The two sides of pesticides

IAN HUTCHINSON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:02 PM ET

The popular theory among those bitter about golf courses receiving an exemption in Ontario's pending ban on cosmetic pesticide use is that the game offers a playground for the rich and, therefore, any business that caters to the elite gets preferential treatment.

Tell the blue-collar folks who love the game as much as the white that it is a rich person's game. Canada has one of the highest golf participation rates per capita in the world, so if you follow that theory, then we must have an inordinate number of millionaires in this country.

Then again, who allowed fact to get in the way of a good, emotional whine over such a sensitive subject?

Just for fun, let's take a cold, hard look at the business of golf.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

A study by Golf 20/20, an American think-tank that looks at the future of the game, shows that in 2005, the U.S. golf economy accounted for $76 billion worth of goods and services and two million jobs, with a total wage income of $61 billion.

The total economic impact of golf on the economy that year was $195 billion.

There are no Canadian numbers available although the National Allied Golf Association is considering a similar study. Still, the U.S. numbers are powerful and Canada's, quite likely, are similar on a per capita basis.

So, the theory is: Let's mess with an industry that relies on pristine conditions and employs numerous chefs, bartenders, superintendents, pro shop employees and others who wouldn't be considered wealthy in a province where the economy already has been hit hard.

That is one side of it.

But strictly from a business point of view, it makes sense for the golf industry to use as few pesticides as possible.

"You want to keep your costs down and you want to stay competitive," said Ken Cousineau, executive director of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association.

"It costs us every time we bring out the sprayer," added Teri Yamada, managing director of communications and government relations for the Royal Canadian Golf Association. "It makes a whole lot of sense for us to reduce it.

"The industry has been spending research dollars to find alternatives. We've been spending research dollars to find maintenance practices to reduce the stress on the plant and the need to use these products in the first place."

Economics quickly erases the picture that has been painted of golf courses spraying haphazardly, allowing toxic chemicals to seep into water and kill off wildlife, which is what some people want to believe.

Logic alone would dictate that superintendents would not want to risk their own health by spraying irresponsibly. Nor does the golf industry want to endanger anybody else.

As Yamada points out, courses post notices so golfers know when spraying is taking place.

"If we honestly had research that unequivocally showed a linkage between any of the products we use and detrimental health effects, gosh we'd be the first ones to stop using them," she said, recalling a ban on mercury-based products years ago.

"The last thing we want to do is endanger any of our clients or staff."

While some would put a blanket over all pesticides as being dangerous, the golf industry points out that many of the products have been approved for use by Health Canada, yet banned by municipal and provincial governments.

"If there is a concern, it's that there is one arm of government, being Health Canada, doing exceptional work that is recognized around the world in terms of the processes that it follows to approve these products," Cousineau said.

"Then, there are other arms of government, whether it be the provincial governments or the municipal governments that are then, without any research, saying: 'Well, regardless of what Health Canada says, we're not going to let you use the product'."

Yamada agrees.

"We are probably one of the strictest nations in allowing anything to be sold for use in Canada. Those products that have already passed federal muster, if you will, for some reason, are no longer okay to use," she said.

For the most part, the golf industry has continued a constructive dialogue with governments over the years. Golf superintendents are required to be licenced by their provincial governments before joining the CGSA, which also encourages them to become knowledgeable in Integrated Pest Management.

FOR DECADES

"The whole idea is to use approaches to managing that environment, which is the golf course, in a way to reduce or eliminate inputs (pesticides, water, fertilizer, etc.)," Cousineau said.

"Golf has been doing that, either in a formal or informal manner, for decades."

To ease the minds of those opposed to golf getting an exemption, the pending ban certainly will contain strict guidelines for courses to follow, so the game hardly will be getting a free ride.

The exemption will, however, allow golf courses to carry on as places to work and play for both the rich and not-so-rich.


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