Summing It Up
•Many golf courses need fertilizers that can help grow plants while still meeting stricter enviromental standards.
•Superintendents and club owners should help educate lawmakers and environmentalists about the judicious use of pesticides and fertilizers.
•The right weather conditions and application equipment improve the cost-effectiveness of chemical applications.
Fertilizer and pesticide use continues to be one of the most volatile issues in golf course management today. While research indicates there is little to fear when these products are selected and applied properly, more environmental groups are voicing louder concerns about their use. As a result, clubs and resorts in cities and regions across the United States are seeing more steps taken to monitor and control fertilizer use, with some jurisdictions already enacting partial or outright bans of some materials.
At the same time, there has been no easing of members’ demands for pristine course conditions. Call it the Augusta Effect: Players want their courses, be they private or public, to look like what they see when watching tournaments on TV.
While superintendents would never want to overuse costly fertilizers, fungicides, or herbicides (let alone cause harm to the environment), communities are still looking to regulate their use and assure proper application. So careful management of nitrogen and phosphorus levels must now be an essential part of any fertilizing program.
“These regulations are coming,” says Steve Schmidt, Superintendent at Butte des Morts Country Club in Appleton, Wis. He oversees a challenging 18-hole course that has been in business since 1924.
“They will make some difference to me,” Schmidt continues, noting that a creek runs through the property. “New [state Department of Natural Resources] rules will require a buffer zone between the course and the creek.” To accommodate the new regulations, he anticipates having to move some fairways back.
On the theory that the best defense is a good offense, properties in some areas have already tried to stem the regulatory tide by taking matters into their own hands. Mike Rewinski, Golf Course Superintendent at Westhampton Country Club in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, N.Y., recently took a leadership role and convinced 31 courses on the East End of Long Island to participate in a Nitrogen Management Challenge.
|Steve Schmidt, Superintendent of Butte des Morts Country Club, anticipates having to move fairways to accommodate a new rule requiring a buffer zone between the course and a creek that runs through the property.|
Rewinski was spurred into action after area farmers pointed fingers at golf courses as big users of nitrogen, something he knew wasn’t so. “Farmers just dump ammonium nitrate on the ground,” he contends, while most private courses were already at or below recommended standards.
Still, Rewinski mobilized the 31 courses to pledge to reduce fertilizer usage even more, as further assurance that excess nitrogen would not infiltrate local waterways and estuaries.
A Cornell University turfgrass professor recommended a 2.7-pound annual-use-per-acre target for nitrogen (N). In the end, 2.8 was adopted. “That was not a problem for most of the private clubs around here,” Rewinski says, noting that most typically use 2.5 to 3.0 pounds of N per acre annually. The bigger challenge was to bring public courses, where average annual use was closer to 5.0 pounds per acre, into the fold.
To get them on board, Rewinski attended a number of meetings and encouraged course owners to agree to the guidelines and reporting requirements. When some clubs expressed concerns about government involvement, Rewinski led an effort to have the USGA compile the N-use figures. It was also agreed that no individual course’s numbers would be released.
Showing Your Good Side
TO COMBAT THE RISING TIDE of overzealous and misguided legislation, superintendents and golf course owners shouldn’t hesitate to showcase their environmental stewardship and tout their sound practices. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:
•Build and maintain community goodwill, by hosting or sponsoring events that bring local media and legislators to your property. While golf courses are often targeted because they are “large, green” areas, turn this into a plus, pointing out the many benefits of green spaces, and showing how they may actually help with storm water remediation.
•If new regulations have mandated water tests, don’t hesitate to publicize when those tests show (as they often will) that a stream leaving the course is actually less contaminated with nutrients than when it enters the property.
•If your course is a certified Audubon Sanctuary, or has rare tree specimens, trumpet these facts and find ways to have the public enjoy these unique aspects of your property. (At least two courses in Wisconsin have full-sized, mature American chestnuts that were far enough north to escape the blight that eliminated them in much of the rest of the country.)
•Have your superintendent write a regular column in your club newsletter—and send copies to the local paper—noting what the club is doing to help the environment. This will get your membership talking positively about your stewardship, both inside your gates and beyond.
•Finally, if you can’t get legislators to come to your course, take your case to them. Two years ago, the Wisconsin Green Industry Federation sponsored a Day on the Hill at the state capitol in Madison. Activities were coordinated for a day-long visit between state legislators and 150 to 200 members of the Green Industry, including golf course superintendents and owners. Some legislators were pleasantly surprised, commenting that they had never heard of the Green Industry before, and encouraging the golf course constituency to have an ongoing presence, so its voice could be properly heard. —CH
At his own course, Rewinski keeps levels low by using a lot of “fertigation”—applying potassium nitrate through the irrigation system. The only granular he spreads is for the dormant feeding. He is big on spoon feeding, too.
In Wisconsin, the turf nutrient management guidelines developed by the state’s DNR have set maximum limits on the amount of fertilizer that can be applied, and restrictions on the type of nutrient carrier.
“Most golf courses [in the state] are already at or below recommended levels, so they won’t have to reduce their N use,” says John Stier, Associate Professor of Environmental Turfgrass Science at the University of Wisconsin. Some courses, though, will have to reconfigure applications to reduce the amount o
f N applied at a single time, he adds. The limit is usually no more than one pound N per 1000 square feet per application, although it can be limited to as little as a quarter-pound.
The Wisconsin initiative would have also included a required Integrated Pest Management Plan, with lists and quantities of pesticides used annually. But at least for now, anything to do with pesticides has been removed from DNR jurisdiction and made the purview of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Superintendents like Schmidt at Butte des Morts are anticipating eventual limits on the amount of fertilizer that can be used, with some types eliminated entirely—in particular, those with phosphorous formulations. “All of these materials are on the docket; we know the state is taking a close look,” he says.
An especially fragile environmental region, covering thousands of square miles in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, is the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Much attention is now being given to protecting this ecosystem, and that’s led to a new spotlight on fertilizer use. Maryland lawmakers have passed nutrient management guidelines for turf, and other states in the region are considering similar proposals to regulate turfgrass fertilization.
One property that is well aware of the need to protect the watershed is Bay Hills Golf Course in Arnold, Md. An Ed Ault design, water comes into play on 11 of Bay Hills’ 18 holes, some of which back up to the Bay, according to Superintendent Chris Fernandes.
“We use a lot of organics,” Fernandes says in describing protective measures already in place at the property. He has several other low-cost tips for superintendents, whether they are using organic or commercial products.
“Don’t spray into a wind,” says Fernandes, who tries to make sure winds are less than five miles per hour before doing any spraying at all. He also tries to avoid spraying before a rainfall.
“If you are going to fertilize before a rain,” he advises, “be sure it will not rain a lot, or that it is going to be a good, soaking rain.”
Choosing the proper equipment helps, too. Fernandes uses T-Jet nozzles to produce big droplets that are less likely to diffuse in the air, but still provide good, accurate coverage. C&RB