Honeybees and Golf September 2022

September 2022 Honeybees and Golf: An evaluation of their relationship

Honeybees and Golf: An evaluation of their relationship 2 Overview Honeybees (Figure 1), and their general wellbeing, have been a hotly debated topic for the past several years, primarily due to discussions surrounding colony collapse disorder (CCD). As a result, the golf industry has been scrutinized over this topic by environmental groups and lawmakers, largely due to their active use of pesticides. But is this scrutiny warranted? Maybe or maybe not, but because of the important role pollinators, particularly honeybees, play in our food chain, this matter merits further investigation. In 2021, the New York Golf Course Foundation (NYGCF) was awarded a grant from the New York State Turgrass Association (NYSTA), by way of the Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Fund (TESF), to perform an evaluation of honeybee programs on golf courses in New York. This task was not a scientific study designed to reveal quantitative data-based results. This evaluation of honeybees on golf courses was designed to help the golf industry evolve its understanding of the impact golf courses have on honeybee populations within the state of New York, and to further the conversation about the relationship between honeybees and golf. Golf and Nature To understand golf’s relationship with honeybees, one must understand golf’s broad relationship with nature. Though there are many benefits afforded the golfer through the game of golf, such as spending time with friends, the fundamental pleasure is found in the opportunity to be outdoors enjoying nature. From its beginnings, the pleasure found in a long walk in nature remains golf’s most alluring charm. However, the ground on which the game is played has changed significantly over time. The modern version of a golf course has evolved from the open rolling and rough seaside terrain of England into the highly manicured landscapes with defined edges and precise details we see on television today. It is no surprise that, as society has smartly evolved toward embracing its environmental responsibilities of protecting earth, golf too, as an industry, has begun to embrace its role as environmental stewards. But, as golf’s increased commitment to environmental sustainability gains momentum, some environmentalists continue to view golf’s environmental efforts with a cynical eye. To change this perspective, the burden of proof lies upon the golf industry. Any substantive change in how golf’s impact on the environment is viewed starts by golf fully embracing its role as environmental stewards and living up to the standards written in the rules of golf which call for each player to penalize themselves fairly and honestly when appropriate. How will we know golf’s true impact on the environment if we are not willing to look, fairly and honestly, at how our decision-making effects the environment. Figure 1. Honeybees are one of 400+ species of wild pollinators. The Honeybee One such pursuit of honest examination is the installation of honeybee hive boxes on golf courses. Known as a fragile species, honeybees can possibly indicate the effect a golf course is having on its surrounding environment. And, because it is now common to see large areas of golf courses established as low maintenance pollinator habitat (figure 2), having a honeybee program at a golf course is a natural fit. These pollinator areas are generally located out of play for most golfers and do not interfere with their game. In the past, the maintenance of these areas ranged from manicured lawn type turf to completely unmaintained and full of invasive weeds. Reconstituting these out of play sections of the golf course beautifies the property and creates a sanctuary for pollinators and small animals, and, in some cases, reduces carbon emissions and maintenance costs. Popularized by the onset of these pollinator friendly areas, we are seeing more golf courses installing a formal honeybee program. There are many examples of successful honeybee programs on golf courses throughout the state. But, as the notion of having a honeybee program at a golf facility becomes more popular, some environmentalists believe golf course management strategies continue to put the honeybee at risk. Golf course superintendents, on the other hand, believe they can and have created a healthy and sustainable pathway for the honeybee to survive and thrive. In fact, there are many examples of golf courses who have been operating successful honeybee programs for several years. But, who’s right? To help start the process of determining the correct answer to that question, the New York Golf Course

Honeybees and Golf: An evaluation of their relationship 3 Foundation (NYGCF) developed a honeybee evaluation project. The program is not a scientific study but rather an investigation and evaluation, designed to help begin to shed some light on the influence golf courses may have on honeybees, with the hope of starting to determine if there are any indicators which suggests golf’s true impact on honeybees, good or bad. Best Management Practices for Pollinators Part of a bigger picture Aimed at helping golf course superintendents make critical management decisions to protect water quality, the New York golf course superintendents and Cornell scientists have created a science-based set of codified standards referred to as Best Management Practices (BMPs) (figure 3). Contained within the BMPs is a subset of Pollinator BMPs, designed to give superintendents science-based information which they can use to manage their facility in a manner that protects pollinators. Research indicates that some pesticides can be harmful to pollinators and can have negative effects at the sub-individual level, individual level, or even the colony level. Because of the potential for non-target effects of products used in golf course management, superintendents need to be mindful of the impact that pesticides have on pollinators species and their habitat. Adhering to Pollinator BMPs is a critical step in helping protect pollinators. Figure 3. Best Management Practices for NY include a pollinator protection section. Figure 2. An established wildflower area located on on a New York golf course.

Honeybees and Golf: An evaluation of their relationship 4 The Study We began by locating four anonymous golf course superintendents around the state of New York who were currently operating a honeybee program at their facility. These superintendents sent pollen and wax samples to the honeybee testing laboratory at Cornell University in the summer and fall. The samples were then tested for a wide range of chemicals. According to the test results, no elevated levels of toxic chemicals were detected. The timing of a study such as this will influence its outcomes, therefore, our conclusions are based on understanding that bee activity and plant protection needs will differ depending on seasonal influences. We acknowledge that a scientific study would require multiple comprehensive tests per year over a several year period. As a point of reference, our grant period for this study ran from mid-summer to early winter. The Results The lab test results indicated there were no elevated chemical findings among any of the samples provided. Understanding what the test results indicate can be complex. Bees generally pollinate within 2-3 miles from the hive location but can travel up to 8 or 9 miles from the hive. Knowing bees will very likely travel off the golf course to pollinate, particularly in urban areas, can make quantifying the lab test results complicated. If there is a high result returned for a particular chemical, how do we know it came from the golf course? That’s just one aspect of the testing process that can be confusing. In some cases, test results might show the existence of a chemical that has not been used on property for years. Though it is possible that the bees in this scenario are traveling offsite to pollinate, it is also possible that they have encountered the chemical on-site even years after the chemical has no longer been applied on the property. Some chemicals that may be harmful to bees have a long half-life and may still be in the soil for several years after being applied. Therefore, the test result for a soil sample can show the existence of a chemical even if it is no longer being used on property. It would be virtually impossible to say with 100% certainty that, if the test results indicate a hazardous situation for honeybees, they are a quantitative indicator the current golf course management program is having a negative impact on its local honeybee hives. However, if sampling test results reveal no elevated levels of pesticides, it is safe assume there are no pesticide related issues at that facility at the time testing was performed. Our test results from both summer and late fall indicated no elevated levels of toxic chemicals. Conclusion The basis for this study is to help further the objective conversation and study regarding the true value of placing honey bee hives at golf courses (see figures 4 and 5). Using scientific data on which to base firm conclusions was not a goal of this evaluation. The conclusion presented here is based on the results of Cornell’s lab work and anecdotal information gleaned from conversations with many superintendents who currently manage a successful honeybee program. Based on information gathered from this study, if properly managed using current Best Management Practices standards, golf facilities should be encouraged to develop a honeybee/pollinator program. Hosting honeybee hives on the golf course provide bees with valuable green space, especially in urban areas, and can be a positive public-relations tool. Strengthening local pollinator populations and creating pollinator pathways throughout the state is a mutually beneficial goal for all NY residents…including the bees. Additional Information A few specific BMPs designed to protect pollinators include using Integrated Pest Management protocols for pesticide application decision making, mowing flowering plants prior to spraying them with a pesticide, using drift reduction methods to stay on target with pesticide applications, and using pesticides with lower impact on pollinators (particularly in areas where pollinators are known to be active). For more information about how golf’s role in protecting pollinators, visit the NYGCF website at www.nysgolfbmp.cals.cornell.edu or the New York Golf Course Foundation YouTube channel.

Honeybees and Golf: An evaluation of their relationship 5 Figure 4. Beehives located at a New York golf course. Figure 5. More beehives located at a New York golf course.

Honeybees and Golf: An evaluation of their relationship