Is that a turtle crossing the fairway? Quite possibly: According to new research, golf courses can provide ideal homes for turtles, reports National Geographic News as part of a series on global water issues.

University of Kentucky herpetologist Steven Price and colleagues examined turtles in Charlotte, N.C., netting turtles in ponds on golf courses, cow pastures and local parks.

The ponds on the golf courses seem to be “providing something that other ponds are not,” he told National Geographic. It’s not clear exactly what, although the vast open spaces of golf courses are good for turtle nests.

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The researchers found painted turtles and sliders in similar rates at the golf courses and farm ponds, and golf courses boast a greater variety of species.

Turtles seemed to prefer golf courses with the least amount of development, however: “If golf courses are to be seen as reserves for wetland-dependent animals, golf courses with low housing density should be considered as a more preferable option than courses associated with extensive residential development,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of Herpetology.

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“There’s potential for (courses) to be really good habitat if they’re managed properly,” said Davidson College herpetologist Jacquelyn Guzy, one of the researchers.

And not all courses are, researchers are quick to point out. Courses with lots of space left wild in addition to the groomed fairways offer habitat for many types of animals. But courses without trees that are completely manicured do not.

Photo:  A group of turtles sun themselves by the 16th green at the 2013 Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., on April 8, 2013. Credit: Phil Noble/Corbis