Honeybees and Golf September 2022

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