Tackling the chemical misconception in golf

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Those pristine putting surfaces we all love don’t come about naturally, but Carr Golf’s Ed Pettit explains that chemical usage is kept to a minimum and represents “a drop in the ocean” comparative to other leading industries

Carr Golf is a name that needs no introduction to anyone familiar with Irish golf. Founded by the late Joe Carr in 1990, the company has grown to encompass services, maintenance and golf course management and today they work with 24 clubs and courses nationwide. And from their position at the cutting edge, there are few better placed to provide firsthand examples of what challenges clubs are faced with, what opportunities are being presented, and what regulations are in place to keep golf on the right sustainability path.

“Compliance with the existing Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive is a big thing,” says Ed Pettit, Managing Director of Carr Golf’s Maintenance Division. “There are fairly onerous requirements on golf clubs around that directive and about the use of pesticides. All of our clubs are fully compliant in that sense.

“Some key requirements are that they must have a registered professional advisor advising on the use of pesticides, application equipment must be certified every three years, and there must be electronic records kept of all pesticide applications. On inspection, a club must be able to provide risk assessments around the use of plant protection products and be able to demonstrate the execution of an integrated test-management program.”

While organic practices are growing in popularity across many sectors, going fully organic simply isn’t an option if golf courses are to be presented in the manner that we’ve come to expect and make the game a more enjoyable pursuit. And it’s primarily on the greens that pesticides, fungicides and insecticides are used, and the putting surfaces represent a tiny fraction of the overall area of a golf course. That’s not to say that herbicides and plant growth regulators aren’t used elsewhere – they have to be if tee boxes, fairways and even rough are to remain consistent and well-presented. You need look no further than your own garden to see how easily weeds can take root and multiply if not managed.

But in terms of chemical use as a whole, the amounts used on golf courses are but a drop in the ocean compared to other sectors, primarily agriculture and on top of that, the actual products that can be used are subject to even stricter regulation.

“On golf courses, we can only use plant protection products and pesticides that are registered for amenity use,” Pettit explains, “agriculture would have a far greater variety of pesticides available, and they are much stronger and the active ingredients much more concentrated. Comparatively speaking, golf course usage amounts to 0.34% of the combined golf and agriculture usage, so it’s miniscule in comparison.”

But regulatory measures are only going in one direction, and staying ahead of the curve has now become a vital aspect for golf course maintenance teams. A recent EU proposal entitled the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR), which sought to prohibit the use of plant protection products in all recreational areas – golf courses included – has since been dropped, but the belt will inevitably continue to be tightened in the coming years.

“It is a journey we’re on,” Pettit divulges. “I went over to the Netherlands in March for a research trip because their national action plan – imposed by themselves and their local governments as opposed to by Europe – is so far ahead of Ireland’s. The greenkeeping industry are dealing with restrictions that we’re going to end up dealing with down the road, so seeing what they’re doing, learning from them and starting to make those changes now before they’re forced upon us is going to be critical. You don’t want to be suddenly having to react in three-, four-, or five-years’ time, you want to do this proactively so that when the time comes, courses are ready for the new reality.”

Something that is easily lost in the narrative surrounding chemical usage is that the vast majority of a golf course is an actual hotbed for biological diversity. They’re proven to be environmentally rich, and managed and maintained to remain so.

“I think that’s a common misconception,” Pettit agrees, “that in some ways golf courses are damaging the environment. Whereas in actual fact, golf courses are great areas for protecting and enhancing biodiversity. That’s a PR battle that the golf industry has to win on a wider level. We’re actually good for the environment because the landscape and the wildlife are typically managed well.”

This article appeared in Irish Golfer Magazine – to read the edition in full CLICK HERE

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