Living near or playing on a golf course that regularly applies a variety of toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers can put your health at risk. These chemicals can drift or run-off into your yard or garden, and harm local wildlife like declining pollinator populations.
Advocating for safer practices on your local golf course is a difficult undertaking, requiring buy-in from a broad coalition of stakeholders, including neighbors, players, politicians, practitioners, and a range of other community members. If your efforts aren’t successful at first, don’t get discouraged – it can be a learning process for both you, golf course managers, and your community.
State laws vary, but private courses are usually not required to provide logs of their pesticide use, while public courses are often obligated to maintain records. For either case, advocates can contact the course and request this information.* They may or may not provide it; for publicly owned courses, you should be able to reach out to the records department of your local government (usually the city or county clerk’s office) to make an official records request. Use the Pesticide Gateway to find information out about the chemicals used. If you’re concerned about drift, check your state laws to see if notification or posting is required; if not, you can ask for voluntary notification (though without a legal requirement there is no guarantee).
*Note to residents of Vermont: All pesticides allowed for use on golf courses must be permitted by the state. A list and more information is available here.
Contact your local golf course and get in touch with golf course managers about your concerns. Ask if they have an integrated or ecological pest management program on file that you can review. Many have the same apprehensions as you but are in need of more resources and information before moving forward or are not confident that an approach that reduces chemical use will work. You may also be stonewalled; but keep working on making connections and always stay positive in your messaging.
Show golf course managers and superintendents examples of other golf courses that are moving towards safer practices, like The Vineyard Golf Club (Massachusetts), Lakewood Golf Course (Oregon), Applewood Golf Course (Colorado), and Wawona Golf Course (California).
If working directly with a golf course isn’t moving the needle forward, consider reworking your strategy. An increasing number of pesticide reform laws are including public golf courses in their organic policies. Advocating for a community pesticide law will also bring protections to a broader range of residents.
Ex: Portland and South Portland, ME both passed strong community pesticide laws that restrict a range of toxic pesticides. Golf courses were phased into the law over the course of several years. The use of any toxic pesticides is disallowed unless the course is designated through Audubon International as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. While this designation alone is unlikely to end pesticide use, it helps provide an incentive for the course to move in the direction of safer and more natural practices.
Ex: In Ontario, Canada, golf courses are granted an exception to the Province’s cosmetic pesticide ban only if certain conditions are met. The course must have an approved Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan on file, and keep records of all toxic pesticide use, annually posting these records to a publicly accessible website each year. An annual report must discuss why and how each toxic pesticide was used, how pesticide use was minimized, and how the course plans to further minimize use in subsequent years.
See Beyond Pesticides Tools for Change page for more information about organizing your community. Persistence is the key with any advocacy effort. If you get stuck or need information or support, contact Beyond Pesticides at [email protected] or 202-543-5450.