Fertilization practices in golf are part of a science-based nutrient management scheme that only uses the amount necessary to produce healthy turfgrass and quality playing surfaces. Healthy turfgrass allows communities to enjoy many benefits including: creation of critical "greenspaces"; providing wildlife habitat; and ensuring recreational opportunities. In addition, many entities, both public and private, rely on healthy greenscapes like golf courses as a key component in maintaining financial revenues. There are also many environmental benefits to healthy turf, including the capture of run-off pollutants in stormwater, temperature buffer, erosion control and serving as a protective barrier for groundwater.

GCSAA supports the development and use of science-based best management practices (BMPs) for fertilizer applications through superintendent–regulator–university partnerships at the local and state levels of government. To support this, the GCSAA launched the 50 by 2020 BMP initiative in 2017. The goal of this landmark initiative was to have all 50 states with a BMP program in place by 2020 to ensure protection of human health and the environment and to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to environmental stewardship. This goal was accomplished at the end of 2020. GCSAA supports golf course superintendents partnering with watershed groups and conservation organizations to develop their state BMP programs.

Fertilizer laws and regulations should be based on sound science** supported by credible peer-reviewed data and university recommendations. Science-based nutrient management for turfgrass leads to healthy quality turfgrass and thereby leads to more effective and efficient management of other inputs.

GCSAA supports the enactment of state laws preempting regulation of the use of fertilizers and prohibiting local governments from adopting such laws. Local regulation of the use of these products is both costly and unnecessary. Only state designated regulatory agencies should be vested with the authority to regulate the use of nutrients. These agencies have the scientific expertise to properly determine nutrient requirements for each geographic region within a given state. Laws and regulations involving fertilizer applications should recognize golf properties engaged in environmental stewardship practices and/or programs that address nutrient management through science-based BMP plans.

Efforts by states, municipalities and counties across the United States to ban or restrict the use of fertilizers continue as elected officials and citizens attempt to address concerns of nutrient loading in waterways. These efforts are taking place in all areas of the country, including the Northeast (especially Long Island, N.Y.), Florida, the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River Basin. While these efforts encompass all aspects of fertilizer use, the primary focus is phosphorus and nitrogen. A federal focus on cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay watershed during the Obama Administration brought greater attention to agricultural and urban nutrient management. The Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts serve as a “model” for watershed cleanup efforts elsewhere. EPA has pushed state and local governments to regulate fertilizers to control nutrient runoff as well as pushed states to adopt more stringent numeric nutrient water quality standards. As a result, activists are attempting to overturn state preemption laws. Golf course fertilizer use remains a target due to public perception that the amounts used to manage courses are a source of the nutrient loads. State-mandated restrictions and nutrient management plans can have a detrimental impact on golf courses if they are not developed with input from the golf course management industry and without consideration of existing environmental best management practices for golf courses.

Golf course superintendents significantly decreased nutrient use rates and the number of acres being fertilized, according to the 2015 Nutrient Use and Management Practices on U.S. Golf Courses survey that compared totals from 2006 and 2014. The survey was the second in the latest series of the Golf Course Environmental Profile reports, conducted by GCSAA and funded by the USGA through the GCSAA Foundation. In 2015, conservation practices account for 90 percent of the reduction in nutrient use on U.S. golf courses. U.S. courses have seen an annual reduction in the usage of the three key nutrients found in fertilizer: nitrogen (33.6 percent), phosphate (53.1 percent) and potassium (42 percent) since 2006.

In 2022, with backing and support from the Florida GCSA and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), Florida HB 967 was signed into law which will exempt from local/municipal ordinances fertilizer applications made to golf courses by persons who have completed training and certification programs related to best management practices developed by the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection and UF/IFAS. HB 967 serves as model legislation that promotes the implementation of golf course BMPs. Similar legislation may be pursued in additional states where nutrient use on golf courses has come under unwarranted scrutiny.