Managing Golf Courses to Protect the Environment

Kyle Peveto  |  1/5/2018 4:59:19 PM

Kyle Peveto

Golfing is a popular pastime in Louisiana, with more than 150 courses employing thousands of workers and contributing millions to the economy.

Golf courses’ green, rolling landscapes require intensive maintenance — which often means regular fertilizer use — to create courses golfers can play year-round.

“These turfgrass areas are intensely managed to provide both suitable aesthetics and playability,” according to a new guide, “Nutrient Best Management Practices for Golf Courses in Louisiana and Mississippi,” written by experts in turfgrass management at the LSU AgCenter and Mississippi State University.

The guide, which will be available in early 2018, aims to educate golf course managers to efficiently and responsibly use fertilizers. It was written by Jeff Beasley, an associate professor and turf management expert at the AgCenter, Brian LeBlanc, an AgCenter and Sea Grant coastal ecologist and Ron Strahan, an AgCenter weed scientist, along with Jay McCurdy, assistant professor, and Barry Stewart, associate professor, both at Mississippi State University in Starkville.

“As a part of any turfgrass management program, fertilizers are often needed to grow a healthy, dense turf,” the publication says.

Because the grass clippings are regularly removed from golf courses, they require “increased management to maintain nutrient concentrations,” the guide’s authors write.

When improperly managed, fertilizer use can negatively affect a course’s grass, but the effects can spread well beyond the fairway. Nitrogen and phosphorus, both essential plant nutrients in fertilizers, can leach into groundwater and run into ponds, lakes and streams.

“Excessive nutrient concentrations in water can accelerate algae and plant growth in streams, lakes and ponds, resulting in oxygen depletion or critically low dissolved oxygen levels,” according to the guide.

This lack of oxygen, called hypoxia, threatens American waterways by creating an environment where plants and animals cannot survive.

To prevent leaching of nutrients into groundwater and runoff into surface water, the guide’s authors recommend testing soil from several different areas on the course to account for differences in soil and turf types when creating a fertility plan.

“Golf greens, fairways, tee boxes and roughs are all areas on a golf course that serve different functions and often have different fertility needs,” the guide says.

Many golf courses in Louisiana and Mississippi have fine-textured soils and are designed to encourage surface draining to quickly shed rainwater. But they do not have to lose nutrients in the process.

“The goal is to reduce potential movement of nutrients and sediments transported by surface flow,” the guide says. “In many cases, a dense, healthy turfgrass will limit the movement of solids, such as sediment.”

For fast-draining areas, the guide’s authors encourage course managers to find ways to slow the water. They can maintain grassy areas or create swales, which are trenches with a berm designed to catch rainwater.

An area out of play that is composed of native vegetation doesn’t require routine fertilization and can retain water and nutrients while also providing a wildlife habitat.

The management practices encouraged by the new guide do more than just protect ground and surface water, the authors write.

“By developing and implementing knowledge-based fertility plans and best management practices,” the guide states, “golf course superintendents can provide a healthy, aesthetically pleasing turf, protect the environment and, in some cases, save money.”

Kyle Peveto is the publications editor with LSU AgCenter Communications and assistant editor of Louisiana Agriculture.

(This article appears in the fall 2017 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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Fertilizer is used before winter to prepare golf course greens at LSU for the stress of cold weather. Photo by Kyle Peveto

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Granules of potassium fall from a spreader pushed by Mitch Fontenot, assistant director for course maintenance at the LSU Golf Course. Photo by Kyle Peveto

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