Golf Course Scores in Pesticide-Free Era
An interview at the Presidio Golf Course San Francisco, CA
Paul Goettlich / South Bend Tribune 13jul97
"Golf course superintendents dont like to spray chemicals. They dont like to have them around. But we have to feed our families. We cant just say to the players that the environment is in bad shape and Im going to stop using chemicals, and if you guys dont like it thats too bad. If I did that then Id be out of a job. Were trying to do this in a slow progressive way in which people will help us."
- Superintendent Tom Brooks
Ive just returned from a visit to San Francisco. The fog rolls in daily over this wonderfully diverse city with cable cars, Chinatown and the Golden Gate Bridge. Just above the Golden Gate Bridge is the 102 year old Presidio Golf Course. It was founded in 1895 within the historic 1480 acre former Army post lying between the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.
The course was transferred to the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on October 1, 1994. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a 76,500 acre National Park stretching along 28 miles of coastline north and south of the Golden Gate.Established in 1972, it is one of the most popular units of the National Park System, with more than 20 million visitors annually. In 1995 Arnold Palmer Golf contracted to manage the golf course. It pledged to maintain the cultural and natural resources of the Presidio Golf Course while making it a national model for environmentally sustainable course operations.
When Palmer Golf came on board the course was in very poor condition. $4 million was budgeted to rehabilitate both the course and facilities. Through the use of environmentally sound methods of restoration and maintenance they have not only dramatically improved the course but, in doing so, have attracted many more players.This course has not had any pesticide treatments in 1½ years. According to Course Superintendent Tom Brooks, they take a "minimalist approach which is about managing all of the cultural elements on the golf course to produce the best possible turf."
Tom Brooks holds a B.S. in horticulture. He believes that this minimalist approach has been a success. By not using pesticides the burden of maintenance has been shifted away from dangerous chemicals to one that favors ecological diversity. While mechanical and cultural methods are labor intensive there is still a savings over intensive pesticide applications. If the long term environmental and human health factors were to be accounted for, the savings would be quite a bit higher.
The "big picture" for Tom is that "golfers look for a golf course with good playing conditions. Those are the conditions that we (superintendents) have to meet or were not in business." He stresses that his "method is not extreme, it merely takes a more logical path towards maintenance in that all conditions and possible actions are factored into the decisions.""Golf course superintendents dont like to spray chemicals. They dont like to have them around. But we have to feed our families. We cant just say to the players that the environment is in bad shape and Im going to stop using chemicals, and if you guys dont like it thats too bad. If I did that then Id be out of a job. Were trying to do this in a slow progressive way in which people will help us."
While they reserve the right to use pesticides they will make every effort to manage the course by cultural and mechanical methods. Presently they are having a problem with the English Daisy, which thrives in this cool, fog-drenched air. If allowed to thrive this daisy would obscure the view of the white golf balls by blanketing the fairways and ruffs. Tom showed me a couple of test areas where they are getting some good results from alternative methods. If the problem continues to grow he may use a pesticide. Careful surveillance of the course allows them to make decisions regarding specific areas rather than covering the entire area with pesticides.
In the works right now are the testing of an organic fertilizer and the usage of treated effluent water from the City of San Francisco. The pipes for the water are already in place and they are waiting for the city to complete the piping to the course. On a hot day they can use 220,000 gallons of water in their low-pressure water system. Palmer Golf wants this golf course to serve as an example to the rest of the world by using the most up-to-date methods."The biggest problem with the golf course industry right now is peoples image that they think everything has to be perfect," Tom said. In what he describes as "on the ground action," marshals and park rangers field questions and comments from skeptical players who think the Presidio should be weed free. Practically all of these skeptics change their opinion after listening to his reasons for the current thinking. "Once they understand whats going on they wholeheartedly support it and say, Oh, thats the way it should be. Were not striving to have fairways 100% clean, as its neither realistic, nor necessary for a good golf course."
Looking out at my own lawn, now that Im home, I think that this is a good enough place for me to be using more environmentally sound methods of maintaining my lawn.
- Number one on my list is reducing my expectations of the lawn. Having a few spots that are of different color will not mean the end of the world. Maybe I could even have a dandelion or two?
- By not using pesticides I will also be giving many living things such as butterflies and bees a chance to do all that hard work of pollinating. Imagine having to do that for them. I have enough to do right now, thank you very much.
- Water the lawn infrequently and for longer periods. A longer period of watering grows deeper roots and healthier grass. Ill have to experiment with whats best for my lawn but probably Ill water once a week for a half-hour on each area.
- Mulch the clippings into the lawn while mowing, thereby eliminating the need for fertilizer. The clippings then wont have to be dragged out to the street using multiple plastic bags. This one is a real winner. It reduces fertilizer, plastic bags, and heres the part I like, it reduces my work.
- Spread the word that our idea of perfect should coincide with that of nature. Polluting our land and water is no longer in fashion...not to mention the fact that it's killing us and all the other creatures we share the Earth with.
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