The environmental cost of keeping golf courses green

Tiger Woods doesn't visit San Francisco often, but when he does, it means big money. The perennially broke Recreation and Park Department cleared $1 million when Woods played in the Presidents Cup at Harding Park last November, and could net close to that figure again this fall, when another pro golf tournament is scheduled.

But making the city's premier golf course Woods-worthy comes with a price.

The PGA Tour sets exacting standards for the courses it visits, and Harding Park has a landscaping problem other courses don't: kikuyu grass, a hardy, fast-spreading, invasive weed. One easy solution, endorsed by the agrigeniuses at UC Davis, is to spray it with chemicals like glysophate, the active and toxic ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. Rec and Park sprays much less than it used to, but still uses Roundup on kikuyu at Harding, according to department spokesman Elton Pon.

The use of pesticides at city golf courses has long angered local environmentalists like Sol Seevy, a retired Russian Hill pediatrician. "There's no safe level of exposure to any herbicide ... right now, they're putting money before people's safety," says Seevy, who notes that golfers have higher rates of cancer in part because of herbicides like glysophate.

After being lobbied by Seevy and other Russian Hill residents, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier recently introduced legislation that would create a way to formally protest and potentially halt the use of herbicides on city property (and this is toned-down legislation: her law as originally written would have banned chemical spraying outright). Golf wasn't her focus when she wrote the law, according to aide Bill Barnes: It was constituents seething over the Public Utilities Commission spraying weeds in a Russian Hill park.

Seevy thinks Rec and Park pushed Alioto-Pier to step back from the total moratorium to allow pro tournaments to keep coming through (a notion Pon flatly denies).

Still, even under the watered-down legislation, there's nothing to stop a chemical crusader from filing an appeal to Rec and Park about spraying Roundup at Harding. If Alioto-Pier inadvertently handed enviros a nine-iron to knock herbicides off the course, so be it.

"There's no justification to spray anywhere in San Francisco," Seevy says, adding that he thinks the law as written "is a disgrace."

 
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