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There’s No Time Like Tee Time…For an Environmentalist?

Posted by Jenn Collins on April 20, 2021

The sun is shining and the warm weather is just around the corner, which means… “Fore!” Golf is back in full swing! Golf has grown to be quite the popular pastime in the United States, with over 14,000 golf facilities across the country at the end of 2020 and 36.9 million Americans (more than 12% of the population) participating in golf activities[1]. It’s certainly not uncommon to find our staff out on the course during the weekends. Senior Scientist, Dean Desmarteau, probably holds the title for Waterborne’s most avid golfer. He’s played for most of his life and even had the opportunity to keep score for Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson while volunteering during a Champions Tour event in Kansas City.  For many, and perhaps this year especially, the golf course is a sprawling green outdoor respite; a break from the home office and computer screen. And while for some hitting the greens may seem like a walk through nature, golf courses’ beautiful landscapes are far from naturally occurring.

Golf courses typically range from about 110 acres (in an urban setting) to about 200 acres (resort areas) and include sprawling grass areas, pesky water features, hard structures, and out-of-play areas. As with many agricultural businesses, these areas must be maintained according to strict environmental regulations. Which environmental regulations apply depends on what the particular golf course area in question houses, such as fuel storage (for maintenance equipment and golf carts), agrochemical use, and turf irrigation, just to name a few. All of this is to say that the behind-the- scenes work required to keep the course looking spectacular are far from simple.

Generally agrochemicals are applied as spot treatments to specific parts of the course like those around holes, tees, greens and fairways. The use of all agrochemical products in the US, including uses on golf courses, requires comprehensive scrutiny through testing and regulation and federal law requires that the US EPA must evaluate all pesticide use to ensure that they meet the strict safety standards designed to protect ecological and human health. For a product to be registered under federal regulations, any potential hazards from toxicological effects and routes of exposure from proposed uses must first be thoroughly vetted during the product’s risk assessment process.

For this reason, the maintenance staff at your local course includes licensed applicators well versed and educated on the properuse of agrochemicals. Product labels are extremely detailed regarding the amount applied as well as the specific time of day and environmental conditions allowed for application (e.g., morning versus evening, precipitation versus none, <10 mph wind speed, and direction).  Additionally, labels will specify the type of equipment and nozzles to use to apply. 

Unsurprisingly, irrigation is also key in the upkeep of golf courses.  Each state has very specific irrigation requirements, so the procedures would be quite different on a course in Arizona compared with a course in Virginia. Between the treated greens and their corresponding undulating terrain, plus the course ponds themselves, there are plenty of water points that must be monitored and protected within the golf course setting.

As with other environmental regulations, best management practices continue to evolve and continuous education of maintenance staff is required to ensure irrigation, chemical use and nutrient loading through fertilization is conducted in a way to protect the local ecology. In order to provide education related to federal regulations, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), along with its’ philanthropic group, Environmental Institutes of Golf, developed the Golf Course Environmental Profile which is a comprehensive environmental profile of golf courses in the United States. This profile helps to convey accurate land use, management of natural resources and environmental stewardship activities. These surveys are used to document environmental practice changes over time, assist in the future direction of GCSAA environmental efforts, respond to governmental and public inquiries, and provide the foundation for comments on proposed regulatory issues.

So the next time you’re teeing off, hopefully you’ll have a better appreciation of the years of work and regulation it has taken to keep the course lush and green, while also keeping nearby non-target ecology and water ways safe. These are just a few things that are helping to maintain our golf courses in tip top condition so that avid golfers, including Dean, can continue to spend weekends driving on the fairway and putting on the green.

[1] https://www.ngf.org/golf-industry-research