Greener Greens

Organically managed golf courses take root

| May / June 2006

The classic golf course has impeccably short grass and greens trimmed to eighth-of-an-inch perfection -- and is maintained with an arsenal of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. But some greens are getting greener. There are now at least 10 organically managed golf courses in the United States, several of them created after local authorities approved the construction of a new facility on the condition that it be maintained without chemicals.

It's not easy keeping grass free of weeds, pests, and fungi with nothing but organic materials, especially when it is subject to constant stress from being cut short and trampled flat by people pursuing a little white ball. At the Vineyard Golf Club on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, superintendent Jeff Carlson burns weeds or pulls them by hand and sprays bacterial insecticides to control bugs. Full sunlight and good airflow help keep the grasses healthy, and the course is planted with disease-resistant varieties of turf. Carlson says he spends about the same amount on maintenance as he would at a conventional course, using more labor but saving money by not buying high-priced chemicals.

'We don't have wall-to-wall perfection throughout the entire golfing season,' says Carlson, 'but I think you wouldn't see a very big difference between our course and other private golf courses. Our members belong to some of the finest courses in the country, and we seem to be meeting their high standards.' Whether or not the U.S. Open is ever played on an organic course, golfers may see another advantage: If the most prestigious lawns in the country can be maintained without chemicals and still look this good, perhaps the same thing could happen in their own backyards.

Reprinted from OnEarth (Winter 2006). Subscriptions: $15/yr. (4 issues) including Natural Resources Defense Council membership from 40 W. 20th St., New York, NY 10011;