The New York State Best Management Practices (NYS BMP) project is an innovative research and outreach education program that has resulted from a partnership of superintendent leaders in the state and Cornell University. Begun in 2012, this project has codified standards and continues to actively demonstrate the implementation of best management practices for the protection of water quality in the state of New York. The success of this work has led to the commitment of superintendents to continue these efforts in perpetuity as part of a sustainable 501(c)(3) non-profit, the New York Golf Course Foundation (NYGCF).
As the stewards of golf courses in NY, superintendents are dedicated to protecting New York’s natural resources and embrace the responsibility to maintain these facilities in harmony with the natural environment. These BMPs are helping those in the golf industry work in concert with policymakers and regulators in a shared commitment to water quality protection. The BMPs integrate the latest research on New York’s climate and environment.
The research-based, voluntary BMP guidelines are designed to protect and preserve New York’s water resources that enhance open space using current advances in golf turf management. This effort to provide extensive guidance for environmental stewardship is being conducted in the best traditions of golf, as defined by golf’s inherent values: honesty, integrity, and fair play (including upholding the rules when no one is watching). These are core values of golf turf professionals and serve as the basis for this innovative environmental effort.
Golf courses, particularly in New York’s urban areas, represent some of the largest areas of open space in metropolitan communities. Large expanses of grass allow water to infiltrate into the ground naturally instead of flowing into storm sewers or streams and rivers. Golf courses also provide additional environmental benefits to the public, such as providing habitat, recreational opportunities, and economic benefits.
Since the time of publication of Best Management Practices for New York State Golf Courses in 2014, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) has begun a nationwide effort to complete golf course BMPs nationwide. As part of this effort, GCSAA is making available state BMPs through their BMP portal for superintendents in each state to use to create their own facility-specific BMP. This version of New York’s golf course BMPs serves as that template and includes additional information beyond the 2014 publication, including information on protecting pollinators on golf courses.
1.1 Best Management Practices
BMPs are methods or techniques found to be the most effective and practical means of achieving an objective, such as preventing water quality impacts or reducing pesticide usage. Research indicates that successful implementation of BMPs virtually eliminates the golf course risk to water quality. In fact, several studies have shown that implementing BMPs enhances water quality on its journey on and through the golf course property. Besides contributing to natural resources stewardship, additional incentives for golf courses in New York State to create a facility BMP plan and implement BMPs include the following:
- potential for more efficiently allocating resources by identifying management zones
- cost savings associated with applying less fertilizer and pesticide
- cost savings associated with more efficient irrigation and other water conservation efforts
- improved community relations
- recognition by club members and the community at large of golf courses as environmental stewards
Through a cooperative approach between the golf industry and friends and neighbors outside the industry, practices have been developed that benefit all parties. Because of limitations, such as budget, staff, clientele expectations, and management decisions, not all golf courses can achieve all of the best practices. However, planning for improvements over time and making small changes that meet the goals of BMPs can be achieved. For example, while a sophisticated washwater recycling system may be too expensive for many facilities, blowing clippings off mowers onto a grassed surface is easily achieved and markedly reduces the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in clippings that end up in washwater. With a bit more of a budget, facilities can utilize the information from the NYS BMP case study on a prototype low-cost wash operation that protects water quality at Locust Hill Golf Club in Rochester. Additional case studies of BMPs implemented on golf courses in the state can be found in the Case Studies section of this website.
1.2 Environmental Concepts
The following environmental concepts provide the basis for understanding the role of BMPs in water quality protection:
climate and microclimates
- water, including the hydrologic cycle and watersheds
- soils, including soil texture and moisture
- geology, including karst topography
Water, soils, and geology all play a role in environmental fate and transport mechanisms (such as runoff and leaching) that can contribute to water quality. BMPs act on these fate and transport mechanisms to prevent water quality contamination. These basics are covered in detail in Chapter 2 of the 1st edition of Best Management Practices for New York State Golf Courses.
1.2.1 Climate Change
Projections of a changing climate suggest that rainfall will become less frequent, but more intense. As a result, a greater volume of the precipitation is expected to run off instead of infiltrating into the soil and replenishing groundwater. Consequently, the need for supplemental irrigation may increase, and superintendents will need to take greater care in the applying fertilizer and pesticides to reduce the risk of runoff. Structural BMPs are valuable in managing increased runoff. For more information on available climate data for New York, see the Northeast Regional Climate Center.
1.2.2 Environmental Fate and Transport Mechanisms
Understanding contaminant fate and transport mechanisms helps superintendents to minimize the risk of off-site movement of nutrients and chemical pesticides applied to golf courses. The fate and transport mechanisms of concern to golf course managers are as follows:
- Runoff is the movement of water across the turf and soil surface, typically following a storm event or heavy irrigation. The potential for runoff is greatest on steep slopes.
- Leaching is the downward movement of water through the soil and potentially into groundwater. Several variables influence the probability and rate of leaching, such as soil type and structure, vegetation, chemical properties, rate of precipitation, and depth to groundwater. When deciding on the rate and timing of fertilizer and pesticide application, it is critical to assess soil moisture status and potential for high infiltration in order to minimize potential losses.
- Spray drift is the movement of fine particles, or droplets, through the air while the pesticide is being applied. Droplet size and wind and weather conditions affect the potential for spray drift during pesticide applications.
- Vapor drift is the movement of pesticide in the form of a gas or vapor during or after application. Pesticide formulation, wind and atmospheric conditions affect the potential for vapor drift during pesticide applications.
- Volatilization occurs when pesticide surface residues change from a solid or liquid to a gas or vapor after a pesticide application. Once airborne, volatile pesticides can come into contact with applicators or move long distances off site.
- Spills are the unintended releases of chemicals, such as fertilizers, pesticides, hazardous materials, or petroleum products released during transportation, storage, and routine maintenance and facility operations.
While most of the fate and transport mechanisms of concern can contribute to nonpoint sources of pollution, spills can be a point source of pollution. The legal definition of “point source” is provided in 6 NYCRR Part 050-1.2(65) as follows:
The term “point source” means any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, or landfill leachate collection system from which pollutants are or may be discharged. This term does not include agricultural storm water discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture.
On golf courses, point sources of pollution can originate from:
- storage and maintenance facilities
- the unintended release of chemicals, such as pesticides, fertilizers, or fuel, during transportation, storage, or handling
- drainage discharge outlets (e.g. the end of a drainage pipe)
Containment measures can easily prevent chemicals from becoming point sources of pollution during storage and handling. To prevent discharges from contaminating surface water, the discharges must be diverted away from surface water and onto turf areas or other appropriate areas instead. For more information, see the blog post “Stuck in the Shop? Do a Point Source Pollution Assessment” .
A primary benefit of turfgrass or any perennial vegetation is the reduction in sediment and particulate movement. Precipitation and irrigation can carry soil particles (sediment) in runoff and deposit them into surface water. Too much sediment can cloud surface water, reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches aquatic plants and impairing aquatic species habitat. In addition, sediments can carry fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals attached to soil particles and transport them into waterbodies, causing algal blooms that lead to oxygen depletion. Sedimentation is controlled through BMPs that control the volume and flow rate of runoff water, maintain adequate turf density, and reduce soil transport.
1.3 Water Quality
If water quality contaminants reach surface water or groundwater, the potential water quality impacts can include the following:
- drinking water impairment if nitrogen as either nitrate (NO3) or nitrite (NO2) are present at levels above health-based risk values in drinking water, which may adversely affect health
- nutrient enrichment of surface water
- sedimentation due to eroding soils
- toxicity to aquatic life
Each potential impact is discussed in more detail on the Water Quality Protection page of this website.
1.4 Pollution Prevention
Because of the efforts aimed at protecting surface water and groundwater quality, the majority of BMPs addressed in this document relate to water quality. At any golf course, preventive strategies should include combinations of land use controls and source prevention practices. An integrated water quality protection system is based on a tiered concept as follows:
- prevention – prevent problems from occurring
- control – have safeguards in place to control any problems
- detection – consider a monitoring program to detect changes in environmental quality
Preventive measures are categorized as either land use BMPs or source prevention BMPs. Land use BMPs are engineered and incorporated into the course during golf course design and construction. Land use BMPs protect natural resources through primarily mechanical methods, as described in the remainder of this chapter. Source prevention BMPs are implemented during golf course operation to prevent or preclude the possibility of movement of sediment, nutrients, or pesticides from the property or from toxic materials being introduced into ecologically sensitive areas.
BMPs reduce stormwater volume, peak flow, and nonpoint source pollution through evapotranspiration, infiltration, detention, filtering, as well as biological and chemical actions. Implementing BMPs can prevent or minimize the effects of golf course management on surface and groundwater to ensure and enhance public health and environmental quality. Pollution prevention is easier, less expensive, and more effective than addressing problems “downstream.” Essentially, BMPs are a sustainable approach to providing environmental, economic, and social benefits to golf and to society.
1.5 Water Conservation
Water is a fundamental element for physiological processes in turf such as photosynthesis, transpiration, and cooling, as well as for the diffusion and transport of nutrients. Turf quality and performance depend on an adequate supply of water through either precipitation or supplemental irrigation. Too little water induces drought stress and weakens the plant, while too much causes anaerobic conditions that stunt plant growth and promote disease. Excessive water can also lead to runoff or leaching of nutrients and pesticides into groundwater and surface water.
Many BMPs in this document conserve our water resources and can be used to prepare for water use restrictions that may be imposed in times of extended drought. Proper irrigation scheduling, careful selection of turfgrass species, and incorporation of cultural practices that increase the water holding capacity of soil are addressed through these BMPs, as well as considerations in the design, construction, and maintenance of irrigation systems.
The following case studies focusing on water conservation on NYS golf courses have been published by the NYS BMP project:
- Precision Water Management, North Hempstead Country Club, Port Washington
- Conserving Water By Installing Quick Couplers, GlenArbor Golf Club, Bedford
- Irrigation System Upgrades for Water Conservation, Hollow Brook Golf Club, Cortland Manor
- Opportunities for Improvement of Wash Pad Operations, Locust Hill Country Club, Rochester
Protecting bees and other pollinators is important to the sustainability of agriculture. In 2017, the New York State BMP project published pollinator BMPs; updated in the 2019 publication Best Management Practices for Pollinators on New York State Golf Courses and incorporated into this document. Minimizing the impacts of pesticides on bees and other pollinators, as well as on beneficial arthropods, is addressed in this document in two ways:
- promoting the use of integrated pest management (IPM) methods to reduce pesticide usage and to minimize the potential of exposure
- providing specific guidance for pesticide applicators
Superintendents can also directly support healthy pollinator populations by providing and/or enhancing habitat for pollinator species and by supplying food sources and nesting sites and materials.
The following case studies focusing on protecting pollinators and IPM use on golf courses have been published by the NYS BMP project:
- Enhancing Habitat for Native Pollinators with Low-to-No Maintenance Areas, Rockland Country Club Golf Course, Sparkill
- Reducing Environmental Impact of Pest Management, Soaring Eagles Golf Course, Horseheads
- Integrating BMPs to Increase Sustainability, Locust Hill Country Club, Rochester
- Protecting Pollinators on the Golf Course, Rockville Links Club, Rockville Centre
1.7 Creating a Facility BMP
To adapt BMPs to an individual facility, superintendents should assess their individual site, consider their available resources (such as budget), and understand that implementing BMPs will be an ongoing process. In addition, understand that multiple approaches can successfully protect natural resources when considering the best approach to meeting a BMP objective. For example, the following describes an incremental approach to developing a nutrient management program, as published in the blog post “Assess and Map Your Soils” :
- A good practice is to assess the chemical and physical analysis of your regularly fertilized soils using a Minimum Levels for Sustainable Nutrition (MLSN) Guideline interpretation, as well as looking at overall turf quality and growth, when developing a nutrient management program. Make accurate supplemental nutrient applications to targeted areas of established need.
- A better practice is to use the Web Soil Survey as a guide to classify and sample all soils on the property using the MLSN interpretation and performance variables (quality and growth). Make supplemental applications of nutrients based on large-scale mapping in targeted areas of well-established needs.
- The best practice would be to implement a Web Soil Survey-driven sampling program and use appropriate interpretation and performance variables as layers in a GIS database built from the sampling locations. Use this GIS database of soil properties for GPS-based Variable Rate Application equipment for precise supplemental nutrient applications to targeted areas of well-established need.
This document was developed using the latest research-based information and sources. It will be posted on the NYS BMP website and made available through the GCSAA’s online tool (available to GCSAA members only) for development of facility BMPs. At the time of this publication, the information was the latest available. Regulations may change, and superintendents should identify any changes (especially to regulations) since the publication date.