Gordon on Golf

Investing in turfgrass is an investment in our game

(Bernard Brault/ Golf Canada)

Course superintendents are golf’s equivalent of hockey goalies.

Almost inevitably, when they’re winning, they get little credit. When they’re losing, they get the bulk of the blame.

It’s a tough and often thankless job.

Now imagine if a goalie was prevented from using his stick, then his pads and, eventually, his mask. With no one willing to dole out the dollars to provide him with alternative protection or means of defence.

Unlike goalies, who protect an area six feet wide, four feet tall and 44 inches deep against six other players, superintendents protect hundreds of acres for the enjoyment of tens of thousands of golfers.

Like that hapless, hypothetical, increasingly defenceless goalie, superintendents are being stripped of traditional methods to maintain the near-pristine turfgrass conditions that modern golfers have come to demand. But they, with the support of turfgrass research foundations across the country, are actively pursuing alternatives.

Not surprisingly, those alternatives come at a cost. And that is where Canada’s golfers come in. (That would be you.)

“We are dedicated to sustainable golf,” says Sean Gunn, President of the Ontario Turfgrass Research Foundation. “Without healthy turf, there are no golf courses. We, more than anyone else, understand that we have to move away from synthetic, chemical solutions to turf diseases.

“We, as an industry, are making great progress, but we need a lot more money to continue that progress.”

Gunn is the superintendent at The Country Club, a 45-hole facility in Woodbridge, Ont. His vision is to elevate the importance of turfgrass research in the minds, and wallets, of golfers.

It’s a tough sell.

Unlike other very worthwhile but more heart-touching golf-related fundraising efforts which feature cute kids, current research efforts by the Canadian Turfgrass Research Foundation and its regional counterparts include causes such as “the effect of snow cover and anti-transparents on the persistence of snow mould fungicides,” “rolling and resistance, a means to reduced fungicide usage on golf course greens, “selection and management of creeping bentgrass for improved resistance to Fusarium Patch under current and future conditions,” etc., etc.

Cute? No. Essential? Yes.

For example, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency recently asked for input on the use of chlorothanlonil, a chemical used to control various agricultural diseases, including the chronic and pernicious “dollar spot” fungus on turfgrass. Gunn thinks the outcome of their evaluation will be the banning of its use on courses.

“Dollar-spot control costs the average 18-hole course about $15,000 every year,” says Gunn. “Dollar spot on a golf course is like the common cold for a human. It’s inevitable. Obviously, if we could discover a natural antidote or preventative, we would prefer to use that from an environmental and budget perspective. But that takes research and research takes money.”

Currently, OTRF research priorities include pesticide alternatives, environmental considerations, nutrient management, drainage improvements, and athletic field management.

Healthy turf, whether on a golf course, soccer field, park or lawn, offers myriad benefits. It reduces runoff, prevents erosion, replenishes oxygen and carbon, and so on. And it makes for that perfect lie in the fairway, a true roll on a quick green … or deep, lush rough.

“Donating to turfgrass research is an investment in the game of golf,” says Gunn. “We have good support from the industry but we need financial donations from the golfing public to continue to grow the game, literally and figuratively.”

To find out more about turfgrass research in Canada, visit www.turfresearchcanada.ca. Or, check out your regional association below.

Ontario Turf Research Foundation
Debbie Conrad
328 Victoria Rd South
Guelph, Ontario N1H 0H2
Website – www.otrf.ca

Western Canada Turfgrass Association
Jerry Rousseau
P.O. Box 698
Hope, BC V0X 2L0

Alberta Turfgrass Research Foundation
Cory Mossing
4500-50th Street
Olds, Alberta T4H 1R6

Quebec Turfgrass Research Foundation
Benoit Huot
294 Rang St-Paul Sud
Sherrington, Quebec J0L 2N0

Atlantic Turfgrass Research Foundation
Kevin Wentzell
P.O. Box 2063 Fall River
Nova Scotia, B2T 1K6