American golf courses hold themselves to a high standard when it comes to maintaining the thick, perfectly manicured and weed-free turf on greens and fairways. To attain this standard, golf course managers rely on a toxic assortment of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other chemicals. These practices have been linked to numerous diseases in humans, including cancer and damage to local wildlife. In recent years, however, golf course managers have begun to work with environmental experts to maintain their courses in ways that are less damaging to the environment and human health.
The methods used to maintain an organic golf course are similar to those used to maintain any organic lawn or turf. Maintaining organic turf starts with healthy soil. This may require aerating compacted soil. Earthworms and other organisms will aerate soil naturally, but they are usually absent from soils treated with large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Soil should be tested for pH and nutrient content. Watering and drainage should be carefully monitored; too much or too little water will encourage weed growth. The variety of grass should be carefully selected to ensure it can thrive in the given climate.
Although there is currently no system in place to certify a golf course as organic, interest continues to grow and many golf courses are making efforts to reduce the amounts of chemical pesticides they use. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ web page on Organic Lawns and Landscapes.
In its May 2008 issue, Golf Digest, in what it calls the most important article it has ever published, featured an article, "How Green is Golf?" The piece asks the hard questions about the environmental impact of golf in a series of in-depth interviews with a builder, a golf course superintendent, a regulator, and an environmentalist and activist — Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman (read the interview). See also Beyond Pesticides' response to EPA's criticism of Mr. Feldman's interview.
Beyond Pesticides also serves on a steering committee that seeks to develop a collaborative strategy with the golf course industry in an effort to effect change. This group developed the Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United States. Increasingly, players and golf course managers are asking the right questions and looking for answers that result in meaningful reductions in pesticide use.