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Golf courses without pesticides…

A knowledgeable source with Audubon credentials informed me that there are now five golf courses that are pesticide-free. He did not specify if these five were located in Canada, the North American continent or indeed the world. I assume the latter and in that case I have played two of them: A 9-holer in Katmandu, Nepal with sand greens and another in the interior of New Zealand, also 9 holes and grazed by 489 sheep and fenced in greens. At the latter, the stench of sheep dung was so strong and omni-present that I concluded it had fungicidal properties that made spraying redundant. Since my visit, the greens in Kathmandu have been grassed.

I have played two of them: A 9-holer in Katmandu, Nepal with sand greens and another in the interior of New Zealand, also 9 holes and grazed by 489 sheep and fenced in greens…

There are parts of Canada on both east and west coast where the summertime highs rarely exceed 80° F. In fact I have heard it said that in Newfoundland the fog rarely lifts. Some years ago I helped built a green in Labrador during mid-June and we had to clear the snow before we could do the shaping. In southern Ontario our conditions are similar to American Great Lake states: It gets hot and humid for about 100 days during the summer, a time to test the mettle of the keepers of the green.

Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province but home to ten of Canada's best golf courses, will soon join the ranks of the pesticide-free.

Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province but home to ten of Canada's best golf courses, will soon join the ranks of the pesticide-free.

As you already know, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec prohibit the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes with the stipulation that golf courses are (temporarily) exempt. Now the tiny province of Prince Edward Island in the chilly Gulf of St. Lawrence is about to follow suit. That will make it three out of ten provinces with such policies. Other left leaning provinces such as Manitoba, British Columbia and Nova Scotia are sure to fall in step. I predict that the golf course exemption will be removed a few years hence.

Now lets look at the implications of a worst-case scenario: A total ban on pesticides on Canada’s golf courses. Broadleaf weeds such as clover, dandelions, plantain, etc., are not really a problem on fairways tees and greens because such areas are fertilized intensively and weeds generally can’t compete in the vigorous grass sward.

The roughs are another matter. Golfers will have to learn to tolerate a few weeds in those areas. But what about the stands of pure fescue in “native” areas so heralded by the Audubon Society? Some of my best friends now spray the fescue on a regular basis. Without pesticides, they won’t look so pretty when interspersed with thistles, milkweed and goldenrod.

If and when pesticide use is totally banned from golf courses, even native areas like these fescue roughs at the Devil's Pulpit will be in jeopardy.

If and when pesticide use is totally banned from golf courses, even native areas like these fescue roughs at the Devil's Pulpit will be in jeopardy.

Our major fungus-related problems are snow mold/winterkill from coast to coast and Dollar Spot in the Great Lakes region. While I was an active superintendent I often omitted preventative sprays for snowmold for budgetary reasons and with no ill effects most of the time.

Dollar Spot is another matter. Some superintendents grow DS-resistant bentgrass varieties and others include fescues in their fairway mix and raise the height of cut. But when nighttime lows rise above 70F for any length of time, disease activity increases exponentially. Without treatment the grass will suffer and may even become unplayable, especially on greens.

As for insects, they seem to be a cyclical problem. Some years you get them and some years you don’t. We can live with that.

In many ways we superintendents have promoted the use of pesticides to excess as a result of our maintenance practices. Whatever happened to the good old days when greens were cut at .250 inches and fairways at a full inch? Chemical sprays were a rarity and a minor budgetary item. The introduction of the stimp meter changed all that. We have tipped the scales of sanity and only have ourselves to blame. As one nameless superintendent said: “If I could ignore the top 5% of my golfers — the single digit players — I could reduce my maintenance budget 20%”. So I warn my American colleagues that what’s happening north of the border may eventually find adherents to the South, as has already happened in California. Remember healthcare! It’s only a matter of time.

2 Responses to “Golf courses without pesticides…”

  • Chuck Barber:

    Why the ban on cosmetic pesticides? What is deemed cosmetic? Who, exactly, has been using pesticides to excess? Where does the Canadian EPA draw these conclusions from? What science do they reference? What qualifies as ‘excess’? Governmental agencies make new chemistry’s jump through thirty some years of hoops to ensure they are safe. I understand why people get the impression that “pesticides are bad”. We didn’t do ourselves any favors by relying on mercury and other elementals for the build-up of golf worldwide. Did anyone bother telling the Canadian EPA that Emerald provides up to 45 days of DS control at .18 oz/thousand sq ft? Things have changed. I agree that the war will be won with new grass varieties that are more tolerant of environmental stresses but I think banning pesticides altogether at the outset of a new world of safer chemistry’ is politicking for its own sake. Those same lawmakers are members of clubs that push the stimpmeter, the mowing heights, etc that you reference. Hypocrisy is a stinky cologne.

  • Gordon Witteveen:

    Thank you for your informative comments. Unfortunately, they would fall on deaf ears in most of Canada because pesticides are an emotional issue not based on science. Furthermore in our country individual provinces have the power to legislate what they believe to be good for their residents. Our federal government cannot and will not overrule the provinces on such matters.

    I think that it is only a matter of the time for the golf course exemption to be done away with. I base that on what I hear and see in the community where I live and what I read in newspapers and periodicals.