Golf and the Environment

Turfgrass and trees provide many benefits to people. Althoug h homeowners devote considerable time and energy to the appearance of their yards, they often do not realize the environmental benefits of well-maintained turf grasses and trees. These benefits extend far beyond the property of the homeowner. They also can improve environmental quality for a community by providing green space – parks, athletic areas, domestic and commercial lawns and especially golf courses.

As the game of golf has grown in popularity, the sensitivity of the general population to the use of limited land resources for golf courses has grown as well. The golf course, with its broad expanses of maintained green space, may cause some people to question the amount of fertilizers, pesticides and water used.

Many organizations are actively addressing these questions. The United States Golf Association (USGA) has supported environmental research with more than 60 studies in the last twelve years. The Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA), Sports Turf Manager’s Association (STMA), University Cooperative Extension Service, American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and many other associations are working to better understand environmental issues associated with turfgrass and golf courses.

Ongoing training by the USGA and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) ensures that golf course superintendents have access to the latest information about environmentally sound management of fertilizers, water and pesticides. In addition, members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) work closely with local zoning and regulatory agencies to promote and implement innovative design solutions to protect the environment.

The USGA has an 80-year tradition of turf grass research. This research has produced turfgrasses that use less water, stand up to traffic, and tolerate a range of weather conditions. Today, the USGA is spearheading research efforts concerning the environmental effects of fertilizers and pesticides. More than 30 research projects on such issues have been commissioned since 1991. These projects are located at leading universities in all regions of the United States.

There is a critical need to share sound scientific information about turfgrass management and the impact and benefits of golf courses on the environmental quality of a community. Without unbiased information, communities would find it difficult to evaluate whether a golf course is a good use of land, or to evaluate the environmental impact of their present courses. Documented research provides objective information for these decisions.

Over the years, research sponsored by the USGA has identified specific turfgrass management practices designed to produce healthier turfgrass, preserve or improve ground and surface water quality, and promote a balanced ecology that will benefit human beings and a broad range of wildlife species. USGA agronomists, GCSAA regional training seminars and university turfgrass specialists regularly bring such information to golf course superintendents and other turfgrass managers. USGA research will continue to investigate the potential environmental effects of turfgrass management practices. The resulting objective information will be available to support community decision makers and turfgrass management professionals in golf, as well as their colleagues who manage athletic fields, recreational areas and home lawns.

This document provides an introduction to the benefits of golf course turfgrass. The role of golf course surrounds, roughs, trees and shrubs also is briefly described. A variety of research from multiple sources is cited. The work of Drs. Beard and Green was particularly helpful in summarizing current research. These studies conclude that the unique characteristics of turfgrasses, – along with the landscape design of golf courses, improve the aesthetics and property values of a community. They also can improve its environmental quality.