If it is, it could change the golf industry dramatically.

Free trade, public education, affirmative action, gun control, capital punishment . . . all of these can spark a bit of controversy from time to time. And then there is global warming, which has definitely sparked controversy. Though these issues can seem removed at times – particularly when you’re in the heat of the season (sorry, bad pun) – it’s prudent to consider all available facts in an engaged but non-emotional manner when determining your position on them.

Superintendents aren’t entirely sure that climate change is real. View the poll results and weigh in.

What’s in a name?

The term “global warming” imparts a certain meaning, and, for some, it carries certain perceptions and judgments. While some accept that the world is warming “because most scientists are saying it is,” others suspect it’s merely a liberal scare tactic to seize control of the economy. Still, others just scratch their heads and wonder.

When it comes to global warming, there are several words or terms to consider, each with a different, yet related meaning:

Weather – current set of conditions of the atmosphere at a given time and place.

Climate – a long-term or average state of the atmosphere, typically a 30-year period.

Global warming – a gradual increase in temperature over a long period of time.

Climate change – variability over time longer than a few decades.

Weather extremes – sets of experienced temperature, precipitation, wind and other events that deviate significantly that the normal.

Weather variability – variability over time shorter than a few decades.

Human resiliency – capacity to return to an original state of conditions after a specific event or series of events.

Management practice adaptations – specific changes made to address new or changing inputs or forces upon a task at hand.

Impacts and influences

There are several influences of weather variability or a changing climate. Some indicators are air temperature over land, temperature over oceans, water vapor, sea ice, sea level, ocean heat content, glaciers/ice sheets and snow cover. Each has the potential to affect communities, agriculture and workplace dynamics.

Though there are many potential impacts on golf and the rest of the green industry, short-term droughts, greater temperature swings in all seasons and flooding are likely the most tangible.

Field days can be good sources of information on new cultivars for turf and ornamentals.

But there are more. Insurance claims could increase due to a greater frequency and magnitude of natural catastrophe damage. Rural communities depend on natural resources for their viability, so some small-town golf facilities might not survive long-term weather events. Likewise, urban infrastructures are equally vulnerable. Water and energy availability may become an issue, especially in cities with aging delivery systems.

Severe heat patterns and precipitation patterns may promote the vitality of invasive plants and animals.

Implications, possible actions

If the climate is changing, it’s prudent to be open to the possible need for changes in management practices, grass species grown, and the overall arrangement of plants and features on the course. Such actions are called adaptation responses. If, as a golf course superintendent, you accept the premise that our climate will change over time from what it is to that which is warmer, drier and more variable, then basic logic requires certain modifications.

Adaptation, or the capacity to make reasonable, well-informed adjustments, is the most responsible response to the notion of climate change. As humans, we may not have control over the weather or climate, but we must learn to adjust where possible and where necessary. Such actions aren’t simple, nor do they occur in a vacuum. For example, it’s not likely that a simple cause-and-effect set of engagements, such as “dandelion occurs in the fairway, dandelion is sprayed with a broadleaf herbicide, and three days later dandelion dies” will be sufficient.

Drought-tolerance testing is a potential key to adaptations.PHOTOS BY JOHN FECH 

So, what are some possible actions? Plant breeders and geneticists suggest that traditional and genetic medication efforts can result in turf and ornamental species that can produce high-quality plants with fewer inputs of fertilizers, pesticides and water. This is promising, yet most will admit (and lament) that it’s not as easy as it may seem. For example, turf cultivars that require less water may become more susceptible to insects or disease, develop thinner stands or require more nutrients to grow well. On this front, the answer is found in testing, testing and more testing as well as in collaborations between industry and universities.

In addition to better plants, we also could adapt by increasing our efficiencies. Improvements in irrigation distribution uniformity, spoon-feeding of turf nutrients based on soil sampling and plant tissue analysis, greater monitoring efforts of specific weather events, and possible reduction in the square footage of maintained playing surface are additional considerations.

COVER PHOTO BY LAWRENCE AYLWARD. The restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 is one of golf’s greatest sustainability stories, especially considering the amount of water that Pinehurst is no longer using to irrigate.