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Golf course landscape. Link to photo information
Managed turfgrass, such as this golf course near Columbus, Ohio, is an integral part of the landscape. There are roughly 16,000 golf courses in the United States. Click the image for more information about it.

Golf Courses and the Environment

By Don Comis
August 3, 2005

As golf courses spread rapidly across the United States, questions about possible contamination of waterways from pesticides and fertilizers in golf course runoff become more urgent.

Two Agricultural Research Service scientists are studying runoff from golf courses, partially funded by the U.S. Golf Association headquartered in Far Hills, N.J. Agricultural engineer Kevin King, in the ARS Soil Drainage Research Unit at Columbus, Ohio, is measuring the amount of pesticide and nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers being lost from golf courses in Columbus and in Duluth, Minn. On a golf course in Austin, Texas, he is studying nitrogen and phosphorus losses only.

As part of a multistate initiative, chemist Pam Rice monitors pesticide losses from turfgrass plots at the ARS Soil and Water Management Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn., with collaborator Brian Horgan at the University of Minnesota.

King and Rice are coordinating their research closely. Rice's data might help King make the ARS Soil and Water Assessment Tool model more accurate in predicting losses from golf courses.

While King only recently started the study of the Columbus golf course, he has three years of data from the Duluth golf course and five years from the Austin course. He has measured annual per-acre losses of six pounds of nitrogen and 0.3 pounds of phosphorus from the Austin course. Amounts from the other courses were even lower, and the pesticide losses measured from the Duluth and Columbus courses were very low as well--much less than from most farmland.

Although the amounts are minimal, they are enough to warrant attention, since losses can vary from region to region. More research is planned, with the goal of finding the best ways to minimize losses to the environment while maximizing turfgrass quality.

Read more about the research in the August 2005 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.