(Beyond Pesticides, August 24, 2009) While the media is expecting President Obama to head for a golf date with Tiger Woods this week during his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, environmental and public health advocates are applauding his choice of a course that uses organic practices. Conventional golf course management practices have long been associated with environmental contamination, including impacts on wildlife and waterways, and health hazards. The Vineyard Golf Club (VGC) was featured in an article on the hazards and promise of golf course management in an article in Golf Digest in May 2008. The article, How Green is Golf?, asks the hard questions about the environmental impact of golf in a series of in-depth interviews with the golf course superintendent of VGC, Jeff Carlson, a golf course builder, golf course superintendent, regulator and environmentalists, including Beyond Pesticides’ Jay Feldman.
Other courses around the country are striving for ways to reduce the environmental impact of golf course management, some adopting integrated pest management (IPM) techniques that reduce pesticide use. The question, of course, is whether the continued use of poisons in sensitive ecosystems with techniques that are not adhering to organic turf management practices are adequate in protecting human health and the environment.
Golf courses can have fast greens and outstanding playing conditions without the massive load of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and the crew at Bethpage State Park’s world-renowned golf courses, the largest public golf complex in the country, is out to prove it. For their involvement in nearly a decade of groundbreaking research to develop, test, and fine-tune techniques that steeply cut chemical inputs, Dave Catalano, Andy Wilson, Craig Currier and Kathie Wegman have earned an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYS IPM) Program at Cornell University.
Golf courses are often faulted for heavy pesticide use. According to Cornell, the Bethpage project has cut environmental impact up to 96 percent over conventional practices — and this in a climate where weather conditions and heavy foot traffic from 250,000 golfers each year ensure constant disease pressure. Home of the 2009 US Open, Bethpage State Park comprises five separate golf courses on its 1,500 acres in the heart of densely populated Long Island, just 25 miles east of the New York City line.
“We can’t emphasize enough how important long-term, real-world research is,” says Jennifer Grant, assistant director of NYS IPM, who coordinates turf IPM research. “You don’t get truly useful results until you’ve tested your work over time, keeping what works and incorporating promising new practices and products.”
When Mr. Wilson is out on the green with his stimpmeter or moisture probe and a golfer asks what he’s up to, the conversation could easily cut to the new tactics and products the crews are testing to deliver quality conditions with lower inputs. Wilson supervises Bethpage’s aptly named Green Course, where core IPM practices are developed.
That stimpmeter, for example, measures how fast the ball rolls, something golfers care a lot about. It tells Wilson more–tells him whether IPM greens provide the same level of play.
But when Wilson talks to other golf-course superintendents, he cuts to the essential ingredient in high-level IPM — careful recordkeeping. “It keeps your mind sharp, helping you think through alternate solutions to typical problems instead of falling back on the tried and true,” Wilson says.
Just as essential is scouting — monitoring greens and fairways for insect, weed, and plant disease pests.
“Scouting can be as low-tech as flushing insects from the turf with a lemon soap solution, or as high tech as looking at root pieces through a microscope to precisely identify a disease,” says Ms. Wegman, Bethpage’s IPM specialist. “We find out where the hot spots are and treat them, which lessens or even eliminates the need to spray.”
But can steeply cutting pesticide use really produce satisfactory play? “Surveys consistently show high golfer satisfaction with IPM-managed greens at Bethpage,” says Frank Rossi, professor and turf specialist at Cornell University. “This has been a monumental project, both in scope and impact.”
IPM relies on non- and least-toxic ways of preventing and managing pest problems that minimizes the use of pesticides and the hazards to human health and the environment associated with pesticide applications. Such methods include site and pest inspections, pest population monitoring, an evaluation of the need for pest control, cultural, mechanical and biological control strategies, and, if non-toxic options are unreasonable and have been exhausted, the least-toxic pesticide.
In what it called the most important article it has ever published, Golf Digest in its May 2008 issue publishes an article, How Green is Golf?, which asked the hard questions about the environmental impact of golf in a series of in-depth interviews, including a builder, golf course superintendent, regulator and environmentalist. The article spans a range of opinions on water usage, pesticide contamination, and management practices, with general agreement that golfer expectations and management practices must move and are moving in an environmental direction, citing important ways in which attitudes and understanding must change.
For more information on issues surrounding pesticides and golf, see Beyond Pesticides Golf and the Environment program page. If you like to golf or live near a golf course, check out the Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United States, a set of principles jointly developed by a group of leading golf and environmental organizations that seeks to produce environmental excellence in golf course planning and siting, design, construction, maintenance and facility operations, and encourage your local golf course to adopt these principles.