandwiched between the Anseong River and barracks and other buildings that make up the largest U.S. military installation overseas.

“We are the retention area for much of the Army garrison,” Borelli explains. “Monsoon floodwaters come to the course. The course is designed to flood and keep the garrison and its buildings from flooding.”

Because of that, and with the local wildlife (most of which is far more benign than their names would suggest) in mind, Borelli and staff are quite deliberate in their management.

“The marshland ecosystem factors in pretty much every decision we make at River Bend,” Borelli says. “We want to keep the waters clean. Water and bank vegetation are nature’s filtration of the waterways, so we keep them at good heights for controlling runoff and erosion and maximize filtration. I spoon-feed all areas of the course with slow-release fertilizers, for the most part. We also try to spray least-harmful pesticides and biologicals first. We use orange peel oil for some insects, and I have been experimenting with nanotechnology the past few years, using lower rates for better control and efficacy of both fertilizers and fungicides.”

Late last year, River Bend GC was designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary from Audubon International. It’s the only course in South Korea to get that designation and one of six U.S. military courses.

Now, about those ghastly cohabitants …

A snakehead is just a fish. A racoon dog is a small, stocky relative of foxes. Leopard cats are simply wild felines about the size of a domestic cat. And vampire deer? The water deer feature long, curved canine teeth that jut out well past their bottom jaws. Lest the image take up residence in anyone’s bad dreams, know that they’re used only by bucks to defend territory and when competing for mates … and the little darlings stand only 2- or 3-feet tall. “They are bizarre looking,” Borelli concedes.

The forementioned species and more, including a wide variety of native and migratory birds, are featured on informative displays in the clubhouse, and Borelli has had youth groups out to construct and install bird houses. A group of scouts now is working on bat houses, because what’s a vampire deer to do without a corresponding bat?

“I am hoping we can get a colony of bats established,” Borelli says. “Eventually, they may help decrease our cutworm/moth population and possibly mosquitoes. Cutworms are a constant battle on the greens.”

Judging from reactions Borelli has heard from those who regularly play the year-round course, he and the staff are winning that battle and most others at River Bend.

“I love working for the military forces,” he says. “I like making a difference in their lives. If I can make a soldier forget about their jobs and escape for a few hours on the course, I’ve done my job. I love it when I hear, ‘This is a military course? Wow, I cannot believe the facility and the playing conditions.’ There is no better satisfaction for me.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.