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Bethpage Golf Course Managers

Award honors crew who make golf greener

by Mary Woodsen

Diehard golfers want it green and want it fast--want the ball to roll quickly eight or ten feet at a tap of their club. And sure, Dave Catalano and his staff want it fast too.

But for the crew at Bethpage State Park's world-renowned golf courses, it's about more than play--they're out to prove something. For they are part of groundbreaking research to develop, test, and fine-tune techniques that steeply cut pesticide and fertilizer use.

In other words, to green up golf.

Golf courses are often faulted for heavy pesticide use. Yet the Bethpage project has cut environmental impact up to 96 percent over conventional practices -- and this in a climate where weather conditions and heavy foot traffic from 250,000 golfers each year ensure constant disease pressure. Home of the 2009 US Open, Bethpage State Park comprises five separate golf courses on its 1,500 acres in the heart of densely populated Long Island, just 25 miles east of the New York City line.

Now for their involvement in nearly a decade of research at Bethpage, Catalano, Andy Wilson, Craig Currier and Kathie Wegman have earned an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYS IPM) Program at Cornell University. Integrated pest management seeks least-toxic ways of dealing with pests.

"We can't emphasize enough how important long-term, real-world research is," says Jennifer Grant, assistant director of NYS IPM, who coordinates turf IPM research. "You don't get truly useful results until you've tested your work over time, keeping what works and incorporating promising new practices and products."

"As the largest public golf complex in the country, we believe in showing our commitment to the environment and to our public golfers by working with Cornell to develop IPM techniques and management programs," says Catalano. "It's how we provide outstanding playing conditions with the least environmental impact."

When Wilson is out on the green with his stimpmeter or moisture probe and a golfer asks what he's up to, the conversation could easily cut to the new tactics and products the crews are testing to deliver quality conditions with lower inputs. Wilson supervises Bethpage's aptly named Green Course, where core IPM practices are developed.

That stimpmeter, for example, measures how fast the ball rolls, something golfers care a lot about. It tells Wilson more--tells him whether IPM greens provide the same level of play.

But when Wilson talks to other golf-course superintendents, he cuts to the essential ingredient in high-level IPM -- careful recordkeeping. "It keeps your mind sharp, helping you think through alternate solutions to typical problems instead of falling back on the tried and true," Wilson says.

Just as essential is scouting -- monitoring greens and fairways for insect, weed, and plant disease pests.

"Scouting can be as low-tech as flushing insects from the turf with a lemon soap solution, or as high tech as looking at root pieces through a microscope to precisely identify a disease," says Kathie Wegman, Bethpage's IPM specialist. "We find out where the hot spots are and treat them, which lessens or even eliminates the need to spray."

But can steeply cutting pesticide use really produce satisfactory play? "Surveys consistently show high golfer satisfaction with IPM-managed greens at Bethpage," says Frank Rossi, professor and turf specialist at Cornell University. "This has been a monumental project, both in scope and impact."

Catalano, Currier, Wilson and Wegman will receive their award on behalf of all their colleagues on August 12, 2009 at the Cornell University Turfgrass Field Day at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, NY.