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Opinion & Analysis

Study: Golf courses actually aren’t bad for the environment

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Historically, golf courses haven’t had the greatest reputation among environmentalists. For those concerned about the impact of these recreational venues on their surroundings, some news out of the University of Missouri ought to quell their fears: Researchers at the institution have found that salamanders native to golf course environments are not only surviving, but thriving. Obviously, this flies in the face of the perception that golf courses are generally toxic to native organisms.

The study uses salamander health as a benchmark of the overall suitability of golf courses for wildlife. In short, it seems what’s good for salamanders is good for other creatures, including those traipsing around hacking up these beautiful green spaces.

As Ray Semlitsch, Curators Professor of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri said:

If you look at the literature on golf courses, historically they get a lot of bad publicity. It’s always been thought that course managers not only clear the land, but they add a lot of chemicals to the environment. In terms of maintaining the turf of the golf course, managers use herbicides, insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers. We went into the research study thinking these things were going to be really toxic and really bad to the salamanders. What we found was quite the opposite—golf courses can actually provide a wonderful habitat for salamanders and other organisms where they can survive and thrive.

As for the the particulars of the study, the researchers examined 10 golf courses in the southern Appalachian portion of western Northern Carolina. In addition to studying both salamanders and larvae from the golf courses’ fairways, those conducting the study also examined water quality on the course for chemicals and other “adverse substances.”

In keeping with the USGA’s “brown is the new green” thrust and industry trends toward less manicured courses, the researchers suggest that:

A more natural course that includes streams with leaf litter, sticks and twigs that offer a natural habitat for different species is preferred. Turf and golf course managers are taking note of these practices, and it is making a real ecological difference.

Certainly, the University of Missouri study deals with a small sample and specific area of focus, and as the PGA of America, the USGA and the GCSAA seem to agree on the matter of golf and environment: further research is necessary. However, as this study indicates, the idea that a healthy ecosystem and a functional golf course can’t exist in the same space may be fundamentally flawed.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Jason

    Jun 5, 2014 at 1:38 am

    I work at a course that has been in the top 10 of most environmentally friendly courses in the US that is put out by Links Magazine.

    Our past superintendent was really into the enviro causes and made sure we were on the up and up. He has now moved on to the National Golf Course Superintendents Association. Our new super is following in his footsteps and keeping the same standards.

    Some courses do use too much of everything but some do it right. Look at the research the National Golf Course Superintendents Association and what they are working on. They know courses have a bad wrap and that keeping courses watered down the line is going to be hard. They are doing a great job and you should follow them.

    Jason
    Shot Caddy on Kickstarter.com

  2. Ad

    Apr 15, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    What happens to all the lost balls that are never found? You know, the ones that Jack Lemmon hit into the ocean to pollute the Pacific?

  3. Evan

    Apr 15, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Water consumption and wildlife habitat are only part of the conversation. The real issue/ concern is pesticides/ fertilizers used on golf courses. While organic food is seen as being better for us and more sustainable, golf courses typically use 10 to 15x the amount of pesticide and fertilizer as crop farmers. Granted, we don’t eat our divots… but just think of the impact on animals and the local water shed. I’m not sure what salamanders resistance to pesticides are, but I’m guessing it’s pretty high. This seems like a study that golf course superintendents will use to battle the increasing pressure to stop using so many chemicals.

    A golf course could be an excellent addition to any community if our expectations for turf quality are lowered a bit. Golf is played in nature, nature is not perfect. Maintaining grass without chemicals also requires less water. Applewood golf course in Golfden, CO and The Vineyard Golf Club in Martha’s Vineyard are two examples of golf courses who have stopped using standard chemical treatments. Applewood was actually forced to stop using chemical turf treatments because it was poisoning the water supply (which is used to brew beer).

    • Evan

      Apr 15, 2014 at 8:18 am

      This study was funded by the USGA… follow the money/ incentive when looking at a study. Here is another article about amphibians and pesticides. http://blogs.kqed.org/science/2013/07/31/adapting-to-stress-early-exposure-gives-amphibians-higher-tolerance-to-pesticides/

      This study is incredibly misleading. If a golf course uses 10-15 times the toxic/ harmful pesticides as common agriculture, there is no way the the soil and surrounding watershed are “beneficial” to nature. It is not golf courses who are under attack, it’s the chemical companies and there LONG TERM relationship with golf and golf course superintendents. In the world of turf management, chemical companies have a lot of influence.

      • Xreb

        Apr 16, 2014 at 4:51 pm

        Kudos on actually finding out who funded the study ! I wish more people were rational enough to do this instead of taking every study at face value. The article and I assume the study specifically mentions salamanders and ‘seems’ to make a sweeping generalization from this. If this is the case, then not only is it poorly executed research but also quite possibly intentionally misleading.

        • leftright

          Apr 16, 2014 at 8:54 pm

          Intentionally misleading…shades of “Global Warming” and that fake University in England who forged all the data. Anything that come from a progressive point of view take with a grain of salt, it is probably false, wrong, fraudulent, fake, plagiarized, or just flat out made up.

          • Xreb

            Apr 17, 2014 at 12:10 am

            Didn’t take long for you to make it political… Can you go ahead and cite your sources for all the ‘facts’ that you are apparently stating. Reading blogs and listening to talk radios run by the ‘other side does not make you an expert. What fake university in England are you talking about ? The University of East Angilca ? Of course there are zealots in every group of society, including climate scientists but I fail to see a motivation for a Global warming conspiracy as opposed to a motivation for corporations to suppress such information if it was true.

      • leftright

        Apr 16, 2014 at 8:51 pm

        Why don’t you take the Pelosi/Obama/Biden/Reid sticker off your car and throw it in the recycling bin. The progressive ideology is about to take a big hit. If you play golf…quit, please. We don’t need you type on the golf course.

      • leftright

        Apr 16, 2014 at 9:03 pm

        As a manager of a large Research facilities Health and Safety department, with a degree in Environmental Science, CHMM, CSP and MBA, I mention this because liberals like the education part of stuff, and being 57 years old, I know for a fact that EPA and environmental concern (non-industry) are very misleading. 42 pesticides have been taken off the market over the past 10 years and it is a struggle for superintendents to keep the “bugs” away. The secrets is to have all the golf courses that can survive…but have “less” water. Also, the water can be treated to make many existing pesticides “inert” and lessen the effects. It is ironic that man has existed for thousands of years, riding bicycles without helmets, driving without seatbelts and playing golf on courses full of insecticides and pesticides but for some reason progressives think they are saving up from ourselves while murder rates go up, bugs on golf courses “go up”, more get killed in cars, bicycles and motorcycles and more children than ever have congenital abnormalities despite not being exposed to “less” golf course bug killers. Do yourself a favor and don’t allow yourself to be a victim of the ideology of do as I say, not as I do and live in the log cabin with a wood stove, while I live in my mansion and drive my Hummer. It is all bunch of BS…period.

    • Philip

      Apr 15, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Golf courses can be a lot greener but a lot of it depends on locating a golf course in an area that can maintain a golf course naturally. Obviously having a course in a desert is just plain stupid from an environment point of view.

      My course in Quebec, Canada belongs to an environment standards program and has obtained level 3 of 4 levels (Par3 Program). I’ve seen them risk losing 7-8 greens and a dozen fairways before they resorted to using pesticides (and even then only on the worst hit greens).

      The course is a breath of fresh air. I didn’t realize that as a kid the smell of a golf course was actually the pesticides – this course is a healthy change in the right direction.

  4. Bobby Bottleservice

    Apr 14, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    I’d love to meet the idiot that said they were.

  5. Elmo

    Apr 14, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Honestly, in my opinion where theres a golf course, theres not a concrete jungle. Therefore, I have always viewed golf courses as environmentaly friendly especially in large cities. It allows for wildlife and ecosystems to thrive where they normally couldn’t.

  6. cole

    Apr 14, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Interesting, you never really think of things like this as you play..

    • guy

      Apr 14, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      i guess. i mean, i do all the time, but no one likes it when i bring up irrigation efficiency and how a course could be less wasteful while playing… i can understand that…

  7. Tony

    Apr 14, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Interesting. As an avid golfer and someone who is very concerned with environmental issues, this has always been a complicated issue for me. For me the two biggest things that concern me with (certain) golf courses are:

    A) Water consumption, especially in historically dry areas.
    B) Fuel use partaking in an activity usually located nowhere near public transit. I usually try to carpool with my entire foursome to do my little part.

    • guy

      Apr 14, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      couldnt agree more with tony, except in Boston I am lucky enough to be able to take a 20 minute MBTA bus ride to 2 different courses!

      i like being able to take the element of having to use a car out of playing golf, helps me reconcile with my ideals a bit… always get funny looks when bringing a golf bag onto the bus tho 🙂

      this is something that deserves A LOT more attention than it gets from the golfing community IMO and warrants much further research.

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Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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5 things we learned on Saturday at the 2018 U.S. Open

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Whoops, we did it again. While not as dramatic as the 7th hole concern of 2004, the Saturday of 2018 seemed eerily familiar. The commentators were divided on the question of whether the USGA was pleased with the playing conditions. The suggestion was, the grass in the rough was higher than necessary, and the cuts of the fairway and greens were just a bit too close of a shave. No matter, everyone finished and the band played on. The hashtag #KeepShinnyWeird didn’t trend, but Saturday the 16th was certainly not ordinary. Five weird things we learned, on the way.

5) Phil’s breaking point

It wasn’t violent. No outburst or hysteria. We’d seen Phil leap in triumph at Augusta. Now we’ve seen the Mickelson jog, albeit under most different circumstances. Near as we can determine, for a moment Phil forgot that he was playing a U.S. Open. After belting a downhill, sliding bogey putt well past the mark, the left-handed one discerned that the orb would not come to rest for quite some time: a lower tier beckoned. As if dancing a Tarantella, Phil sprang toward the ball and gave it a spank while still it moved. Just like that, his quadruple-bogey 8 become a 10, thanks to the 2 strokes for striking a moving ball penalty. In true warrior fashion, Mickelson accepted the penalty without questions, intimating that it saved him another stroke or two in the end. Yeesh. Phil, we feel you.

4) DJ’s front-nine free fall

Just as unlikely as Phil’s whack-and-walk was Dustin Johnson’s front nine of 41. The cool gunslinger of Thursday-Friday faced the same turmoil as the other 66 golfers remaining, and the outward nine did not go according to his plan. DJ got past the opening hole with par, after making bogey there on Friday. Number two was another story. Double bogey on the long par three was followed by 4 bogeys in 5 holes, beginning with the 4th. The irony once again was, Johnson struggled on holes that the field did not necessarily find difficult. Hole No. 2 was the 10th-ranked hole for difficulty on day 3, while 4 and 7 were 13th and 11th-ranked, respectively. Hole No. 6 and 8 did fall in the more difficult half, but not by much. At day’s end, however, the tall drink of water remained in contention for his second U.S. Open title.

3) The firm of Berger and Finau

Each likely anticipated no more than a top-15 placing after 3 days, despite posting the two low rounds of the day, 4-under 66. Those efforts brought them from +7 to +3 for the tournament, but Johnson and the other leaders had yet to tee off. Every indication was lower and deeper; then the winds picked up, blustery like the 100 acre wood of Winnie The Pooh. Both golfers posted 6 birdies against 2 bogeys, to play themselves into the cauldron of contention. Berger has one top-10 finish in major events, while Finau has 2. None of those three came in a U.S. Open, so a win tomorrow by either golfer would qualify as an absolute shock.

2) Recent winners fared well

In addition to Johnson, the 2016 champion, Justin Rose (2013) and Brooks Koepka (2017) found themselves near or in the lead for most of the afternoon. Since Shinnecock Hills offers much of what characterizes links golf, it should come as no surprise that 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson is also within a handful of strokes of the top spot. Rose played the best tee-to-green golf of the leaders on Saturday, but was unable to coax legitimate birdie efforts from his putter. Koepka was the most impressive putter of the day, making up to 60-feet bombs and consistently holing the clutch par saves. On another note, given his victories at Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Royal Birkdale (2017 British Open), the missed cut by Jordan Spieth was the week’s biggest surprise.

1) The wind

The most unpredictable of nature’s weapons, the winds of Shinnecock Hills exposed flaws in the course preparation. Areas that would have held off-line putts, were dried out enough to escort those efforts off the shortest grass, into the runoff compartments. The zephyrs pushed tee balls and approach shots just far enough astray to bring all the danger zones into the recipe. Prediction for tomorrow is, any golfer within 5 shots of the lead has a chance at the title. A Miller-esque round of 63 would bring anyone into contention, if the wind continues to blow. No event appreciates drama more than the U.S. Open, and Sunday at Shinnecock promises plenty of it.

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