Pesticides Making Courses Look Great

Do We Need to Change our View of Landscape Beauty Because of Pesticides?

There we were at the Canadian Pacific, finishing up Saturday’s round – and there was Michelle Wie – and suddenly, there she wasn’t. Lamentably, Wie missed the fourth round, and ended up in Ottawa having an emergency appendectomy. We wish her a speedy recovery, and are sorry to hear that she’ll miss two weeks of tournaments. But, to the subject at hand. I am almost one thousand percent certain that Wie’s condition was not caused by pesticides on the golf course, but after reading a few recent articles, I’m walking it back one thousandth of one percent. How could a course that beautiful hurt anyone? Someone in a white lab coat will have to reassure me on that thousandth of one percent.

In most of the country, we grew up with the idea that a course as luscious as Oz itself was the ideal, the greenest of the green. In the Pacific Northwest or western Canada, one could scarcely avoid it, with forests that took one’s breath away. Now, people are starting to write articles on how these emerald courses are maintained, and even though I’ve seen bags and bags of unknown chemicals spread all over the place, I never put it together in my mind. Are we creating danger in a place that should be all about beauty? According to Jay Feldman, a University of Iowa professor did a study in the 1990s that suggest that golf superintendents are a very vulnerable group in western society, just by the volume of chemicals they handle on a yearly basis. Of the thirty most common, Feldman lists it at “lung, brain, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, large intestine and prostate.” Those are the elevated risks for anyone handling these substances. Cancer is connected to 19 of them, 13 can augment birth defects, 21 attack the reproductive system, and 15 are dangerous to the nervous system. Wait a minute – why do we need that many pesticides? And those are just the common ones?
Golf Simplified logoDave Hilson writes of a Toronto-based documentarian named Andrew Nisker. Mr. Nisker wants to know why his father died. His conclusion is that the beauty we were raised on might need to change a little, or be achieved another way. As Nisker explains it, “Because I see what it takes to make them look like that.” Other sites I have never seen before give us a prep list before playing. The checklist includes covering ankles and lower legs. It adds the possibility of wearing gloves, not just a golf glove. It warns us to wash hands before eating or smoking, don’t chew on tees or blades of grass, and schedule your tee time hours after the last application of pesticides.

I don’t know what the states do in terms of classifying and warning about certain toxins, but Canada has them arranged in classes. For Class 9 and Class 11, for example, there is to be no application on non-playing areas. Rules according to each province are published, undoubtedly online by now. For these substances, the public must be warned with non-residential signs. I’ve never seen one of those in my life down here. Courses must submit an annual report, and attend scheduled public meetings. Incidentally, if you think the pesticides are being used in an abusive manner, as a golfer, you are urged to contact the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Apparently, up north, they believe in it!

Maybe the whole question of pesticides is a little less dangerous for the pros, because they go through the area so much more quickly than people like me, certainly with a lot fewer strokes. I want to keep all that green. A beautiful golf course is one of my favorite patches of ground in the world – and I know it can be done more safely than it is in some places. We can be green by being green. And I’ll tell you something else. If I find out that Michelle Wie got a bum appendix because of that tiny one thousandth of one percent, I’m going to be pretty mad.

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