Few in the golf course management profession would argue that environmental stewardship of natural resources is of critical importance. Natural resources that require protection include air, water, and soil. The golf course industry has come under intense scrutiny in recent years in relation to its impact upon the environment.
We are all well aware of the significant land mass occupied by turfgrass, in particular golf courses and concerns have been expressed about problems caused by golf courses such as water pollution from fertilisers and chemicals, as well as habitat loss. Legislation relating to the environment continues to increase and the golf course industry without doubt faces serious examination in the coming years.
There is growing concern among golf course superintendents that rigid regulations may be placed upon golf courses in relation to management practices. After the incredibly dry summer experienced in the U.K. and Ireland, many feel that water conservation will play a pivotal role for the turf industry in future years. In my opinion, change is coming, and now is the time for the golfing world to take notice and implement simple amendments to management programmes, which down the road may pay huge dividence.
Best Management Practices (BMP) has gained much attention recently in the turfgrass industry. The term basically means practical methods designed to protect and preserve natural resources. Best Management Practices are not one-size-fits-all and instead involve implementing various practices that are matched and adapted to meet the site-specific requirements. This strategy is not a very complicated process, does not involve spending thousands of extra pounds, and has in fact been shown to increase savings on golf courses in many instances, while not dramatically decreasing the quality of the course. With IPM, you're basically trying to work in cooperation with Mother Nature, not against. Simple BPM steps may involve
- Reducing chemical applications throughout the year on the course,
- Implementing Integrated Pest Management strategies,
- Using some biological control of weeds and diseases,
- Applying the best available cultural techniques,
- Protecting water courses by using buffer strips
- Recycling water
- Creating wildlife areas on the course.
These may all seem pretty common sense ideas, however if properly used they can make a huge difference to the environment.
Water Quality and Conservation
A term that I am sure you have all heard of in the past is eutrophication, which is the increase in the nutrient load of a water body over time. Eutrophication can occur in water bodies, such as lakes, estuaries, or slow-moving streams and can cause the growth of plantonic algae and blue-green algae, which will result in a depletion of available oxygen in the water and thus fish kills.
It is pivotal that every care is taken to avoid nutrient loading in water courses. Almost every golf course superintendent has at some stage in their profession seen algal scum on the surface on a water body, be it on their course or not. Numerous products have come on the market that are aimed at treating the fungi, yet this is not treating what is causing the problem, which in many instances is nutrients getting into the water. Simple management strategies such as leaving unfertilised buffer zones around water bodies, which are not kept at a very low height is but one tool to combat the problem.
Foliar fertilisation is a practice that is beginning to increase in popularity as a means of spoon feeding the plant and is possibly a way of reducing nutrient leaching into water bodies. Filter strips incorporated into golf course lakes, streams and ponds also serve to filter chemicals as they enter the water, helping to reduce pollution. Other strategies include water collection from runoff areas such as car parks into collection ponds or even specially designed reservoirs.
Integrated Pest Management on Golf Courses
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has been a topic of increased interest in recent times, however there still remains some uncertainty about this concept. IPM is an effective and environmentally friendly approach to plant protection, which relies on a combination of preventative and corrective measures in order to keep pests below acceptable levels.
Modern IPM began to evolve in the 1950's and 1960's particularly in relation to cotton production, when issues with high pesticide use and pesticide resistance became problematic. Use of IPM on turfgrass was very limited until the 1980's, when several commonly used pesticides were taken off the market. Many of the pesticides that were used up to and including the 1980's were very toxic to turfgrass pests, beneficial's, animals and humans and frequently very persistent in the environment.
Turfgrass managers are still equipped with many pesticides which work very well on insect pests from foliar feeders, to stem and root feeding pests such as grubs. However, the range of pesticides available continues to decline and in my opinion the turfgrass industry will be left with a limited number of registered pesticide products in the future. This is why IPM is likely to continue in popularity as a way of maintaining high quality turfgrass.
Integrated Pest Management is broken down into seven steps
1. Sampling and monitoring involves checking the turfgrass on a regular basis throughout the year for signs of insect pests, before severe pest damage has occurred. Several monitoring techniques are available including
- Visual inspection is used to examine turf leaves, thatch and crowns for signs of insect pests (adults or young).
- Soil sampling is a very useful method for measuring grub activity in areas such as fairways. A cup cutter can be used for this exercise, taking maybe 10 cup cutter samples per fairway and examining the soil for grubs, particularly in September.
- Irritant solutions work very well for caterpillars such as cutworms. This involves placing water containing some soap in it onto mown turf, which should bring caterpillars in the soil to the surface. This will give an idea of the number of caterpillars within the soil.
- Pheromone traps are useful for measuring activity of cutworm and webworm moths.
2. Insect identification is critical if one is to be able to know the best management strategies for the various insects. From experience, there are numerous books available which give excellent descriptions and pictures of the different insect pests and such books are invaluable. It is important to point out that there are only a limited number of important turfgrass insects and their identification is not that difficult and once you can identify the insect once, future identification should be relatively straight forward.
3. Decision making relies on establishing thresholds for each insect. For instance, a threshold often used for white grubs on irrigated turf is often 10-15 per ft2. If grub levels below this figure are found on an irrigated fairway, then grub damage should be low.
4. Appropriate intervention revolves around finding out why a pest problem has occurred, if cultural or biological methods can be used to control the problem and strategies on how to reduce this problem in the future. There are numerous cultural control methods available including
- Host-plant resistance involves the use of grass which has resistance to some insect pests. Endophytic grass is often mentioned in IPM and it pertains to the use of endophytic fungi, which live within the grass plant, but have no pathogenic effects on the grass. The endophytes produce toxins which deter insect damage.
- Thatch is a prime habitat for turfgrass insects and it is essential that the thatch layer is kept low in order to enhance both biological and chemical control agents. One should remember that chemicals applied to turf high in thatch, are often bound to the thatch and do not penetrate into the soil.
- Basic agronomic practices to keep the turfgrass healthy
- There are numerous biorational insecticides on the market, which are natural pesticides with higher selectivity than many synthetic pesticides. Examples include Azadirachtin, which effects insect molting and pyrethrum which affects foliar feeding insects.
- Biological control agents have been is use for turfgrass diseases for the past number of years, however there are also numerous commercially available biological agents available for insect pests including Bacillus thuringiensis. This bacteria binds to the stomach wall of certain insects such as caterpillars, causing the stomach gut to stop working. Other bio control agents include milky disease bacteria and beauvaria bassiana which are useful against foliar feeding insects.
It is important to remember that IPM does not preclude the use of chemical control, although spot treating with selective chemicals rather than blanket spraying is the key. This is very important because if pest outbreaks do occur, then chemicals may be required to control the problem.
5. The next step is the follow-up, whereby the turf is continually monitored to ensure that high pest levels are not building and also to check how various control strategies are working
6. Record keeping is a vital step that is often over-looked. By keeping accurate records of insect problem areas each year, it allows the superintendent to build a picture of areas which are prone to insect damage, which allows time to plan ahead on how to deal with these problematic areas. Record keeping also allows one to evaluate how effective various control strategies used really are. A key element of IPM is planning ahead and anticipating pest problems before they occur.
7. Client and employee education is probably one of the most important and often the most difficult steps in IPM. Educating the greens committee and members about Integrated Pest Management and the strategies that are in place can be a tough task.
Communication is the key to success and it is vital that if an IPM system is put into use, that everyone involved in the golf club be aware that a little damage may occur, however the amount of damage should be very low. Educating employees through training and seminars which talk about pest identification and control strategies is also crucial to success.
Benefits of IPM
There are several benefits of using turfgrass IPM. Firstly, accurate pest control is achieved, since the problem pests have been identified, instead of spraying a broad spectrum insecticide and hoping that it works. IPM also gives the possibility of reducing the total amount of pesticides used.
We all know that adequate nutrition is essential to maintain healthy turfgrass, however there are numerous fertiliser products on the market with various nutrient release mechanisms. Nitrogen is the nutrient applied in the highest quantity on golf courses, and fertilisers such as urea and ammonium nitrate are commonly used. Such products are often quick release nutrient providers, which in certain situations may lead to nutrient loss under heavy rainfall. Slower release products are available, although more expensive they may help to reduce nutrient losses.
In reality, I realise that golf course superintendents are trying to keep fertiliser expenditure as low as possible and products such as urea are firm favourites among many. However, careful application timing to avoid the possibility of leaching or surface runoff is in my opinion key to maintaining water quality on the golf course.
Every superintendent strives to ensure this, although I am sure that all of you at some stage have been caught by heavy rainfall after fertiliser application. Foliar application is growing in popularity as a means of feeding the plant. Many course managers often complain about the increased labour involved in bi-weekly foliar application compared with the traditional three to four week granular fertiliser application.
This little extra work may pay handsomely in the future, through savings from reduced nutrient requirements and a healthier environment and turfgrass. Phosphorus continues to come under severe scrutiny as a polluter of water resources. Although the element is not highly soluble in the soil, leaching of even small quantities can cause eutrophication. Research concerning phosphorus leaching losses from sand based rootzones is still unclear, yet I would like to stress that if phosphorus finds its way into water, it may pollute.
When applying fertiliser, try to ensure that the fertiliser does not fall onto impervious surfaces such as footpaths or cart paths. Sweep granular fertilizers off hard surfaces onto the grass. Do not wash off the fertilizer form the surface. Rinse the fertilizer spreader after use on a piece of grass. Do not wash the spreader on an impervious surface, as the nutrients will get into waterways.
Turfgrass and Nature
Many golf courses contain about 150 acres of land, over half of which is rough, water or wooded areas. In my opinion, every golf course has something to offer when it comes to wildlife conservation, but the goal is to maximize habitat potential. It is easy to forget as turfgrass managers the damage that was caused to the environment during the construction of the course and it is this damage that has in some cases given golf course management a bad name.
After visiting hundreds of golf courses throughout Europe and the U.S.A., I more than anybody realise that golf courses are providing nature reserves, yet there is in my opinion far more that can be done to protect and preserve nature on the course.
This will put the golf course superintendent in a strong position with the greens committee, members and the general public as well as most importantly protecting the environment and reducing the possibility of water contamination. I have heard of golf course using strategies such as increasing wildlife areas and BMP's used on the golf course as a marketing tool to promote new membership.
Simple steps can be made such as planting wild flower meadows, in areas which receive little of no play. I am sure that almost every club has such areas and just think about the time and money saved from the reduction of continuous mowing in these areas. Native flower meadows do require some maintenance, but it is limited and these meadows will enhance the experience for the golfer. At the end of the day, every golf course wants satisfied customers and return business. Other issues that can be addressed include
- Placing bird boxes throughout the course
- Controlling the coverage of bracken if threatening to more interesting habitats
- Ensuring sufficient regeneration within woodlands
- Avoiding disturbance of sensitive wildlife areas throughout the course either by people or carts.
- Designing wetlands and reserve areas
- Leave grass clippings and other organic materials in place whenever agronomically possible.
- Dispose of chemical packaging according to label directions and dispose of chemical rinsate in a way that will not pollute the environment. Strategies include recycling the rinsate or spraying it out over previously untreated areas.
- Waste products such as used motor oil, and unused solvents, should be recycled or disposed of according to the law
- Where possible reduce waste by using products with minimal amounts of packaging
- Rinse collection tanks are an essential component in any golf course maintenance facility
About the authors
Tim Butler is carrying out research in Turfgrass Science for a doctorate degree at both University College Dublin, Ireland and Michigan State University, U.S.A. For more information contact Tim at email@example.com
Mary Purcell is currently carrying out research for a doctorate degree in Environmental Science at University College Dublin. For more information contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anonymous. 1996. The environmental principles for golf courses in the United States http://www.gcsaa.org/resources/facts/principles.asp
Enrunn, C. 2006. Golf Courses: Should We Encourage Wildlife On Them? www.articlecity.com/articles/recreation_and_sports/article_2475.shtml
McCarty, L.B. 2000. Integrated Pest Management Strategies. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Online. Available at
Mullen, M.W. 2004. Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses to Improve Water Quality: Experience by Audubon International and other States
Potter, D.A. 1998. Destructive Turfgrass Insects. Biology, Diagnosis and Control. Ann Arbor Press, Michigan. 344pp.
Voigt, T. and Fermanian, T. 1998. Integrated Pest Management for Turf Managers. http://www.turf.uiuc.edu/extension/ext-ipm.html