I recently read an old (May/June 2004) article in “Alberta Golf” in which writer Ian MacNeill explored the hotbed issue of the use of herbicides in turfgrass management. The article examined the various implementations of IPM principles that several golf courses in British Columbia were working on at the time, and it can be assumed that more have come into play in the past six years. Things like using human waste fertilizers (don’t lick your golf balls!), effective aeration of ponds, irrigating with non-potable water, replanting the rough with drought-tolerant grass species, and even using different mowing practices (which means the greens may not be absolutely perfect) all contribute to a healthier course with less damaging environmental impact. Many golf courses operate within the confines of parks, rural areas, or are situated on rivers or lakes, and there is a significant risk to wildlife and fish if herbicides and pesticides are used willy-nilly. Backing away from heavy chemical usage (which is also extremely costly) restores the natural balance, and some courses are even encouraging animal and bird populations through construction and placement of osprey platforms, bat boxes, and even owl dens.
It would be interesting to uncover stats regarding just how many Canadian non-golfers support these kind of environmentally-friendly measures that golf course superintendents are attempting – I would expect that the percentage is extremely high, that most people think that golf courses are herbicide and fertilizer hogs and change should be mandatory. But I would bet that Canadian GOLFERS are not so supportive – most of us welcome the chemicals because they mean that our favourite courses are pristine, that our greens are perfect and lacking bumpy patches, that everything is lush and cultured just the way we want. I’m certainly guilty of it: I believe in IPM for the garden, I recycle everything I can, I walk and take public transportation whenever possible…but I expect the golf courses I play to be in excellent condition. Until this perception is broken, it will be difficult for golf courses to become more enviromentally-friendly. A complete ban on herbicides would force the issue, but unless there are non-chemical substitutes to treat certain fungi and other diseases affecting turfgrass, serious problems will occur. As well, manual weeding and other practices that will become necessary without the use of chemicals will drive up labour costs; are golfers willing to pay even more in green fees than they are currently? Yet, when one considers the health concerns associated with chemical use, it’s a no-brainer. Isn’t it?