The R&A - Working for Golf

Using chemicals responsibly

Can you justify applying chemicals to sustain playing and economic performance?

Chemical usage for all land managers is being reviewed and, often, reduced by legislation and economic recession. How can golf be seen to be responsible over its use of pesticides and fertilisers?  Can chemical use on golf courses be justified to sustain playing surfaces and revenue?  Is chemical use safe for human health and the environment?

The term ‘pesticide’ covers everything from fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, lumbricides, nematocides and rodenticides.  Every time a spraying applicator is taken onto a golf course to apply pesticide, there is a potential pollution risk to the environment and it must be recognised that reliance on pesticides is not a sustainable option for golf course management.

Legislation governing the use of pesticides around the world is moving towards a process of managed reduction and a requirement for justification of use, alongside detailed recording of all applications. The use of pesticides for purely cosmetic purposes is now impossible to justify.

Practical steps you can take to begin reducing your use of pesticides include:

  • managing to promote healthy turf and healthy soil
  • being aware of the legislation that exists to govern the handling, storage and use of pesticides in your locality
  • fully understanding the cause and nature of the issues you are dealing with and the impact of the potential “solutions” on the table
  • seeking specialist advice for proper identification of problems so that the most integrated approach to managing them can be achieved
  • implementing a programme of cultural control that will minimise the likelihood of problems requiring the use of a pesticide  
  • making sure your management programme is not contributing to the problem by creating conditions that favour diseases, pests or weeds
  • alleviating turf stress caused by climatic or environmental conditions
  • setting tolerance levels and implementing a regular monitoring programme to catch problems earlier in their development.

Cultural control is invariably the preferred option, economically and environmentally, when attempting to prevent or treat diseases, pests and weeds.  If turf is managed sustainably, the frequency of such problems will be considerably reduced. Nonetheless, there may still be occasions when a pesticide application is considered necessary. In this case, pesticide use should always be the last resort and any application must be carried out in a responsible manner, in compliance with relevant legislation and label recommendations.

If you need to use a pesticide, the ideal procedure to adhere to would be as follows:

  • check with your local authority regarding the restrictions on chemical use in your area 
  • ensure you select the correct product and use the correct dosage of active ingredient and water (if using soluble pesticides) 
  • ensure all storage, handling and application is carried out by fully qualified greenkeeping personnel and in accordance with local regulations
  • utilise the most effective spraying equipment that will ensure the greatest efficacy from the application while preventing drift
  • ensure that prevailing weather conditions are conducive to safe application, preventing pollution from drift and run-off
  • establish no spray zones around water bodies to remove the potential for pollution to aquatic systems
  • place appropriate signage to warn golfers and the general public that pesticides have been applied 
  • review your management strategy to assess how disease, pest and weed problems can be avoided in the future.

Excessive use of fertiliser, mainly by farmers, is blamed for nitrate and phosphate pollution of aquatic systems which can result in eutrophication (an outcome of which can be the depletion of oxygen in the water, which induces reductions in specific fish and other animal populations).

The key aim of any turf fertiliser programme should be to apply the minimum amount of nutrients to achieve optimum turf health (to compensate for the impact and stress of golfer and greenkeeper traffic) and desirable playing quality.

This approach should also reflect positively in the annual budget, through savings and also by avoiding the need for costly and disruptive management practices required to manage the excessive growth and organic matter accumulation which is the result of too much fertiliser application.  Additional unnecessary costs will be incurred through excessive feeding, e.g. more frequent mowing, with extra wear on machinery, and the  production of greater quantities of grass clippings which will have to be disposed of.

Important steps to ensure that you are employing the correct fertiliser programme include:

  • basing fertiliser need on the desire to produce firm and healthy turf
  • monitoring trends from soil and tissue testing
  • developing a programme which provides sufficient nutrients for consistent  turf growth and recovery from traffic
  • monitoring the volume of grass clippings being removed when mowing
  • timing fertiliser or chemical applications carefully to avoid wastage, and potential pollution from run-off, or pick-up by golf or maintenance traffic
  • selecting the ideal form of fertiliser for your needs, for example granular, liquid or slow release, which may vary through the season
  • complying with all statutory regulations.

Specialist advice is available to help develop an effective fertiliser programme. Qualified agronomists or consultants should base their advice having taken account of your sustainability objectives.

Reducing your need for pesticides and fertilisers will not only provide better protection for the environment and make your operation more socially acceptable, it will also have a direct cost saving benefit to your golf club.