by Michael Kropf
Maintaining a golf course has gone from the days of Caddyshack to a science that requires a wide range of knowledge and tools. Golf courses no longer use high rates of fertilizer, large quantities of pesticides, and irrigating with large volumes of ground water. In the past, golf courses were negatively perceived to harm the environment only for the benefit of a game. However, with increased turf research, improvements in technology and equipment, and a generation of highly educated professionals, golf course maintenance has become a true benefit to the environment.
In Tucson, most golf courses are irrigating with effluent or reclaimed water. This preserves the groundwater supply which is a very valuable resource in the desert. Additionally, the reclaimed water is being filtered of its harmful salts by the turf and returned clean back into the ground water supply. Not only are golf courses using reclaimed water, but new technologies monitor soil moisture and salt content that prevent wasting water from over irrigating. The moisture sensors are linked with computerized irrigation systems to restrict irrigation, which in turn, lowers water usage and costs.
New pesticides have been developed which are more effective at lower quantities. The old application rates were in pounds per acre to control diseases, weeds, and insects. The newer products use application rates of ounces per acre. The impact on the environment is reduced and the amounts of pesticides reaching the water table are dramatically reduced. Similarly, research has helped determine effective nutrient levels required in the soil to maintain a healthy turf. In the past, fertilizer was either applied on a set program of weekly to monthly applications or fertilizer was applied solely based on grass color. Fertilizer is now applied based on soil tests showing what nutrients need to be added to the soil, and what nutrients are already sufficient for the plant. This lowers both costs of operations, and benefits the environment by reducing runoff and leaching into ground water.
Fifty years ago manures and other types of organics were the most commonly applied fertilizers. Eventually, synthetic fertilizers replaced the organics because they worked really fast, and were easier to handle and apply. The synthetics do not have a bad odor or leave a lot of residual product sitting on the grass to bother the playing conditions. However, the synthetic fertilizers do not last as long in the soil so higher amounts are applied to maintain proper nutrient levels in the soil. Newer fertilizers are now being designed to have the golfer friendly aspects of the synthetics combined with the long term abilities of the organics to reduce application amounts and lower operation costs.
Even with all the new technologies and tools available to maintain a golf course, the most important is a well educated superintendent. Most superintendents have some kind of formal education, and are able apply these new technologies to their golf courses. They are able to provide a high quality golf course while also having a positive impact on the environment.