Restricting the use of pesticides on golf courses has been on the agenda in Denmark since 1999. Although the focus has been on pesticides for 14 years, it is my understanding that it is only in the last couple of years that we have seen a change in attitude within golf towards the use of pesticides in golf course management. There is definitely a more critical approach to the use of pesticides and many would like to completely go without this chemical aid.
Concurrent with the increased focus in national politics this has been an issue for quite a while and the use of pesticides has been the most discussed topic at the DGU’s meeting of golf club board representatives in recent years.
This major change in attitude is clear to me when I give talks directly to the members of golf clubs. In recent years I have experienced members standing up on their own initiative saying: “I am proud of being a member of a golf club that prioritises the environment and doesn’t use pesticides”. This understanding from the golfers is an essential precondition for the golf clubs to be able to continuously satisfy their customers and members in the future.
However, expectations must match reality and removing pesticides from the greenkeeper’s tool box will impact on course condition. The likelihood is that to achieve the goal set by the Danish Ministry of the Environment of a 40% reduction in the use of pesticides by the end of 2015, there will have to be a change in the of appearance on Danish golf courses.
We expect the presence of more weeds to be the most visually apparent change on golf courses. For this reason it is essential that the golfers are prepared for the new tomorrow so that their expectations of course condition match what is actually possible within the new legislation. “
Golfers may have to accept the presence of more weeds, such as daisy and clover
Communication will be the corner-stone of how golf clubs decide to handle the new rules and regulations. We must simply tell golfers about the standards set by society and how it will affect the golfers expectations and demands for good conditions on golf courses. The communication must happen on two levels – nationally from the unions, but also locally from the golf clubs directly to their members and guests.
A slightly different approach is to rely on research and development to help us. Research is, however, time-consuming and it takes years before results are used in practice on a day-to-day basis and, in my experience, research in golf course management is no different!
Alongside the research, we need to see a change to working procedures at the golf clubs. Greenkeepers need to improve the recording and documentation of their work. To effectively change a management strategy for the better, it is essential to know what has already been done. To do this effectively we must develop easy-to-use recording tools.
Subsequently the recording must be transformed into action which is an area where the consultants within the industry should help.
Consultants are well situated to gather best practice examples from golf clubs and are in a good position to make sure this knowledge is shared across the entire golf industry.Greenkeepers have developed many good and practical solutions that can shorten the road towards a completely pesticide-free golf industry. There are already many golf clubs in Denmark who have adapted the management of their golf courses to the new legislation and many more are in the process of doing so. An example of this is grazing of rough areas with sheep. There are reports that this has reduced the use of pesticides in these areas to zero and there are positive side-effects such as the control of hogweed and increased biodiversity. The experiences of grazing are all good and at the same time they tell a positive story about golf.
Grazing reduces fuel costs for mowing, controls weeds and produces more playable rough
Many golf clubs in Denmark have worked with research and dissemination of knowledge but especially Smørum , Furesø and Sydsjællands. These are good examples of clubs that have contributed enormously over the years. All of them have willingly set aside areas for research and they have actively participated in the testing of pesticide-free management, grass variety testing, fertiliser testing and testing of biological products. The greenkeepers gain first-hand knowledge from the testing and have readily shared their newly attained knowledge with colleagues.
We can also gain a lot of knowledge from other similar industries. Agriculture is one of them but other industries like cemetery maintenance could potentially spawn new ideas and solutions to reduce pesticide input on golf courses.
In summary, research, sharing knowledge and changing the attitudes of the people involved with golf are all important parameters that can help the golf industry to handle stricter legislation on the use of pesticides in the future. The major effort from the various golf clubs is often driven by enthusiastic greenkeepers and their passion for working on and with golf courses. The solutions to reducing pesticide input are obviously dependent of the nature of individual golf courses but the inspiration to go down this route are out there ready to grasp. All we need now is to change the expectations and demands of the golfers for always wanting unrealistically perfect conditions. There is a need for common inspiration across borders and it is my hope that this article can inspire thoughts on how to reduce the need for pesticides.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not, necessarily, those of The R&A.