Editors' BlogJune 12, 2008

Golf and the Environment

San Diego. Out here in Southern California, the topic of water conservation is never off the table. In May the mayor of Los Angeles proposed a sweeping plan to recycle waste water for drinking, with demand for water predicted to rise by 15 per cent in the next two decades. Golf courses will continually come under scrutiny. This past weekend Frank Deford reported on that subject on NPR, citing the Golf Digest May story by John Barton. Concluded Deford:

You see, at the end of the day, for golf to go green and accommodate itself to the real world, it's simply going to have to be much more brown.

But water conservation is not the only issue. While, most of the letters we've received on John Barton's "How Green is Golf?" piece have, for better or worse, focused on the politics of Global Warming and climate change, a few mentioned pesticides. This one from a Long Island reader does and is worth your time. I'm excerpting. For the whole letter, click more at the bottom of this post. I'd be very interested to hear from superintendents, green-committee members or from other readers who have had similar experiences.

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In my experience environmental concern related to golf has been primarily focused on land, water and animals. Yes, ultimately any environmental effect on the land, water and animals eventually affects PEOPLE. But, the direct effect of golf course chemicals on PEOPLE often seems to be forgotten or ignored.

Since I was affected by a fungicide application at our golf course in 1995, my opportunities to play and my enthusiasm for the game have decreased. I've done a lot of research and have read the MSDS (Material Safety Date Sheets) sheets and instruction labels for pesticides and growth regulators used at our private golf course on Long Island. I've been trying to stimulate a discussion at our club about pesticides since 1995. An Environmental Committee was temporarily formed and posting of pesticide application was temporarily implemented. However, the former superintendent may not have had the knowledge or experience to manage the golf course with fewer chemicals and the course condition suffered. As a result, we have a new superintendent that makes the majority of members very happy because the course is in wonderful condition. But this is achieved using one to six or seven chemical applications nearly every week (most of it seeming to be preventive applications of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and plant growth regulators). Reading the MSDS sheets on growth regulators indicates that some are more toxic than the pesticides! God only knows what these chemicals are doing to the aquifer on Long Island! Is it any wonder why the breast cancer rate is high on Long Island? Is it any wonder why prostate cancer seems to be high at our club?

I also conclude that pesticide manufacturers can get away with' the use of cancer causing toxic chemicals on the golf course because golf courses do not come under the "Worker Protection Standard" (WPS) for agricultural pesticides. Many of the MSDS sheets and label instructions have far more stringent precautionary measures when used agriculturally. But, it's okay for golfers and maintenance workers to go out on the course during and after application! The "Mortality Study Among Golf Course Superintendents from 1970 to 1992" indicated a higher rate of cancer and mortality for golf course superintendents than the general public. Must golfers and workers form unions to achieve some (yet probably still inadequate) measure of protection similar to agricultural workers?

For my health and well-being, I've chosen not to play golf exposed to toxic chemicals (after playing and enjoying golf for 40 years!). I've insisted on being informed of pesticide application at our club.

I'd like to thank you and GolfDigest for helping to stimulate some discussion and awareness about the environmental issues for golf courses. I've sent a letter and a copy of your article to our club's Board of Governors and our local golf association. Something has to change to sustain the game of golf. A younger, more environmentally aware generation will not choose recreation in a toxic environment over more natural recreation.

--Bob Carney

(Illustration: Christoph Niemann)

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