Golf courses have a reputation as being environmental disaster areas, using too many chemicals and wasting too much water.

Members of the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association who met at Toddy Brook Golf Course in North Yarmouth late last month found out that doesn’t have to be the case.

Scott Lancaster, superintendent of the course, said he has a lot of reasons for keeping the use of fertilizer and pesticides to a minimum.

“Most of the people who live around here are on wells, and we don’t want to hurt those,” he said. “And all of the streams on the course dump into the Royal River.”

In addition, all those chemical fertilizers and pesticides are expensive, and because the course is public, Lancaster has to keep his expenses as low as possible.

“We like to keep this a bit like the links courses they have in Scotland, where it doesn’t matter if everything is green as long as the course plays well,” Lancaster said. “If we were a private club, we might have to keep things more pretty and green.”

The fertilizer Lancaster uses most is made from kelp and has no phosphorous, because he is told that the soil in Maine has enough phosphorous naturally. And he doesn’t put down too much nitrogen, because if the fairway grass grows quickly, the crews will just have to mow it more often.

While the greens will be mowed daily, the fairways are mowed once or twice a week, depending on how fast the grass is growing. He usually fertilizes twice a year, in spring and fall.

And if parts of the fairway grass die from lack of fertilizer, he simply replants. “Seed is cheaper than fertilizer,” he said.

Lancaster notices a few fungal diseases such as brown patch and summer patch on the fairways from time to time, but he doesn’t do any preventative treatments. For starters, most of the golfers don’t notice any of those minor problems.

“And if they do say anything,” he said, “I just tell them I want to keep the grounds safe for my son, and that usually takes care of it.”

When one of the MeLNA members asked if he’s using integrated pest management on the course, Lancaster replied, “Pretty much, but I don’t like to call it that.”

He will core aerate the course twice a year, but had done some core aeration just before the MeLNA meeting because the hot spell of July 20-23 had been tough on the grass.

Most golfers probably think water hazards are just a hideous plot to make golfers lose their balls. Toddy Brook occasionally hires a diver, who will retrieve 3,000 to 4,000 balls from the ponds in a day and be paid 10 cents for each ball retrieved.

But in addition, the ponds are an integral part of the course’s irrigation system. All of the ponds on the course are connected to the main retention pond, which feeds back to the wells. “We pretty much recycle all of the water we use,” Lancaster said.

The ponds on the course are full of fish, including brook trout, suckers and shiners. Lancaster thinks that one spring when the Royal River flooded into his retaining pond, he got a lot of fry, which have just kept reproducing.

And he has a secret for keeping geese away from the golf-course ponds: he doesn’t mow the grounds around the ponds, letting the vegetation get fairly tall.

“Geese don’t like ponds with tall edges because they want to see their predators coming toward them,” he said.

The front nine and back nine of Toddy Brook are like two different courses. The front nine, in addition to the 10th hole, are built on former pasture land with good soil. Holes 11 through 18 were built on ledge, and the fairways are much harder.

The greens are fairly complex. They have a base of clay, a hexagonal drainage system topped by pea stone, followed by an 18-inch mixture that’s 85 percent a special golf-course sand and 15 percent compost. That mixture allows for good drainage, but also retention of the water.

The course is also home to a lot of wildlife. Beavers regularly build dams on the streams along the course, and Lancaster regularly sees good-sized deer.

So the negative stereotypes of a golf course as an environmental disaster aren’t always true. And I still wonder about the lush golf courses glowing green in the drought-stricken deserts of Arizona.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

[email protected]


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