Golf has become a target for efforts to reduce toxins in our environment due to its substantial, and highly visible use of pesticides. The public is becoming increasingly unwilling to accept the use of substances that are possible carcinogens to drinking water supplies, alongside streams and wildlife habitats, or near homes.
Environmentalists, for the most part, are adamantly anti-golf. The increasing environmental pressure against chemical pesticide use, and the greater availability of innovative products, make this a good time to consider converting to non-chemical methods of golf course maintenance. Healthy soil is teeming with a diverse ecosystem of micro-organisms. These microbes are the key to non-chemical methods of turf maintenance. Beneficial microbes feed on the microbes that cause disease, out-compete the disease-causing microbes, depriving them of food and water, coat the roots and blades of plants blocking pathogens, and make nutrients more readily available.
A comprehensive organic program will require other inputs that may be unfamiliar to some superintendents. Microbial inoculants, kelp extract, rock dust minerals, beneficial nematodes, earthworm castings, plant growth hormones, and vitamins are all being incorporated into golf course maintenance programs.
There is decades-old research that demonstrates that compost has turf disease-suppressive qualities. Enhancing microbial activity is the presumed mechanism for compost’s effect, and is the design of many organic products. New golf courses represent the best opportunity for establishing an organic program. Compost can be incorporated into the soil throughout the root zone. Grass cultivars that are resistant to disease can also be selected.
Golf turf maintenance represents the horticultural extreme. Identifying best management practices significantly reduces the risk to the environment. The turf grass community is an amazingly dynamic system with its own network of environmental safeguards. Products with reduced toxicity, mobility, and persistence are constantly being developed. Integrated pest management strategies and best management practices are being adopted by numerous golf operations. Improved equipment, mapping technology, record keeping, and product storage and handling devices are available. Grasses have been developed that require reduced inputs, and have better adaptation to certain conditions. Golf course superintendents’ skill and awareness has increased steadily in the last few decades. But, we’re a far cry from being able to go “organic”.
Reliable organic substitutes for pest management have been developed and/or proven to replace products currently used to combat the myriad of diseases, insects and weeds. Organic golf course management should be the primary goal of the golf course industry. Golf courses have an important part of landscape conservation in urban areas. They also are valuable community assets that must recognize diverse interests.