The EU’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to protect human health and the environment from the possible risks and impacts of pesticides, will soon come into effect and is set to have a profound impact on golf courses.
Managing Director of Carr Golf’s Maintenance Division, Ed Pettit, is among those calling for golf to be given an exemption from the EU’s aims to reduce the use of pesticides in Ireland as there are concerns that golf has been overlooked in the proposal.
The proposed changes will have a profoundly negative impact on the golf industry in Ireland and Pettit believes that course conditioning will fall dramatically below acceptable standards and visitor expectations. Participation levels will be affected as golfers question the value for money which could see club revenue fall to unsustainable levels, potentially forcing a significant number of clubs to close.
The EU Commissions’ proposal states a complete prohibition of Plant Protection Products (PPP’s) in sensitive areas where ‘Recreation or sports grounds’ have been categorised as ‘sensitive areas’ in Article 18 of the new regulations.
Restrictions will be placed on the Irish Government’s ability to apply a derogation in relation to the use of PPPs on these recreation and sports grounds. In the Republic of Ireland, over 300 golf courses account for approximately 8,100 hectares, with 4.4 million hectares dedicated to agriculture, meaning that golf covers just 0.17% the area of agriculture.
“Golf should be exempt from the ‘sensitive areas’ designation,” stressed Pettit. “The golf industry can get behind and fully support the bulk of the initiatives proposed and it’s not as if the golf industry is saying ‘no’. What is being proposed for agriculture can be applied for golf but this article 18, including the prohibition of PPPs in sport, is the problem we have.
“We feel golf should be exempt at the very least from that classification.”
If the SUR is passed into EU law, golf clubs will be prohibited entirely from using several pesticides in their agronomic programmes. Specifically, it will preclude the use of plant growth regulators, fungicides and herbicides which are critical to turfgrass management where heights of cut range from 3mm-50mm. They are vital to help improve root and sward density, inhibit vertical growth, control weeds, control disease and improve turf performance.
Golf’s overall usage of pesticides is relatively minimal with golf courses accounting for just 0.17% of sprayable hectares for fungicides, 0.05% of active ingredient of fungicides, 2.54% of sprayable hectares for plant growth regulators, 0.5% of the kilograms of active ingredient in plant growth regulators, 0.18% of sprayed hectares for herbicides, 0.4% of the kilograms of active ingredient in herbicides.
“If we don’t have those products, the condition and presentation of golf courses will undoubtedly deteriorate,” explained Pettit. “You will have scenarios where golf clubs, when they get a disease outbreak, will lose significant amounts of turf on greens and golf will be remarkably different if these products are prohibited on golf courses.
“These restrictions will change how golf courses look, play and present. The question is what happens then in that scenario? Our expectation would be that participation levels would drop off. Will members and golfers be prepared to pay the same level of membership fees and green fees that they pay now given the product will be very different? Well, that remains to be seen.
“Other sports will be impacted too but to a lesser extent. The likes of football pitches and tennis courts, bowls etc. are smaller areas comparatively speaking so are easier to manage and they are not always played on grass, so the proposed changes will be more manageable for them.”
Pettit also expressed his concern for the negative impact this will have on golf tourism, particularly on Ireland’s links courses which is in direct competition with the UK for the American and European market.
“Golf tourism is a big one, Ireland is one of the largest golf tourism destinations in the world. A lot is driven by the links golf courses and the North American market makes up to half of golf visitors to Ireland and it’s for that links product.
“If you can imagine in the UK where the same restrictions won’t apply, those golf courses will continue as they are while ours will deteriorate. It puts the Republic of Ireland at a disadvantage.”
Overall, the general feeling of Pettit and his colleagues at Carr Golf is that the changes proposed in limiting plant protection products are far too sinister considering the golf industry’s use of such products has minimal environmental impact, and he warned of the drastic economic consequences.
“Ireland makes up about 0.17% of the land dedicated to agriculture and in total, golf uses 0.34% of the PPPs supplied in Ireland. When golf accounts for such a small proportion of this, the environmental and risk to human health will really have no impact if the PPPs continue to be used in agriculture.
“The impact on the industry, however, on the people who play golf and the impact on the economy will be significant. Over 200,000 golfers visit Ireland each year generating €300 million in revenue. 6,800 people are directly employed in the golf industry and golf accounts for 17% of consumer spending on sport, so any negative impact will be felt economically.
“If we are at a distinct disadvantage to our nearest competitor, that will have a major financial impact on Ireland too. There is no upside to the environment from including golf courses in this initiative, it is inconsequential.”
There is no doubt among those in the industry that the golf community should support the vast bulk of the initiatives set out in the proposed Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation, including the reduction in the use of PPPs by 2030. However, 100% prohibition is not just unviable, it is unlikely to have a material impact given the land disparity between agriculture and golf in Ireland.