The R&A - Working for Golf

Pesticides; justify their use!

There needs to be a very good reason for applying pesticides to golf courses.

No one wants to use pesticides but, to make golf courses fit for purpose they sometimes have to be brought into play.  The use of pesticides should, however, only be contemplated as a last resort and should always follow an exhaustive process of implementing alternative actions that minimise the need for chemical applications.

Focus on soil and turf health to reduce the need for pesticides

Outbreaks of disease, invasion by weeds, or damage by pests often occur as a consequence of an unhealthy environment.  In this instance, ‘environment’ covers a vast range of factors such as:

  • the health of the soil in which the grass is growing
  • the impact of poor drainage and shade on the health of the turf itself
  • climatic stress from heat, cold, flood and drought
  • stress that we create through maintenance to produce the ‘perfect’ playing surface
  • the stress from traffic – both maintenance and play.

Minimising pesticide use on golf courses is often referenced as ‘Integrated Pest Management’ or IPM.  IPM involves a number of steps or processes that try to avoid the use of pesticides but, if chemical use proves essential you must ensure that applications are made in such a way that they have the least impact on the environment as is possible.

Build a healthy environment

The first step should always be to manage your environment to produce the strongest, healthiest turf possible.  This does not mean feeding up the turf with vast quantities of nitrogen or soaking it with excessive irrigation!  Both produce sickly turf that is more prone to disease, weeds and pests.

Keep soil healthy by maintaining a good structure to the rootzone through adequate aeration and top dressing, and by looking after the biology of the soil.  Manage organic matter by minimising its production and limiting growth to only that necessary to cope with play.  This means knowing exactly how much fertiliser and irrigation your turf needs for its purpose; playing golf and not looking green and pretty!  Preventing excessive organic matter accumulation will mean you don’t have to hit your turf hard with too many stressful coring, scarification and top dressing operations.

Keep the above ground environment healthy by maintaining good drainage and removing sources of shade that impact on turf health.  We do have to manage grass to produce surfaces for golf and the cutting regimes necessary to achieve this significantly reduce leaf area, so the plant doesn’t need the additional pressure of lack of access to sunlight.  Shade will also affect surface drainage and the susceptibility of the ground to prolonged frost and snow cover in winter.  If it is a case of providing healthy turf or shade-inducing vegetation on the golf course, there should only ever be one winner.  If you can’t reduce shade to produce healthy turf, consider moving the green or tee to a more appropriate site and don’t place them in dark corners of the course in the first place!  Also remember that trees and other vegetation grow, so what might seem like a sensible location surrounded by saplings may not remain that way for long.

Make the right choices

Implementing good management, as outlined above, will reduce the pressure from climatic stress but the right selection of grasses in the first instance will form the foundation of a sound IPM programme.  The history of golf course development around the world  is littered with developers using inappropriate grasses which are not suited to the prevailing climate; often requiring a massive investment in resources to keep the grass alive (and sometimes only barely) when better-adapted alternatives would provide decent playing surfaces without this need.

It is not uncommon to see disease, weed and pest damage as a consequence of work done to the course to present ‘ideal’ playing conditions.  Cutting too close, too often, is a classic example as it encourages disease or enables weeds, such as moss, to colonise.  Undertaking intensive operations, such as scarification, coring and top dressing, in order to manage organic matter can damage the turf and provides opportunities for diseases, pests and weeds to flourish, particularly if done at times when the turf is already under climatic or environmental stress.  Plan the timing of work carefully to avoid such a situation and never push your turf beyond the boundaries of its endurance.

Be realistic as to what your turf can produce and strictly limit maintenance-induced stress; otherwise you will be very reliant on pesticides.

Reliance on pesticides is not a sustainable option

Being reliant on pesticides is a bad place to be.  It suggests poor location, poor grass selection, poor maintenance practices or a combination of the three.  The current global trend towards stricter regulation on pesticide availability and use, together with the cost of treatment, suggests that reliance is also an untenable position.  Countries such as Denmark and Canada are leading the way in setting out legislation that puts severe restrictions on pesticide use.  A recent development in Denmark has been the allocation of points to active ingredients and an associated total annual points allowance for areas of the golf course.  There are complete bans on the use of pesticides on turf in some parts of Canada, apparently resulting in weed-infested lawns and parks.  However, golf courses are mostly exempt from this severe measure…for the time being.  In France, the Government has set a target of a 50% reduction in use by 2018.  In Germany, golf courses are designated as being “publicly accessible”, which brings a special permissions process and access to a very limited number of products.

If you have to use pesticides then you must be able to justify their use, based on a management regime aimed at minimising their employment.

If you have done everything in your power to prevent turning to pesticides, and can demonstrate this to be the case, but there remains a severe risk of an outbreak that will have real consequences on playing surface quality and, hence, revenue, then reaching for the bottle may be the only choice.