Integrated Pest Management at Stone Mountain Golf Club

The golf club shares its best management practices

Anthony L. Williams, CGCS
Stone Mountain Golf Club, Stone Mountain, Ga.
Published date: June 2007

Case-study-Environment-IPM-StoneMountain-pic1The Stone Mountain Golf Club (SMGC) is part of the 3,200-acre Stone Mountain Park located only 16 miles from downtown Atlanta. Often recognized as an environmental leader, the SMGC is a vital green space amidst urban sprawl. One of the most successful programs at the SMGC is the integrated pest management (IPM) program. Our IPM program’s three primary objectives are to:

  1. Protect our agronomic assets while providing for environmental protection.
  2. Minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers.
  3. Document the economic value of our IPM program.

IPM training

Training is the cornerstone of our IPM approach. The senior grounds staff attended 24 hours of IPM training to learn how to make accurate field observations.

In 2005, I completed the GCSAA Environmental Management Program (EMP) Specialization in IPM. In 2007, I completed the entire EMP program. The SMGC staff has earned seven EMP specializations to date. We consider our IPM program successful because of our commitment to high-quality education. Continuing education should focus on a variety of IPM skills and pest management, including:

  • Chemical and biological controls
  • Environmental planning
  • Cultural practices
  • Plant selection
  • Employee safety

We started with a series of pest identification and management classes, and then expanded to cover more advanced topics (such as integrated environmental management and chemical resistance strategies for pest control).

The GCSAA self-study and online courses save time and travel expenses. “Golf Course Weed Management: Beyond the Basics” and “Responsible Pesticide use in Golf Course Management” are two courses that have great information and can be completed in your office. Try to take courses that will grow your job skills and add value to your entire operation.

IPM goals and principles

We also incorporate training into short- and long-term goals to ensure that effective IPM principles are part of our company’s culture. Here are a few examples of our IPM goals:

  • Reduce chemical use by 5% this year
  • Attend 24 hours of IPM continuing education this year
  • Accurately record all pertinent IPM information in the property work log each day
  • Post pictures of seasonal disease and insect issues in the shop to help employees recognize potential problems such as army worms or brown patch
  • Enter the GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf contest
  • Earn recertification as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Courses
  • Complete an IPM case study for GCSAA

In the first year of our IPM program, we increased the number of licensed pesticide applicators from two to six, of which three have multiple categories. This expertise allows for precision within our spray program. Even our lead equipment technician is a licensed pesticide applicator. He trains along with the rest of the spray team to ensure our spray equipment is operating in peak condition at all times.

We also developed a detailed IPM log book and daily journal. These organized and simple log and journal entries allow trained staff members to document field observations accurately. This historical data is then available to help us evaluate pest life cycles/stresses, cultural practices, and budgets. We also participate in research projects and document our success.

IPM reporting

I developed a three color system to classify IPM reports about pest activities or presence. The IPM reports are green, yellow, and red, and are recorded into the log book daily. Here’s how they break down:

  • Green level IPM reports indicate no signs of pest activity.
  • Yellow level IPM reports indicate a pest is present, but poses no immediate threat.
  • Red level IPM reports indicate that an active pest is present and poses an immediate threat to agronomic assets (such as fungi, insects, weeds, or nematodes).

View an example turf IPM field infestation report and turf IPM field history report form.

Understanding report levels

Yellow and red level reports require an inspection by the superintendent, followed by a written plan of action. These plans may be as simple as monitoring an area more closely for three days or they may require an immediate chemical application followed by adjustments to the water, fertilization, or mowing programs. The goal is that our proactive IPM steps will minimize the effects of pest damage. Our plans intensify if pest populations are not controlled in our initial efforts.

An indepth look at our reporting structure

Here's an example of how our reporting structure works. An active brown patch on a green was submitted as a yellow level report. This required a low rate contact fungicide application. The situation improved, but with ideal brown patch conditions the fungus returned in seven days and was worse than before. The scouts posted a red report and the resulting investigation by the superintendent confirmed their analysis.

The red report required a more aggressive plan of attack. There were many ways to try and suppress the fungus. We could:

  • Use a higher rate of the product
  • Use a smaller interval of application
  • Propose a different mode of action
  • Consult our historical data
  • Contact other superintendents in the area to see if they have faced similar problems

The goal, as always, is to protect our agronomic assets with a synergy of actions moving progressively from simple proactive management to an effective use of an appropriate chemistry. We strive to utilize IPM scouting and historical data in conjunction with great cultural practices to reduce chemical use. We try to live by the axiom that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In an average year we log 320 green IPM reports, 33 yellow IPM reports, and 12 red IPM reports.

Communication

Case-study-Environment-IPM-StoneMountain-pic2It is also important to communicate the details of any chemical application to staff, government officials, and members. We use a variety of signs to accomplish this critical exchange of information. View a daily work log that portrays the IPM code. We organized an IPM war room. This room houses:

  • Various diagnostic tools
  • Historical data
  • Textbooks
  • Color photos
  • Research information
  • Financial and chemical records
  • A refrigerator and microwave
  • Sampling containers and product labels
  • Material safety data sheets
  • Phones and a computer with internet access

Things such as magnifying glasses, soil sample bags, industry magazines, pictures of the course, and a well used notepad can all be valuable tools. Contacting other superintendents or university experts that have already faced or researched a particular pest can save a lot of time and money. The internet is a great way to tap into bigger resources without leaving your property. Our IPM program is a true team effort. Utilizing these resources adds a distinct synergy to our program. We use each of these resources to make the final decisions within our IPM program and to develop our action plans.

Achieving our goals and objectives

We reached our first IPM objective by evaluating the total scope of stresses upon our agronomic assets. We incorporated plant selection, cultural practices, weather data, life cycles, IPM color codes, chemical programs, and economic thresholds to create synergy within our efforts. We were able to incorporate plant selection to reduce pest pressure and other stresses in many areas. Examples include:

  • Replacing old Penncross greens with a newer, more drought tolerant grass (such as Crenshaw)
  • Replacing 419 Bermuda grass in a shaded tee location with a more shade tolerant turf (such as Zeon Zoysia)

These changes result in stronger turf communities that are better able to handle a variety of stresses. The use of good cultural practices will also help generate strong pest resistant turf communities. These cultural practices include:

  • Core aeration
  • Water aeration
  • Verticutting
  • Topdressing
  • Proper watering
  • Fertility

The timing of these activities is also very important. We use weather and other IPM historical data to help maximize the effects of our cultural programs. It is as important to know when to aerate as it is how to aerate. We also use our historical data to justify budget items that may otherwise be overlooked. We make informed IPM decisions based on reliable data and we take every effort to make sure our data is property specific and up-to-date.

Minimizing the use of pesticides and fertilizers

Case-study-Environment-IPM-StoneMountain-pic3Our second IPM objective was to minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers. We established thresholds for various pests within our IPM environmental plan as part of our Audubon certification project. Thresholds allow for a more environmentally sound approach to pest management. We look to control the threat, not to eliminate the species. The heart of a working IPM plan is to understand the difference between a true agronomic threat and a perceived agronomic threat. The identification and determination of which pests may cause problems, when will they likely be the biggest threat, and under what conditions, is the real detective work in an IPM program. Your IPM program is always a work in progress and can be hard to quantify at times. A good rule of thumb is that the more detailed and comprehensive the program, the more effective it will become. The detail within our IPM environmental plan helped the SMGC achieve certified Audubon status in 2006. Through the comprehensive application of our current IPM/chemical management program we were able to eliminate the use of chemicals, such as Koban, Simazine, Sencor and Nemacur.

Financial benefits

Our third IPM objective was to demonstrate the financial worth of our IPM program. The reductions in pesticide and fertilizer not only help protect the environment, but reduce expenses. The total savings for IPM related items in 2006 compared to 2005 was more than $28,000. The synergy of all of our environmental programs in 2006 in comparison to the previous year without these programs resulted in an overall savings of $47,000. These outstanding results helped earn the SMGC several awards:

  • 2006 National Public Course
  • Overall winner of the GCSAA/Golf Digestz Environmental Leaders in Golf contest
  • Project EverGreen’s 2007 “Because Green Matters” award

We were able to reach all of our IPM goals in 2006. We maintained quality playing conditions. And our golfer satisfaction scores were 3% higher than in previous years. We protected the property’s agronomic assets and improved profit margins by using the latest IPM principles that help to protect the environment.

Learn more about Stone Mountain Golf Club.