Pesticide ban could put golf courses on endangered list

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

It's the first day of spring and those icy late-winter fingers could be worse.

If you're a golfer, a pair of cold hands might be at your throat before long.

So far, area golf courses have remained immune from a growing movement seeking to ban pesticides, but it's only a chip shot from the cosmetic care of lawns to the life-blood of greens and fairways. And the outcome could range from second-rate courses to no courses at all in some cases.

First, you have to look at the game program in what has become a heated battle. There are the anti-pesticide activists, the lawn care industry, ordinary homeowners, politicians and well-heeled multinational activist corporations.

What does it have to do with golf? A total ban on the use of pesticides would put every course in jeopardy. Toronto courses might find out shortly.

Metro Toronto proposed a bylaw in 2002 banning the use of pesticide use on city lawns and gave golf courses a five-year exemption, along with stiff regulations on how courses must store and apply it. It called for the courses to provide documentation for each pesticide used and when.

The bylaw that eventually was passed didn't mention golf courses specifically, but it lingers, with forces pushing for a ban that includes golf courses. London council will vote on a pesticide ban next Monday. This is an issue that isn't going to go away.

So, what's the problem? Lots of people grow nice lawns without pesticides, so why don't golf courses?

Homeowners don't have greens, fairways and thousands of feet marching over them from spring to fall, raising divots as they go. And they certainly don't have the acreage susceptible to a wide variety of grass-killing pests.

Maintaining a golf course is a science and there is evidence it cannot be done without pesticides.

A three-year study by Cornell University researchers on a New York golf course involved a cross-section of non-chemical management, use of pesticides and integrated pest management.

The aggressive non- chemical approach involved the removal of trees for more sunlight and air circulation, weed removal by hand, composting and as much coddling as one might get at a spa. It worked -- but some greens had to be closed for weeks at a time to carry it out.

Try telling a golfer he'll have to play the first three holes over again to get in 18 holes of golf.

The results were fairly equal -- except for the turf- stressful months of July, August and part of September when non-chemical strategies left those greens below standard.

A questionnaire presented to the golfers at the course showed where the golfers stood on the pesticide question. Thirty per cent said they wanted high quality regardless, 54 per cent wanted reasonable quality through judicious use of pesticides, 11 per cent wanted minimum pesticides regardless of the result, and three per cent wanted no pesticides no matter what.

It's a complex issue that gets more complex if all golf courses, including those in London and area, fall under a pesticide ban. A lot of people live for golf. A lot of people are employed in it.

All sorts of researchers have conducted studies, but there seems nothing definitive showing that pesticides currently being used are hazardous to health if used properly. You'd think golfers would be most at risk since they come into contact with pesticides by handling clubs and golf balls constantly.

It's a hot topic that goes well beyond the cosmetic care of residential lawns. Some powerful forces are arrayed on both sides and there's enough emotion to melt a golf ball. Fore!


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