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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  1. 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.

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  2. 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).

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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…

  4. 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.

    • 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.