The environmental impact of golf courses has been studied increasingly in recent years. King et al. (2007) studied storm runoff from a golf course in Texas and found that although nitrogen concentrations in runoff were not a concern, phosphorus levels of water exiting the course were above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations for streams not discharging into lakes. Winter and Dillon (2006) found that nutrient load in streams draining golf courses was greater than that of streams that drained forested areas. Lewis et al. (2002) evaluated the effect of a coastal golf course complex on water quality, algae, and seagrass in wetland and near coastal areas; they found very little adverse effect and suggested that the runoff from golf courses into near coastal areas may be less of a problem than that from agricultural areas. The results from these and other studies have not proven or disproven that golf courses are a significant hazard to the environment.
Nevertheless, local, state, and national restrictions are limiting use of chemical and water inputs. In Minnesota, phosphorus applications to turf are restricted throughout the state (State of Minnesota, 2008). In Canada, the use of lawn and garden pesticides and fertilizers has been the subject of public debate for years with municipalities and provinces restricting or banning use altogether because of concern about possible health effects on humans (Government of Quebec, 2006). The EPA has recently defined irrigation water use standards that limit the amount of irrigation water that can be applied to turfgrass (USEPA, 2009). As restrictions continue to increase, golf course managers will need options for managing turf that are not viewed as risks to the environment.
Increasing energy costs, human health concerns, and environmental awareness are making turfgrass managers consider lower input, sustainable turfgrass maintenance practices (Cisar, 2004; Pioppi, 2008). Nationally, golf courses comprise an estimated 908,342 ha of which 67% is maintained as turf (Lyman et al., 2007). Of the maintained areas, ≈85% is kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.), bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon L. × C. transvaalensis Burtt-Davy), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.), creeping bentgrass, or annual bluegrass (Poa annua L.) (Lyman et al., 2007). In the cool-season region of the United States, golf courses traditionally grow creeping bentgrass on putting greens and creeping bentgrass, kentucky bluegrass, and/or perennial ryegrass on fairways (Christians, 1998; Lyman et al., 2007; Warnke, 2003). These species are desirable because they can tolerate low mowing heights. However, when managed as a fairway turf, creeping bentgrass, annual bluegrass, kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass typically require significant amounts of nitrogen fertilization, irrigation, and pesticides (Beard, 2002).
Researchers have investigated several options for reducing inputs on golf course fairways such as biological control of disease (Hardebeck et al., 2004); application of plant growth regulators for reduced clipping production (Stier et al., 2000); reducing nutrient runoff through irrigation timing (Shuman, 2002); use of transgenic, disease-resistant cultivars (Guo et al., 2003); and deficit irrigation strategies (DaCosta and Huang, 2005).
A more sustainable, effective strategy to deal with the potential risks associated with inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and water on golf courses may be the use of alternative turfgrass species. Several turfgrass species that are not currently used for golf course fairways in the northern United States may have the potential to be used for low-input fairways. Low-input turf must be able to survive and perform adequately under conditions of little or no supplemental irrigation, high traffic, no pesticides, and reduced fertility (≈49.0 kg·ha−1 nitrogen or less).
Information about low-input golf course fairway turfgrasses is limited because most research on low-input turfgrasses has focused on high-cut turf (Diesburg et al., 1997; Mintenko et al., 2002; Watkins et al., 2008). Horgan et al. (2007) evaluated fine fescue and colonial bentgrass mixtures for low-input fairways and suggested that under extremely low-input conditions, Chewings fescue would provide the most acceptable turf. In Europe, fine fescue species have long been used for golf courses and sport turf uses (Ruemmele et al., 2003).
Traffic tolerance under typical high-input conditions has been evaluated for creeping and velvet bentgrass (Samaranayake et al., 2008) and kentucky bluegrass (Shortell et al., 2004). Fine fescue species have been evaluated for wear tolerance at low mowing heights in the United Kingdom (Newell and Jones, 1995; Newell and Wood, 2003); however, these evaluations were conducted under conditions in which nitrogen was not a limiting factor (between 83 and 100 kg·ha−1 N) and pesticides were used. Identifying grass species that can perform adequately under extremely low-input conditions will allow golf course superintendents to reduce inputs, conserve resources, and improve environmental quality. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate alternative turfgrass species performance under low-input fairway conditions.
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