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Understanding golf course chemicals

by Alan L. Hammond
Most all publicity related to chemicals and their use on golf courses is negative in nature. Golf course chemicals are seen as destructive to people, animals and plants. According to Dr. Christopher J. Borgert, a toxicologist with Applied Pharmacology and Toxicology Inc. in Alchua, Fla., and researcher Raymond H. Snyder and professor George H. Snyder, both of the University of Florida, there has been a lot of misinformation disseminated about chemicals. For golfers, understanding what is known can add an additional layer of protection against the possibility of illness.
According to the research team, in general, when used according to the label directions, chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers approved for use on golf course turf are not believed to pose a real health risk to either the workers who apply the chemicals or to others who may come into contact with them after application, including golfers. Although that is true, since toxicology studies are conducted using lab animals, it hasnt been established with certainty how humans will respond to chemicals. Animal testing is a reliable basis for toxicological assessment, but there is room for error and improvement. Limited human poisoning incidents provide little because they are likely extreme examples and lack the controlled exposure that one would typically encounter. Despite the uncertainties, regulatory procedures have yielded decades of safe dispersion of chemicals and toxicologists are constantly striving to improve.
With respect to golfer exposures, we have only rough estimates of the amounts of pesticides that might be contacted during play. Although carefully conducted studies have measured dislodgeable residues during some golfing activities, little data exists on the frequency with which golfers actually engage in activities that increase their level of chemical contact during a round. There is also a lack of data regarding the variability of these behaviors among golfers. Perhaps more importantly, there are few systematic studies of all of the potential golfer behaviors that would increase pesticide exposure during a round of golf. While it might seem that reasonable predictions about the behaviors of golfers that would result in exposure can be made, according to the research team, even the best predictions and assumptions are not substitutes for scientific data.
Despite a lack of scientific studies that point to specific risk-reduction practices, the research team reveals some obvious preventive measures golfers can take. First, golfers should avoid chewing on strands of grass or on tees that have been in the turf. Golfers should also avoid placing cigars or cigarettes on the ground while playing a shot.
Golf courses themselves can use procedures that reduce chemical exposure to golfers. Courses should leave chemically treated portions of the course closed for a conservatively sufficient time, based upon what is known. In order to know precisely the length of time, more research studies data are needed.
Source: Sick of Golf? Christopher J. Borgert and Raymond H. Snyder, Grounds Maintenance ( is dedicated to providing golf health, fitness and performance videos, articles and content that engages, entertains and educates golfers. For more information visit