Golf courses benefit the environment

Golf courses benefit the environment

Marty Parkes

Golf course can play an integral role in improving the environmental standing of many recreational facilities nationwide. What’s most needed is a bit of planning, a core group of hard-working folks, and an underlying commitment to setting and achieving goals.

The idea of golf courses benefitting the environment is quite a departure from what we see and hear in much of the media these days. Major newspapers routinely run headlines with eye-catching titles like “Environmental Disaster on Golf Course” or “Golf Courses Are Denounced as Health Hazards.” They are often followed by passages so terrifying that they can convince some people never to set foot on a golf course again.

Many broadcasters have followed suit. Even the familiar radio personality Paul Harvey has adopted the posture of a latter-day Paul Revere during his widely syndicated radio broadcasts. Sounding that alarm against golf courses throughout every village and town, Harvey has coined such jolting phrases as “Death stalks the golf course” and “If there were snakes in the grass of your golf course, there’d be a loaded shotgun in your golf bag” to introduce his diatribes.

The intentions behind these messages are honorable, but the information upon which they are based is often distorted or, in some cases, even suspect. While it’s possible to contend that every single golf course in the nation is located, constructed, and maintained in a manner beneficial to the environment, it is possible to argue that the golf industry, in general, has chosen to move toward ensuring a healthy environment for all beings, both four- and two-legged. Educating yourself about these efforts, and ensuring that a suitable plan, based upon sound environmental stewardship, is implemented in your community can help ensure that your recreational facilities – including golf courses – can improve, rather than harm, your community’s environment.

What the Golf Industry

Has Done

The United States Golf Association (USGA), primarily through its Green Section, has undertaken many programs to examine golf’s effect upon the environment. Other allied associations, such as the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), have lent their support or sponsored their own programs. The golf industry as a whole has not sat back idly and waited for problems to develop before acting. Instead, it has been proactive in searching for solutions. What it may be most guilty of is not educating golfers and the general public about its programs and resources in this area.

The USGA Green Section celebrated its 75th anniversary last year; a landmark that demonstrates the association’s longstanding commitment to providing excellent playing conditions coupled with sound environmental stewardship. Toward this end, the Green Section involves itself in every phase of golf course maintenance and management.

Turf Advisory Service and

Research Programs

One of the Green Section’s major programs remains its Turf Advisory Service (TAS). More than a dozen, highly skilled USGA agronomists – plant and soil specialists – located in regional offices throughout the country annually visit approximately 1,600 golf courses from coast-to-coast. Founded in 1953, the TAS offers the opportunity to reap the benefits of expert advice about golf course maintenance and environmental practices to individual facilities. Visits result in a comprehensive review of each course’s maintenance and environmental practices, with suggestions for enhancements. The USGA provides an annual subsidy close to $1.5 million for this service, which is available to both public and private facilities.

The USGA simultaneously supports the largest private turfgrass research effort in the world. Since 1983, the association has funded more than 98 research projects at 33 major land-grant universities across the country. These projects alone have cost the organization more than $12.5 million. The goal of this research is the development of new grasses that use significantly less water and fewer pesticides and require less maintenance. These breeding programs have focused on the improvement of zoysiagrass, native grasses, Poa annua, bermudagrass, and bentgrass. They have also examined alternative pest management strategies, such as viable biological control of insects instead of pesticides.

This commitment to innovative turf research is nothing new for the USGA. It dates back to the 1920s and cooperative efforts between the USGA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Arlington Turf Gardens near Washington, D.C., the site where the Pentagon now stands. A major benefit of the research is that the findings are relevant to recreational facilities other than golf courses. Most athletic fields, race tracks, bowling greens, and public parks – along with better than 80% of private lawns – today utilize grasses developed through these research programs.

Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary

Program for Golf Courses

The Audubon Society of New York State has joined with the USGA in formulating a cooperative effort called the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses (ACSP). Just a few years old, this program represents educational efforts about issues related to wildlife, the environment, and conservation programs on golf courses.

The ACSP features six categories of involvement: environmental planning; wildlife and habitat management; member/public involvement; integrated pest management; water conservation; and water quality management. Members must demonstrate substantial achievement to garner certification in each category. Suitable completion of all six categories earns a facility designation as a “Fully Certified Cooperative Sanctuary.”

More than 1,800 courses around the country have joined the program, with more than 55 facilities – many of which are public – already receiving certification in all six categories. Among them: Hindman Park Golf Course, in Little Rock, Arkansas; Morro Bay Golf Course, in Morro Bay, California; Applewood Golf Course, in Golden, Colorado; Eagle’s Landing Golf Course, in Berlin, Maryland; and Glynns Creek Golf Course, in Long Grove, Iowa. The total number of ASCP participants, while impressive, represents only about 15% of all golf courses in the U.S.

Wildlife Links Program

The USGA has launched a similar partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Washington, D.C., called “Wildlife links.” This initiative represents the game’s first comprehensive investigation of its relationship with wildlife and its habitat. It seeks to provide the golf industry with state-of-the-art information on wildlife management issues.

Why is the issue of wildlife on golf courses an important one? Keep in mind that a typical 18-hole golf course encompasses 150-200 acres. On average, rough and other out-of-play areas occupy 70% of this acreage. (Is it any wonder, then, that most golfers often hit their ball into the rough or out-of-play?) Fairways account for about 23% of the total acreage, while tees and putting greens each take up only about 2%. (Buildings and parking lots account for the other 3%.) This breakdown underscores why species from butterflies and songbirds to fox and deer often find the natural grasses, trees, shrubs, and water they require on golf courses.

The first step in implementing Wildlife Links was the creation of an advisory panel of experts representing federal and state environmental agencies, non-governmental conservation organizations and major universities. The program’s overall goal is to protect and enhance – through proper planning and management – the wildlife, fish and plant resources found on golf courses.

Plans have been established to publish two initial publications. Me first will be targeted to golf course superintendents and provide guidance on how to enhance habitat for bird species on golf courses. Me second will be dedicated to wetland issues, including ponds, streams and lakes. It will provide recommendations about how to protect these areas and enhance surrounding areas so they are suitable for wildlife habitat.

EPA Partnership and Renew

America Recognition

The USGA has sponsored the first Charter Supporter project accepted as a part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program. This stewardship program is designed to reduce pesticide use and ensure responsible application of pesticides, when necessary.

Environmental Research

To underscore its commitment to a sound environment the USGA allocated $3.2 million from 1991 through 1993 to fund independent university research investigating the effects of golf courses on people, wildlife, and the environment. These studies focused on pesticide use, turfgrass benefits and non-chemical pest control methods. The organization has continued these efforts with a current three-year, $1.8 million program that will further investigate the relationship between golf and the environment.

Most of the results derived thus far are encouraging and positive, especially pertaining to potential trouble areas like chemical leaching and runoff. If responsible management practices are adopted and maintained by highly trained officials such as golf course superintendents, negative consequences can be minimized. However, there is still a need for longterm information. Several issues, especially pesticides and leaching, require further study before definitive conclusions can be pinpointed and appropriate strategies adopted. That’s why the USGA has maintained its vigilance and diligence in these areas.

The research programs have identified many other specific environmental benefits provided by golf courses and their accompanying turfgrasses.

1. Protecting against erosion from water and wind. Topsoil is not a renewable resource. Wind and water may erode the topsoil into streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. Once gone, it cannot be replaced in our lifetime. The dense system of roots and shoots found in a golf course’s turf absorb water, slow surface water runoff, and help to keep the soil from blowing away. In fact, studies indicate that a golf course’s turf absorbs rainfall six times more effectively than a wheat field and four times better than a hay field.

2. Maintaining open space. Golf courses represent valuable and scarce green space in developed urban areas. Turf helps to reduce noise and lessens the glare of bright sunlight reflected off sidewalks, buildings, and pavement.

3. Restoring damaged areas like mines and landfills. Many communities have found golf courses an excellent choice when seeking alternative uses for abandoned quarries, strip mines, and landfills. Such a use transforms a community eyesore into a lash landscape that often produces significant revenues for local communities. More than a dozen such courses now operate on these type of sites, with many more in the planning stages.

4. Cooling surrounding landscapes. The overall temperature of urban areas may be as much as 10-12 degrees warmer than nearby rural areas. Turfgrasses, through the cooling process of evapotranspiration, help dissipate high levels of heat. For example, estimates indicate that a football field has the cooling capacity of a 70-ton air conditioner. This cooling effect can result in energy savings by reducing the energy input and associated costs required for temperature control in adjacent homes and offices.

5. Contributing to the local economy. Golf courses impact local economies to the tune of about $18 billion each year, creating thousands of jobs across the country.

6. Reducing pollution. Turf captures and cleans dirty runoff in urban areas. Often, water collected in parking lots, streets, and vacant lots contains a variety of pollutants. Turfgrasses support a diverse, large population of soil micro-flora and – fauna that comprise one of the most active biological systems for the degradation of trapped organic chemicals and pesticides.

7. Decreasing noxious pests and allergy-related pollen. Regularly mowed turf on areas like golf courses reduces populations of nuisance pests and allergy-related pollens produced by many weedy species.

8. Enhancing human health. Golf provides an estimated 24.5 million Americans the opportunity to exercise outdoors, including thousands of youngsters who participate in junior golf programs. Research studies show that golfers who walk an average two miles for a nine-hole round or four miles for an 18-hole round tend to enjoy lower cholesterol levels than others.

Turf also provides a safety cushion against impact injuries, and its healthy, well-maintained appearance can have beneficial psychological effects as well Finally, most types of turfgrasses, developed originally for golf courses, provide low-cost playing surfaces for a wide variety of other recreational pursuits.

A Final Word

All of these USGA programs highlight some compelling ways that golf courses can enhance your local environment in various ways. But take a moment to think about your local facility. Does your community encourage sound environmental stewardship at your golf course? Does your course participate in the Audubon Program? Does your course support your superintendent in following rigorous environmental standards and adopting innovative management practices? Does your course provide and maintain out-of-play areas as suitable areas for wildlife? Does it maintain buffer or no-mow zones of plants and natural grasses around streams, ponds, and lakes to protect their water quality? Does it erect nesting boxes for birds?

Ensuring that these questions are answered affirmatively will have the greatest positive impact in boosting your course’s environmental standing and reputation in your community. Start by performing some research. If you feel that more should and can be done, contact the USGA Green Section. We will be happy to point you in the right direction. Make golf beneficial for all living beings. No matter how many legs they walk on.

Inquiries about the USGA Green Section and its programs are always welcome. Write the USGA Green Section, P.O. Box 708, Far Hills, NJ 07931; or call (908) 234-2300; or visit our Internet site on the World Wide Web at

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Recreation and Park Association

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