Best Management Practices for Golf Courses

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Environmental Impacts
Site Selection, Construction and Design Practices
Uses of Pestisides
Uses of Fertilizers
Golfer Involvement
Golf Course Regulations in Indiana
Courses in Bloomington
Recommendations for Bloomington
Acknowledgements
Footnotes

Introduction

The topic of golf courses can elicit extremely different responses from different people. Some will point out the joys of the game and being outdoors, while others bash them for polluting and disrupting Mother Nature. The bottom line, however, is that golf is here to stay. There are currently 16,365 golf courses in the United States and more are on the way (1) . With golf's popularity increasing in the United States, more and more courses are being built every year to meet the growing demand. The rate of golf course construction has increased from 150 to more than 400 per year in the last 10 years.

Golf courses do have many benefits to the people who use them and live around them. The most obvious benefit of golf courses is that they offer wonderful recreation to men and women of all ages. In addition, their presence increases property values and the aesthetics of the surrounding area, as well as creating jobs and economic growth. A course also has a cooling effect on temperatures and reduces noise levels. Perhaps most importantly, a golf course creates or preserves greenspace on land that might otherwise be paved over.

However, the effects of golf courses are not all positive. There are many potential environmental problems caused by golf course construction and management. During construction the land is disturbed with earth moving and there is a large potential for erosion. Trees may need to be cut down or meadows bulldozed. After the course is established, the huge task of maintaining it begins. Golf course management requires fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and the application of massive amounts of water to the turf. With these practices come the risks of human exposure to dangerous chemicals, contamination of groundwater, disturbance of adjacent ecosystems, and harm to non-target plants and animals.

The purpose of this report is to discuss the environmental impacts of golf courses and to recommend best management practices that are available to minimize these impacts. The areas to be discussed include:
- Environmental impacts
- Site selection, construction and design
- Uses and effects of Pesticides
- Integrated Pest Management
- Uses and effects of Fertilizers
- Golfer involvement
- Safety
- Attitudes
- Golf course regulations in Indiana
- Golf course regulations in other areas
- Courses in Bloomington
- Recommendations for Bloomington

The management practices suggested in this report are a combination of information from the United States Golf Association's "Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United States" and Balogh and Walker's book, "Golf Course Management and Construction: Environmental Issues".

Environmental Impacts

As discussed in the introduction, golf courses can have both positive and negative effects on the area surrounding them. Indeed, courses are increasingly being built to clean up previously polluted land. The construction of the course turns what was a hazardous eyesore into a healthier and beautiful source of revenue for the area. For example, Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda, Montana was built to clean up a polluted copper smelter and Superfund site(2). Its construction included the cleanup of numerous parts of smelter ovens, flues and brick walls, as well as a large quantity of heavy metal tailings containing pollutants such as arsenic. In this case, the building of a golf course was a huge improvement to the environment and the economy of the area. As a result, Rick Hathaway, the superintendent at Old Works, received the Golf Course Superintendents of America's 1999 Environmental Steward Award for a Public Course. Therefore, it is apparent that in certain circumstances, the construction of a golf course can have a positive impact on the environment. Unfortunately, however, most of the potential impacts of golf courses are negative. These impacts result mainly from construction practices and pesticide and fertilizer use.

Construction of any golf course requires varying amounts of earth movement and vegetation removal. Such disturbances can cause many potential problems. The removal of grasses, bushes or trees leads to losses in food sources and habitat for local wildlife. Tree cover loss resulting from course construction not only eliminates habitat, but also results in a serious change in the visual landscape. A lack of vegetation, along with the movement of soil contributes to erosion of topsoil, causing sedimentation in nearby streams and lakes. The result ranges from minimal to total degradation of the local ecosystem.

The most obvious environmental concern in regard to golf courses is the use of chemicals on turf. Irresponsible pesticide use can lead to many environmental problems such as: reduction of predator bird populations, contamination of drinking, ground and surface water (which can lead to the poisoning of wildlife and human populations), elevation of non-pest species to pest status and the evolution of resistant insect strains. Problems associated with fertilizers include eutrophication of surface waters which can result in algae blooms and fish kills, changes in ecosystem productivity, contamination of ground water with nitrates, and depletion of stratospheric ozone by nitrous oxides. The mishandling of pesticides by golf course personnel can result also in numerous health problems from rashes and nausea to cancer and death. In fact, one study showed that golf superintendents are much more likely to die of cancer than the general population(3).

Given the number and severity of potential harms associated with golf course construction and management, it is imperative that precautions are taken to prevent such occurances. The remainder of this paper focuses on management practices aimed at minimizing the negative impacts of golf courses on the environment.

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Site Selection, Construction and Design Practices

As stated previously, there are many potential environmental problems involved in constructing a golf course. In order to minimize or eliminate these effects, the following practices are suggested:

1. A qualified golf course superintendent/project manager should be hired early on in the process in order to integrate sustainable maintenance practices into the site selection, design and construction of the course.

2. Because there will be local environmental issues and conditions that need to be met at any potential course site, developers and designers are encouraged to interact closely and openly with local groups and regulatory bodies. This is important during site selection as well as the design phase.

3. During site selection, a thorough analysis of each site under consideration should be conducted to determine the impact of course construction. Some sites would be very negatively effected while the quality of others could be greatly improved. It is important to involve environmental professionals in this process.

4. The presence of some types of environments may eliminate certain sites from consideration or be cause for extra precaution. These include, but are not limited to; wetlands, endangered species habitat, karst features, and sensitive water bodies.

5. The use of effluent irrigation should also be considered. Courses can be excellent treatment systems for effluent water when it is available and economically and environmentally possible.

6. It is very important that a site analysis and feasibility study be completed. This will identify environmentally sensitive areas and other natural resources that can be incorporated into the design to maximize environmental quality, as well as playability and aesthetics.

7. For areas that will not be in play, native and/or naturalized vegetation should be used. For areas that are in play, turf grasses that are best adapted to the local environment should be planted. This will maximize the efficiency of environmentally sustainable maintenance techniques.

8. Irrigation, drainage and retention systems should be designed to create efficient water usage as well as to protect water quality. Storm water retention and water reuse strategies should be incorporated, when possible, to save resources. Water reuse may not be possible on some sites depending on soil properties, climatic conditions, groundwater hydrology, vegetative cover, etc.

9. High quality surface water or environmentally sensitive areas should be protected by the use of buffer zones. Local regulatory agencies and environmental groups can advise on the design and placement of such zones.

10. The course designers should seek opportunities to create and/or preserve habitat areas that enhance local ecosystems.

11. During construction, only qualified contractors who are knowledgeable of golf course construction should be used.

12. Construction should be scheduled to maximize the efficiency of turf establishment and environmental conservation and resource management.

13. Strategies should be carefully developed and implemented for the control of sediment movement, topsoil loss, disruption to wildlife and effects on water resources. Such strategies include phased grading, seeding of soil piles, and covering bare soil with hay.

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Uses and Effects of Pesticides

The term "pesticide" is very broad, encompassing many forms of chemicals such as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, nematocides, rodenticides, etc. The most commonly used pesticides on golf courses are fungicides, herbicides and insecticides.

Given the potential dangers discussed in the Environmental Impacts section, it is important to understand what happens to these chemicals once they are applied. Many studies have shown that, if applied properly, pesticides will immediately adhere to leaf surfaces and stay there. For example, it has been found that fungicides applied to golf greens do not pass into surface water runoff or ground water (4). Therefore, with careful application, pesticides can safely be used on golf courses. However, because of their potential dangers to the environment and to humans, it is best to identify ways to decrease pesticide use. This process has been named "Integrated Pest Management" and is discussed in the following section.

INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a plan specific to an individual course that aims to prevent and control pests. The IPM process is outlined below:

1. Regular monitoring and record keeping is used to identify the pest problem, analyze the conditions causing it, and determine the damage threshold level below which the pest can be tolerated.

2. Strategies are laid out to change conditions to prevent or discourage recurrence of the problem. This may include using a more hardy turf grass species, or modifying the microclimate conditions.

3. If damage thresholds are met or exceeded, control strategies are selected that will cause minimal environmental impact. These include biological (predators, parasites), cultural (habitat modification), physical (soil aeration, increased air movement), mechanical (traps) and chemical (pesticides, herbicides) methods.

IPM emphasizes that non-chemical methods should be considered before resorting to chemical application. However, if chemicals must be used, the following guidelines are recommended:

1. Applicators should be well educated through state licensing, professional association training and IPM certification. Non-English speaking applicators should be provided with training in their native language.

2. Always follow the label directions carefully when using chemicals. Treatments should be applied in the correct doses and during the recommended conditions to ensure effectiveness and minimize environmental impact.

3. Pest control and nutrient products should be stored and handled in such a way that minimizes worker exposure and potential pollution. All recommendations regarding personal protective equipment should be followed.

4. Soil should be monitored regularly to ensure that turfgrass needs are being met but not exceeded.

5. Golf courses should inform guests when chemicals have been applied. Notices can be posted on the first and tenth tee boxes, as well as in the pro shops and locker rooms.

Without an IPM strategy, chemicals are simply applied at regular intervals to ensure the control of pests. This is not only more harmful to the environment, but is extremely costly. By implementing IPM, a course not only becomes more environmentally friendly, but also more cost-effective. One example of IPM implementation is John's Island Club, near Vero Beach, Florida. In 1991, after only 5 years using IPM, they had cut their pesticide use by at least 15 percent, with further reductions possible (5). In a few outstanding examples of IPM, the use of pesticides has been eliminated completely. These courses include the Applewood Country Club in Golden, Colorado and the Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, California.

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Uses and Effects of Fertilizers

Fertilizers are important in maintaining turfgrass growth and overall health. However, as previously discussed, they can also cause environmental problems if they get into ground and surface waters. Guidelines for fertilizer use include:

1. Determine fertilizer rates based on soil and tissue tests. Regular testing prevents nutrient deficiency as well as over fertilization.

2. Use slow-release and/or natural organic fertilizers.

The most commonly used fertilizers are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium containing compounds. Other fertilizers used in smaller amounts include sulfur, calcium, magnesium and micronutrients. They are used primarily on the tees and greens, with minimal applications on fairways.

Nitrogen is the most commonly applied fertilizer and is essential for growth and color of turfgrass. Because of how it behaves in the soil, regular applications are required to maintain effective levels. Nitrogen is also the most potentially harmful fertilizer. Nitrates that reach drinking water supplies can have severe effects on humans, such as birth defects, cancer, and central nervous system damage. As stated previously, nitrous oxides are the main contributor to the depletion of stratospheric ozone.

Potassium is used on turfgrass to improve root growth, increase tolerance to heat, cold, drought and wear, and to reduce susceptibility to disease. Phosphorous enhances the turfgrass' rate of establishment and root growth.

The recommendations for fertilizer handling are the same as for pesticides.

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Golfer Involvement

Being the customers in this business, golfers have a lot of power over what happens on the courses they frequent. First of all, it is their responsibility to ensure their own safety while golfing. Secondly, golfers must realize that their attitudes influence course management. In fact, it has been said that the key to increasing the environmentally friendliness of golf courses is a change in the perceptions of golfers themselves (6).

SAFETY

Some golfers worry about their potential exposure to the chemicals applied to a course. According to Clark Throssell, professor of agronomy at Purdue University, "To get any pesticide residue at all you have to take a rough cloth and vigorously rub the grass leaf" (7). Therefore it is highly unlikely that a player would be exposed during a normal round of golf. However, Throssell recommends that concerned golfers take the following precautions in order to ensure that they are not exposed to chemicals.

1. Do not place anything that has been in contact with the turf in your mouth. This includes cigars, balls, tees, etc.

2. Ask the golf course superintendent to post signs when chemicals have recently been applied.

3. Wash hands and forearms at the end of the round.

4. Wear long pants if it is reasonable.

5. Never play golf in your bare feet.

ATTITUDES

Golf enthusiasts also need to be aware of the fact that their attitudes can impact the management of the courses they frequent. Many golfers see the perfect greens and fairways of the PGA tour on television and expect every course they play to look as good. This is not only unrealistic, but can lead to pressure on course managers to unnecessarily increase pesticide and fertilizer use. Course superintendents should attempt to educate golfers about their efforts to create a more environmentally friendly course. This will improve golfer-management communication and help golfers understand what is happening on the course.
Responsible golfers should keep the following in mind:

1. Designated environmentally sensitive areas within a course must be recognized and respected.

2. There are natural limitations on the quality of turfgrass (discoloration, thin patches, an occasional dandelion, etc.) that come with environmentally sensitive golf course management.

3. Golf course management that emphasizes environmental quality should be supported and respected, even if it causes minor inconveniences to your golf plans.

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Golf Course Regulations in Indiana

There are no known regulations on golf courses in Indiana. Course managers that use pesticides are required to follow label instructions, but are not required to be a certified applicator unless they apply restricted use pesticides (as listed by the EPA). However, some courses retain certified applicators voluntarily. The certification process is described in Section 8.1 of the Indiana Pesticide Use and Application Law (IC 15-3-3.6), found in Appendix 1.

Golf Course Regulations in Other Areas

While there are a few places that have regulations concerning the construction and maintenance of golf courses, they are certainly in the minority. The following are descriptions of the ways several communities and one state are dealing with golf courses.

Santa Clara County, California
The Santa Clara County Planning Department has developed a document titled "Environmental/Design Guidelines for Golf Courses" (Appendix 2). Included are guidelines on grading, habitat, drainage, chemical use, natural hazards, archaeology, traffic, aesthetics, and noise. However, these are purely guidelines used by the Planning Department during review of proposed golf courses and courses are not required to follow any of them.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
The city of Albuquerque includes a section on "Water Budgets for Parks and Golf Courses" (Section 6-1-1-8A; Appendix 3) in its Water Conservation and Water Waste Ordinance. It allows courses built before October 1, 1995 to use up to 40 inches of water per acre per year and courses after that date to use up to 37 inches of water per acre per year. The ordinance also sets forth rules on what type of plants should be used, and regulates a landscape area for new golf courses of no more than 90 acres per 18 holes.

Austin, Texas
In reviewing golf course development proposals, the city of Austin uses a template entitled "Golf Course Design and Management Plan for Water Quality Management" (Appendix 4). Using this template, a specific plan is written for each course proposed. Included in the document are buffer zone specifications, and plans for irrigation management, nutrient management, Integrated Pest Management, and monitoring. Joan Balogh, of Austin's Environmental Resources Management Division, hopes to have an ordinance including specific requirements written in the near future.

Vermont
The state of Vermont requires that golf courses obtain a pesticide use permit from the State Department of Agriculture (Vermont Regulations for the Control of Pesticides, Section IV.9; Appendix 5). Included in the permit application is information on the current permit status of the course, water sources for the course and its neighbors, identification of pesticides to be used, a Pesticide Management Plan, and a detailed golf course description including a site plan and topographical map of the area. Permits are good for a period of 5 years, during which pesticides can be added by modification of the permit.

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Courses in Bloomington

The golf courses found in the Bloomington area include:
- Indiana University Golf Course (public)
- Cascades Municipal Golf Course (public)
- Bloomington Country Club (private)
- Bloomington Par 3 Golf Course (public)
- The Pointe Golf and Tennis Resort (private)

The following summaries include information on management practices and chemical use at several area courses. Each course was provided with a draft copy of this report and asked to comment on it. The responses received can be found in Appendix 6. In addition, a study done by the Environmental Commission in 1997 gathered general information about Cascades, Bloomington Country Club and the IU course. The results of this study are found in Appendix 7.

Cascades Municipal
Bloomington Natural Resources Coordinator, Steve Cotter, relayed information from Cascades superintendent Mark Thrasher, including the actual pesticide application rates for 1999, along with the 1999 application program (Appendix 8). During 1999, approximately 2,000 pounds of chemicals were applied to the 36.9 acre course.
Mr. Thrasher has implemented several strategies to improve the environmental quality of the Cascades course:
- The formation of a Golf Course Treatment Committee.
- After experiencing a great deal of disease with their traditional ryegrass turf on the fairways, the staff decided to switch to a blend of bluegrass. The new grass better tolerates the low mowing height required on fairways and reduces the amount of pesticides and water needed in those areas.
- In order to reduce stress caused by foot traffic and disease pressure caused by thatch, the greens are aerated three times a year. Healthier turf requires less maintenance.
- Topdressing applications are made once a month to allow for a higher mowing height, which also decreases the pesticide applications needed.
- Water applications are monitored and the turf is often allowed to dry during times of insect hatching in order to reduce the number of pests.
- Natural areas are currently being prepared that will be minimally maintained.
- After consulting with a private firm, a karst area located near hole number 23 is being protected by a shrub barrier and signs stating that the area is not to be entered.
- They are considering getting involved with local schools to install bird and bat boxes on the course.

Indiana University
Information on chemical applications for 1999 is found in Appendix 9. These data include the date and type of each treatment, but unfortunately do not include the amount applied.

Eagle Pointe
Jeff Evard, course superintendent at Eagle Pointe, is licensed by the state of Indiana as a category 3b (turf) and category 5 (aquatics) pesticide applicator. His staff includes an additional three state registered technicians. He reported that IPM strategies are being used at the Pointe and that he is working towards the course's certification as an Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary. Some of the techniques being used to mitigate environmental problems on the course are buffer zones around water sources and natural areas that contain surface water runoff.

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Recommendations for Bloomington

Given the potential dangers of golf courses and the unique, forested, karst terrain that dominates Bloomington's natural areas, it is imperative that the area's golf courses use best management practices with respect to environmental impacts. The main recommendation for these courses is that they follow the best management practices set forth in this document. Each course should have a detailed, specific, and effective Integrated Pest Management Plan on file. Also, buffer zones should be established according to the following guidelines (8):

- Maintain 20 feet of turf (measuring at least 3 inches high) or natural areas around water features.
- Maintain no-spray zones (or use more environmentally sensitive management techniques such as spoon feeding of fertilizer or hand application of pesticides) within 25 feet of water features.

If the city desires more formal control over the actions of the courses, they have several options, including:

1. Use this document and others to create guidelines by which golf course development proposals can be evaluated.
2. Require that golf courses obtain a pesticide use permit by submitting a list of pesticides to be used and an IPM plan.
3. Require that golf courses hire at least one state certified pesticide applicator.

Golf is obviously a popular pastime in Bloomington. The city also prides itself on its environmental awareness. However, golf courses and environmental consciousness do not have to be mutually exclusive if best management practices are adhered to.

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the following people who provided information included in this report: Joellen Zeh of Audubon International, Bob Brame of the USGA Green Section, Steve Cotter of the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, Cascades Course Superintendent Mark Thrasher, Eagle Pointe Course Superintendent Jeff Evard, Indiana University Director of Environmental Health and Safety Ted Alexander, and Harry Ford.

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Footnotes

1: Golf facilities in the U.S.  1999.  http://www.ngf.org.faq/
2: Perrault, J.  1999.  "Montana's Gem: National Public Course Winner".  Golf Course Management.  67(2): 78-90
3: Spectrum.  1994.  Environment.  36(6):21
4: Turco, R.  1998.  Putting doesn't pollute, research finds. http://news.uns.purdue.edu/html4ever/980826.Turco.fungicides.html
5: Goldsby, L.  1991.  IPM: Good Business at Florida's John's Island Club.  Journal of Pesticide Reform.  11(3):5-7
6: Brane, B. Director of the North Central Region of the USGA Green Section.  Personal communication.  February 8, 2000.
7: Tally, S.  1997.  It's easy to reduce chemical exposure on golf courses, expert says.  http://purduenews.uns.purdue.edu/UNS/html4ever/97Q3/970801.Throssell.golfchem.html
8: Zeh, J. Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program Staff Ecologist.  Personal communication.  Januray 21, 2000.

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