I was thrilled to see GolfDigest.com added Ron Whitten's December issue story on two organic golf courses and the issues they face (none really!). I think it's the most important story I've read this year, assuming you think it's time to see more courses lean on sustainable practices.
A couple of highlights:
Like Applewood, Granby River has bluegrass fairways and bent-grass greens. Tees and greens are cut a little higher than at Applewood, but the turf is lush and sparkling green, juxtaposed against large areas of tall, tan native grasses, conditions certainly suitable to its green fee ($40 Canadian). Again, it's hard to believe a golf course can look and play this good using homemade remedies and witches' brews. But it's true.
"We haven't used an ounce of any pesticide, herbicide or fungicide," Thevenaz says. "We fertilize fairways using composted turkey manure. We fertilize our greens with a compost tea that's a blend of bone meal, blood meal, kelp and humate, a refined carbon to encourage root growth. We brew the tea, supplied from a firm in New Brunswick, for 24 hours, then mix in the organics and apply it in liquid form.
"To fight disease on the greens, we apply a solution of garlic extract. It's not that expensive, about the same price per gallon as a pesticide. To fight grub worms, we apply rock glacial dust. It's abrasive; the worms choke on it."
So what do they do if a problem does break out? Isn't there a strong temptation to spray a quick application to nip the problem? No, they say, mainly because they have no chemicals on hand.
"If a disease hits one of my greens," Rusch says, "I'll mow it with one of my walk mowers, to keep the disease from spreading to other greens, I'll apply a little ammonium sulfate to get the grass growing aggressively, and I'll either add water or back off the water, depending upon the disease."
"Weed control is the one thing that organic management hasn't conquered," Carlson says. "If we do anything, we hand-pick them, even in the rough. Golfers just don't like weeds anywhere in their line of vision."
So that's the big trade-off with organic golf? It's much more labor-intensive. It'll drive up the cost of the game.
Not really. Rusch's maintenance budget at Applewood, including payroll, is just $350,000 (considerably less than comparable 18-hole public courses). Granby River's is even less, $247,000 Canadian, including equipment leases. Carlson says his Vineyard budget is in the mid-range for New England private courses, spending a little more on labor costs.
So why is it Americans can't wean our golf courses off most chemicals, particularly when it could have a positive impact on the water we drink, the air we breathe and the wallets we carry?
You go Ron!