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Waging a war on pests
Golf comes to America

In this chapter we outline changes in golf course maintenance that emerged as golf moved across the Atlantic from the UK. We focus initially on the early 1900s, describing how the increasing use of chemicals on golf courses and the adoption of highly impactful practices for altering golf course landscapes aligned well with the modernizing practices under way beyond the golf industry at this point in time. Golf’s ‘move’ to America inspired discussion among key industry representatives on how to develop ‘modern’, predictable playing terrain, as opposed to the ‘primitive’ conditions of old. As we demonstrate, this modernist sentiment reached its apotheosis in the post-war years in the use of the highly potent synthetic chemical DDT for the purpose of eradicating unwanted ‘pests’. We argue in conclusion that golf in the post-war period was in a ‘Promethean’ phase. That is to say, and in keeping with the general Promethean environmental discourse, golf industry representatives were both adopting environmentally impactful practices and defending their natural right to do so.

Having established our theoretical foundation, we begin this chapter in the early 1900s, at a time not long after golf had migrated to North America from the other side of the Atlantic. Golf’s official history in North America begins in 1873 with the foundation of the Royal Montreal Golf Club in Montreal, Canada (The Royal Montreal Golf Club, 2011). Fifteen years later, the first American course was formed in Yonkers, New York (see, 2013). The journey from Europe to Canada and the United States was surely not the first moment at which golf spiralled together with the forces of globalization. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club, for example, still considers itself “the home of golf in India”, having been founded in 1829 and conferred the title ‘Royal’ at the start of the next century (The Royal Calcutta Golf Club., n.d.).

But our analysis in this chapter begins from the premise that golf’s journey to North America, and especially the United States, is particularly important when considering the game’s overall history – and its environmental impact. Although golf’s origins are contested, Scotland is commonly presumed to be the birthplace of the game. Scotland is, if nothing else, the site of one of golf’s more famous stories: King James II’s attempt to ban golf on the grounds that it was distracting the masses from their archery practice (British Golf Museum, n.d.). This was an injunction destined to fail. In 1552, as Campbell (2002) recounts, “the citizens of the town of St Andrews [Scotland] were given, by charter right, the use of the links for ‘golf, futball, shuteing at all times with other manners of pastime’” (Campbell, 2002: 15). St Andrews Links remains one of the most famous courses in the world; it brands itself as ‘the home of golf’ to this day (St Andrews Links, n.d.).

What is important to both our examination of golf in this chapter and to our claim that golf’s voyage to North America has relevance to (current) thinking about environmental issues is the form that golf courses took before the sport arrived on North American shores. On this matter, Campbell’s reflections on golf’s foundational years in Scotland are instructive once again:

The first golf courses were rudimentary indeed and very far from being anything like the courses of present day. There were no greens or tees as such and the hole was a crude affair cut roughly with a knife. It served not only as the ultimate resting place for the ball but as a supply of sand for teeing the ball for the next drive.

(Campbell, 2002: 15)

The golf course was a mixed use terrain – a site, for example, for sheep grazing in addition to golf. So varied were the uses of golf course landscapes that golfers wore red coats to warn others than a golf ball might be headed in their direction (Golf Canada, n.d.).

This is not to say, of course, that there was no human modification of natural landscapes before golf arrived in North America. As Bale (1994) writes, golf spread through Scotland and England in the 1800s to the extent that “one observer noted that the resulting landscapes had no relationship with nature” (Bale, 1994: 54; cf., Lowerson, 1993: 134). Rather, it is to say that the game of golf, from its foundations to the twentieth century, was to a great extent subject to the natural whims of the land upon which it was played. We shall see how in later years this power dynamic was effectively reversed.

This review of golf’s early history sets the stage for our main argument in this chapter – an argument that re-emerges in different forms throughout this book. The argument is this: to explain the emergence of chemical-intensive ‘pro-golf’, which reached a high point in the 1970s (the point where this chapter ends), it is crucial to examine how broader processes associated with modernization have impacted the sport. Specifically, and based mainly on our review of industry trade publications, we contend that golf’s dominant storyline across the first three quarters of the 1900s in North America is one of modernization – that is, of finding ways to transcend an allegedly ‘primitive’ past, primarily through investment in science and technology. In this sense, golf came to reflect Latour’s synopsis of the traditional view of what it means to be modern:

The adjective ‘modern’ designates a new regime, an acceleration, a rupture, a revolution in time. When the word ‘modern’, ‘modernization’, or ‘modernity’ appears, we are defining, by contrast, an archaic and stable past. Furthermore, the word is always being thrown into the middle of a fight, in a quarrel where there are winners and losers, Ancients and Moderns.

(Latour, 1993: 10)

In practical terms, what this means is that golf industry representatives were constantly on the lookout for devices that could ‘tame’ the golf course landscape and help wage ‘battle’ against unwanted ‘pests’. With the arrival of the post-war years, superintendents, course developers, and other key figures in the golf industry could mark out distance from their industry forbears most of all by adopting highly potent synthetic pesticides. At this point in time, as we shall see, these same stakeholders in golf were entering a political landscape rife with critiques of modernization.

Modern warfare: golf in the early 1900s

In recounting golf’s historical development, renowned golf architect Michael Hurdzan (1994) starts from the same point that we did above. “In the time of Old Tom Morris (mid-1800s to early 1900s),” he writes, “golf courses were laid out on the land with little or no modification to the ground except the clearing of brush or trees and seeding turfgrasses.” Old Tom Morris was famous first as a golfer in the mid-1800s, though he is remembered in the golf industry as much for his contributions as a greenkeeper at the aforementioned St Andrew’s Links course as he is for his playing accomplishments. Hurdzan continues: “Similarly, golf course maintenance was simple, requiring only that the greenkeeper occasionally mow the grass, topdress liberally, fertilize sparingly with natural fertilizer sources, and resod as needed. Golf had virtually no impact on the land” (Hurdzan, 1994: 191). The story was not all that different, Hurdzan suggests, from the early 1900s to the middle of the century. ‘Crude’ earthmoving equipment was adopted to help better shape the land; course maintenance became slightly more sophisticated, “but still relied heavily on mowing, topdressing, and natural chemicals” (Hurdzan, 1994: 189). Golf’s environmental impacts were still muted – at least relative to later times.

Hurdzan’s reflections are instructive, both for their historical perceptiveness and their implicit acknowledgement (which Hurdzan later renders explicit) that golf would eventually have much more significant environmental impacts. But the US publication The Golf Course – a regularly issued bulletin for discussing golf course construction and upkeep – suggests that golf course development and maintenance could be challenging even in the early 1900s, and that golf industry professionals at times saw themselves as breaking away from a preceding era. Indeed, The Golf Course has been described as a publication that hoped “to fill a growing technical information need” for key golf stakeholders (Turfgrass Information File, n.d.a). It was important in the sense in that it predated the release of other influential publications (e.g. the Bulletin of the Green Section of the US Golf Association) and in that it provided a venue for discussing ‘modern’ construction- and maintenance-related practices.

The modernist sensibilities that informed The Golf Course were signalled in volume one, issue one of this publication. Readers of the bulletin could prepare themselves, the publishers wrote, for authoritative prescriptions from leading industry professionals. This much was needed as golf continued to evolve:

In every section of the country new courses are being built and old courses reconstructed along scientific lines, which received but scant consideration about five years ago. Nowadays turf is produced and maintained to such a high degree of excellence that the early efforts are made to appear amateurish by comparison. Golfers everywhere are critical and fastidious, and no longer are they content with the primitive courses of early days.

(Anon., 1916a: 2)

The Golf Course, then, set out to “present tested excellence in everything” (Anon., 1916a: 2). Subsequent issues would not fail in taking up this modernist theme. Most notable in this regard was the series termed ‘Modern Golf Chats’, penned by the well-regarded course architect A. W. Tillinghast. In one instalment of this series, Tillinghast wrote that early US golf courses – “with their featureless greens, mathematically correct and symmetrical bunkers and the ridiculous little bandbox teeing grounds” – had become a thing of the past. “The golf courses which we Americans are constructing to-day are very different, and so carefully are they built, after a thoughtful preparation of plans, that some of our productions are not surpassed even in the old home of golf” (Tillinghast, 1916a: 1). Presumably the ‘old home’ referred to here is Scotland, birthplace of Old Tom Morris.

Tillinghast’s was not the only assessment of this kind. For example, an article from 1918 told of the uses of dynamite in course construction. Older methods of devising golf course landscapes could no longer be used, the author wrote: “Explosives are now included with horses, steam and gasoline as conservers of manual effort” (Anon., 1918: 53).

Yet while explosives were depicted as a time and labour-saving device for course developers, elsewhere in The Golf Course readers were told that maintaining already-developed courses could, in fact, demand ample energy expenditure. Take, for example, the following description of weeding from 1916:

To free a lawn from tap-rooted weeds, divide the lawn into strips about 3 feet wide, take a basket to hold the weeds and a border fork with four flat prongs. Now, to remove the weed successfully, it is necessary to guess the depth of the root. Well grown dandelions and docks will go down over a foot, the smaller ones and the rib grass about 6 inches. In the first case, force the fork into the turf as deep as it will go and as far from the weed as the length of the prongs. By depressing the handle of the fork the turf will be forced up like a mole hill. If the distance has been guessed correctly it will crack on either side of the weed, which can then be removed easily. In the case of the smaller weeds, force the fork into the soil about 6 inches from the weed and about 6 inches deep, and go on as before … Always burn weeds, then you know for certain that they cannot give any more trouble.

(Anon., 1916c: 81)

Here we see the pedagogical function of The Golf Course on full display. The aim, we can infer, was to create workable course maintenance norms for American greenkeepers. The 1920s would bring an initial ‘boom’ in course development in the United States (see Chapter 4) – in fact, even in 1916 we find reference to the “almost unbelievable number of new courses which have been built or are now in the state of construction” (Anon., 1916d: 114) – and there was an accompanying sentiment that courses need not disappoint. The image of a basket- and fork-wielding greenkeeper meticulously overseeing the land is one that would not stand the test of time. It can be read as proof, however, of the perception that the golf playing public would accept nothing less than the best course conditions possible.

Another article from 1916, in this case by Leonard Macomber, whom we presume to be the same Leonard Macomber who built many US golf courses near the turn of the century, gives further indication of the challenges faced by greenkeepers in the early 1900s. Macomber’s was an even blunter assessment: “GREENKEEPING is no longer a peaceful occupation. It is a constant warfare throughout the entire season. The greenkeeper is always fighting against pests, grass diseases, weeds, bad drainage, etc.” (Macomber, 1916: 27, emphasis in original). This contribution is worth highlighting for two reasons. First, while Macomber’s language is indeed stark, it is clear too that it was not entirely out of step with what was being said and done in the wider context at the time – for example, in publications not concerned with golf per se. In 1922, for instance, renowned US entomologist Leland O. Howard penned an essay entitled ‘The war against insects’, a veritable call to arms for those involved in agricultural pursuits. This was a worldwide war, Howard argued, and one that, in the United States, had fomented research and interventionary measures at the state and federal levels. “All of this means that we are beginning to realize that insects are our most important rivals in nature and that we are beginning to develop our defense” (Howard, 2008: 20).

The second reason Macomber’s essay is worth highlighting is for the view of science that underpinned his reflections on greenkeeping’s ‘constant warfare’. The idea that the golf industry’s modernist turn was guided by science is suggested elsewhere in The Golf Course as well (e.g. see Anon., 1916e). For Macomber (1916), greenkeeping should be based on scientific principles. But here he provides a unique definition: “When applied to greenkeeping, science should be defined as organized common sense, and this is absolutely essential for success.” Macomber continues: “For a greenkeeper to possess a comprehensive knowledge of agrostology, geology, botany, etc., is not necessary. It is apt to prove very confusing, and most always results in rule-of-thumb methods” (Macomber, 1916: 27, emphasis added). There is a risk, of course, in taking Macomber’s words as the unquestionable truth of the greenkeeping experience. Other golf stakeholders may well have deemed botany (as one example) to be perfectly intelligible. Yet by virtue of their publication in The Golf Course it can be assumed that the publishers of this magazine saw at least some credibility in the notion that science was less a shared and systematic enterprise, and more the triumph of common sense. Other articles from this same source presented similar, if not quite as blunt, opinions on golf and modernity. In one of A. W. Tillinghast’s ‘Modern Golf Chats’, for example, expertise was conceived as accumulated wisdom, rather than, say, the earning of credentials (Tillinghast, 1916b: 19).

The inter-war years: chemical solutions

As we shall see, Macomber’s view that greenkeeping was ‘warfare’ would remain salient for years to come. His perspective on science was, however, far more fallible. In 1921, the United States Golf Association’s (USGA’s) Green Section publication emerged on the scene and took up the cause previously held by The Golf Course. Almost right away, a more systematic approach to turfgrass management than Macomber had imagined was emphasized.

Two of the key elements in the turn to ‘responsible golf’ that occupies our attention in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 are research and education. It seems that these were also prioritized in the early days of the Green Section. In 1921, for example, it was announced in this publication that Cornell University had established a course for golf course management training. “The original idea was that a two-year course to high school graduates should suffice”, the article recounted, “but on further thought it was realized that to secure men skilled in such matters as soils, drainage, landscape architecture, turf growing, the use of machinery, the control of pests, etc., a more thorough training was necessary” (Anon., 1921: 141). In this same year, B. R. Leach from the United States Department of Agriculture explained that the Japanese Beetle had infested golf courses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Leach was able to further comment on the implications of this development for golf thanks in large part to two years’ worth of beetle-focused laboratory observations – in other words, thanks to research. More study was needed, though, to determine how the beetle might be eradicated without causing undue harm to the golf course itself (Leach, 1921).

Similar initiatives were evidently under way across the Atlantic. In 1929, the British Golf Unions formed the St Ives Research Station in Bingley, Yorkshire. Thereafter, their progress was reported on in the journal Nature. A report from 1930 highlights the rationale for this turn to empiricism:

Greenkeeping problems have changed considerably in recent years, owing largely to such alterations in practice as the use of compost in place of the heavy roller, and by the introduction of mowers of improved design and numerous chemical fertilisers. Hitherto, agricultural methods have usually been employed, and too often the supposition that what is suitable for pasture is equally good for the golf green has proven a fallacy. A special type of turf is required for greens, free from coarse grasses, weeds, and worm casts. For this purpose the effect of various fertilizer treatments will be determined and a thorough, unbiased investigation of the so-called acid theory, which maintains that the type of turf required is obtained under acid soil conditions, will also be undertaken.

(Anon., 1930: 30)

Worth noting in this passage is that greenkeeping is understood as having a kinship with other agricultural pursuits, but is ultimately seen as a unique activity. The specialized knowledge of those responsible for golf course management would in later years be mobilized in the face of criticisms of golf’s environmental impacts.

The reference to chemical fertilizers in the above passage might be deemed conspicuous as well. As noted above, Hurdzan (1994) suggests that chemicals indeed found their way into the greenkeeping profession – albeit slowly – in the pre-Second World War period. To be sure, in the 1920s, chemicals were a ‘tool’ not hard to find if one looked to the world of agriculture in general. Returning to Leland O. Howard’s anti-pest treatise from 1922, the thrust of his argument – beyond the demonizing of insect ‘combatants’ – was to champion the “the work of the chemist” (Howard, 2008: 21). The problem of pests was a pressing one, Howard wrote,

That is why we are using a chemical means of warfare, by spraying our crops with chemical compounds and fumigating our citrus orchards and mills and warehouses with other chemical compounds, and are developing mechanical means both for utilizing these chemical means and for independent action.

(Howard, 2008: 21)

Howard added that, even with these many uses, there were few effective insecticides in 1922. Diligence was needed in the years ahead to fortify the ‘arsenal’ that people would have at their disposal.

The value of the war metaphor to Howard’s argument, just years after the First World War concluded, cannot be overstated: “there is a war, not among human beings, but between all humanity and certain forces that are arrayed against it” (Howard, 2008: 22). That said, it should not be assumed that chemicals were in all cases adopted with equal fervour. In the USGA’s Green Section, for example, Albert A. Hansen wrote that chemicals have limited practical use on golf courses (something deemed through experimentation), though there are some situations where they might be usefully deployed. Dandelions, for instance, “may be killed by the application of gasoline, kerosene or carbon bisulphide to the individual plants” (Hansen, 1921: 129). This was especially true when gasoline was partnered with a tube and valve device that expedited the process of depositing the substance. Hansen’s reflections take us further away from the basket and fork technique outlined in The Golf Course. The approach, though, was still targeted: “The method is too laborious to advocate except where the weeds are few in number and scattered over the turf” (Hansen, 1921: 129).

Yet Hansen also noted, almost in passing, the possibility of applying chemicals more broadly through sprayers. Four years later, Hugh I. Wilson (1925) of Merion Cricket Club in Pennsylvania took up this very cause. “There have been great difficulties in applying chemicals on golf courses,” he wrote, “owing to the fact that either a hand pump had to be employed or else some larger and expensive spraying machine used” (Wilson, 1925: 33). Here Wilson is in almost direct conversation with Hansen. Importantly, however, he then described a ‘proportioning machine’ that allowed a green to be sprayed with a chemical solution in a matter of 15 minutes. The transition from targeted to broad-based pesticide applications was under way.

Another endorsement of the proportioning machine came from B. R. Leach (1925) of the United States Department of Agriculture. Leach followed his aforementioned synopsis from 1921 of Japanese Beetle infestations on golf courses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with articles in subsequent years outlining the nature of the plague. By 1925, Leach was reflecting on the ‘hysteria’ of years past and how this frenzied discourse had largely subsided. The reason? The proportioning machine, working together with a carbon disulphide emulsion, made for the easy treatment of infested putting greens.

The point, then, is that chemicals were entering the greenkeeping profession at the same time that those managing golf courses – and presumably course owners overseeing their work – were seeking more efficient and modern methods of achieving their desired course aesthetic. It appears that at the same moment in time the search was on for cost-effective ways of maintaining a desirable golf course aesthetic in the UK as well. In an article in the journal Nature on the development of the St Ives Research Station, it was said that the most serious issue facing golf courses during the Station’s first two decades was the prevention and eradication of weeds. Early work towards this end involved the use of ammonium sulphate and ammonium salts on the Station’s many test turf patches. “Later, attention was turned to selective spraying with dilute solutions of arsenic acid” (Anon., 1950: 23). With the arrival of the post-war years, another product captured their interest: dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known as DDT.

The post-war years: ‘the war on pests’ intensifies

In 1936, the USGA’s Green Section publication was fifteen years old. The greenkeeping profession was described at this time in laudatory terms: a ‘fifteen-year miracle’. Since 1921, the 3,000 pages spent in USGA trade publications discussing turf management had “lifted greenkeeping out of the realm of mysticism, quackery, and humbug, and have revealed it as a science” (Anon., 1936a: 1). In 1936, the USGA also issued an index of key greenkeeping terms. The entry for ‘chemicals’ had an accompanying blurb:

A large assortment of chemicals has been tested to determine their value for fertilizing turf and for controlling diseases, insects, and woods. Few important golf courses in this country are maintained without the use of some of the chemicals that have been tested by the Green Section. The testing of chemicals has supplied clubs with information as to their effectiveness for the purpose for which they are used as well as to the possibilities of harming the turf grasses.

(Anon., 1936b: 4)

One might note here that it was turfgrass, and turfgrass alone, that was at risk of being harmed through the deployment of chemicals. The environment, as an integrated system, was evidently not a matter of concern.

But the challenge levied by science against ‘mysticism’ and ‘quackery’ in golf course management was only just beginning. In the post-war years, the technological inventiveness of the war period coalesced with the economic growth imperative of ‘peaceful’ consumer capitalism. Foster (2009) describes the period after 1945 as one characterized by a scientific-technical revolution that yielded substantial advances in five fields: steel, coal-petroleum, electricity, the internal combustion engine, and – most importantly for these purposes – chemicals (Foster, 2009: 4). This was especially true in the United States, where corporate research laboratories were devising new synthetic products that would eventually find their way to the marketplace. The aforementioned chemical DDT remains the most famous case in point along these lines.

The use of DDT as a powerful insecticide dates to 1939 and the Nobel Prize winning work of Paul Müller, employee at the Swiss chemical company Geigy AG (Kinkela, 2011: 7). The US public first came to know DDT through texts such as that penned by US Brigadier General James Stevens Simmons towards the conclusion of the Second World War. DDT was not new, Simmons wrote in the Saturday Evening Post, yet the knowledge of DDT as a safe and highly effective tool for eradicating insects was previously unknown. Moreover, the methods for its use had, by 1945, “been developed with phenomenal speed as a part of a streamlined program of wartime medical research” (Simmons, 2008: 32). Simmons showed little concern for the fanciful tales that warned of DDT’s potentially deleterious impacts. Indeed, that ducks swimming on DDT-treated water could transport the chemical (unwittingly, of course) and in turn kill off mosquito larvae on untreated ponds was deemed a great boon to the human cause. Simmons (2008) expressed similar fondness over newly developed means for deploying this new product: “The most exciting development with DDT has been its experimental distribution from airplanes in the form of smokes and sprays to destroy mosquitoes in large inaccessible areas” (Simmons, 2008: 37). As entomologist Clay Lyle wrote in 1947:

[At] no time in human history have the achievements of entomologists, working in collaboration with chemists and engineers, been of such universal value as to make in so short a time the name of an insecticide a common word in every household however humble or remote.

(Lyle, 2008: 44)

DDT was thus re-territorializing the decades’ old war on pests. Once hard-to-reach areas, whether within the household or far beyond, were now accessible thanks to a combination of modern chemistry and modern machinery. In historicizing DDT, Kinkela (2011) makes the case that the story of this chemical is a profoundly global one. In the most direct sense, DDT was deployed around the globe with the aim of eradicating illnesses – malaria especially – that had for ages plagued humankind. Yet DDT, Kinkela (2011) adds, was global in another way as well:

Not only was it an effective pesticide, but it was mobile, persistent, and moved easily across borders and through the food chain. The hazards of DDT, therefore, were not bound by any one nation, but were, in fact, global. These environmental realities challenged prevailing notions of postwar development, highlighting the ecological interconnections between people, nations, and nature.

(Kinkela, 2001: 6–7)

Foster’s (2009) ruefulness about the post-war scientific-technical revolution can be read as an important add-on here: “Unfortunately, the progress in physics and chemistry [at this time] was not accompanied by an equally rapid expansion in the knowledge of how such substances might affect the environment” (Foster, 2009: 27).

‘Chemical warfare’ takes to the golf course

What of golf and the diligent greenkeeper in the face of these developments? Unsurprisingly, given the ‘chemical turn’ in golf in the 1920s and 1930s, the chemical innovations of the post-war years were also embraced by many in the golf industry.

It is perhaps not surprising that we find an initial mention of DDT in the USGA’s family of trade publications in 1946 – that is, in the early days of DDT’s non-military use. The reference in this case is notably cautious: DDT was described as a ‘very promising’ turf insecticide, and one that had helped control a range of pests both on the course and in the clubhouse. Yet it was also deemed dangerous if inhaled and “poisonous to cold-blooded animals, such as fish” (Anon., 1946: 3; also see Noer, 1946). A year later, in the greenkeeper publication Golfdom, DDT, along with other chemicals, was linked with the drive for efficiency among those responsible for golf course maintenance. Wrote Pennsylvania greenkeeper Joseph Valentine (1947): “Since World War II the trend toward greater thrift in maintenance is being advanced by the employment of more mechanized operations. The utilization of new chemical and mechanical developments does much to increase efficiency of golf course maintenance” (Valentine, 1947: 68). This is a familiar emplotment: innovation itself is deemed a time- and labour-saving device; the embrace of innovation is the shibboleth of the modern superintendent. At Valentine’s course, DDT was applied with the help of a sixteen-foot wide dusting machine. He also mentioned the chemicals lead arsenate and 2,4-D in his reflections on technology and efficiency.

Indeed, according to industry trade publications, DDT was far from the lone pesticide used on golf courses in the post-war years. In 1967, for example, agronomist Lee Record opened his article in the USGA’s Green Section by noting that fungicides, including those containing mercury, had become ‘a must’ in every golf superintendent’s management programme. There were both broad spectrum and selective fungicides at the greenkeeper’s disposal; either way, comprehensive knowledge of the land (e.g. as rendered through meticulous measurement) was needed before chemical deployment (Record, 1967).

In this same year, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA)’s flagship publication, The Golf Superintendent (soon-to-be renamed Golf Course Management) featured an entry entitled ‘Golf course chemical warfare takes to the air’. With tree spraying evidently a problem in managing the golf course landscape, a creative solution was suggested: “Low-volume applications of DDT sprayed by helicopter solved the tree spraying problem for many superintendents at a cost competitive with ground-based mist blowers or hydraulic sprayers” (Anon., 1967: 8). Even if this solution was not adopted en masse, the reference to ground-based mist blowers and hydraulic sprayers is suggestive that broad-based chemical applications were nonetheless valued at this time. Indeed, an ad from this same publication for the Shell Company’s Vapona® insecticide from one year earlier showed a truck blanketing a tree line with an enormous fog cloud. The caption below read, “A Vapona® fog can reduce a mosquito problem to almost nothing in a matter of minutes” (Shell Vapona Insecticide, 1966: 29). Four decades earlier, greenkeepers were extolling the merits of course maintenance procedures whereby singular dandelions were injected one by one with pesticide solutions. The change from this earlier thinking, most evident by the mid-1960s, could not be more glaring.

To complement the above developments – and as suggested through the case of the Vapona® insecticide – in the post-war years pesticide advertisements were regularly appearing in publications like the GCSAA’s Golf Course Management, as were ads for ever more sophisticated equipment such as mowers. Chemical suppliers at times used the opportunity to seize upon the modernist sensibilities of course management staff. For example, Hercules Turf and Horticultural Products advertised their 2,4-D pesticide through the image of ‘Sitting Bull, the Sioux Chief’ and the accompanying text “the professional knows better than to rely on hocus-pocus to build and maintain fine turf” (Hercules Turf and Horticultural Products, 1966: 9). Much the same was true in Golf Course Management’s Canadian analogue, GreenMaster. As one example, Killex Green Cross Products stressed the efficacy of their own chemical solution: “Killex combines 3 herbicides … Mecoprop, 2,4-D and dicamba for safer, superior control of knotweed, dandelions, plantains, chick weeds, clovers, trefoil, creeping Charlie and dozens more of those problem weeds” (Green Cross Products, 1970: 7).

Two caveats are required in light of these developments. The first is that the relationship between the golf and chemical industries was, evidently, far from perfectly harmonious. In the 1960s and even into the 1970s we find articles in Golf Course Management warning the magazine’s readership about the potentially nefarious commercial activity of pesticide salespeople. In April 1966, for example, the GCSAA published a letter entitled ‘No Salesmen Allowed’ in its regular ‘The Thinking Superintendent’ column (Sander, 1966: 40). Penned as a message for manufacturers and distributors of products such as fertilizers and fungicides, the letter expressed concern that salespeople were commonly uninformed and thus apt to waste a superintendent’s time. In 1970, in both Golf Course Management and GreenMaster, we likewise find entries entitled ‘Beware of Satchmo’ – Satchmo being the conniving vendor with a “satchel [of] more gifts than a magic shop” (Powell, 1970a, 1970b; also see Cleaver, 1978a). With limited regulation in place, and with pesticide spraying emerging as the new, post-war ‘normal’, the superintendent’s responsibilities had evidently grown to include deciphering the trustworthiness of chemical vendors.

The second caveat was that the golf industry was clearly aware in the immediate post-war years that pesticides such as DDT were potentially harmful. In 1966, for example, the GCSAA published an article entitled ‘Poisons’ in their flagship magazine. Therein, they listed a variety of chemicals alongside their toxicity levels, probable lethal dose, and symptoms of exposure (Anon., 1966). In a president’s message in this same publication, also from 1966, pesticides were described as both part of the ‘miracle of chemistry’ and as having a Jekyll and Hyde-like quality. The Jekyll and Hyde metaphor referred to the consequences of pesticide mishandling; clear labelling was said to be the responsibility of the chemical industry, while ensuring labels are closely followed was the task of the superintendent (Roberts, 1966). To say this another way, ‘harm’ was indeed considered as it pertained to pesticides, though it generally meant potential harm to the golf course or to superintendent applicators themselves.

Silent Spring and the limits to growth

Of course, the arrival of potent synthetic chemicals at the marketplace in the post-war years was met with criticism as well. At the outset of this book, we saw the GCSAA’s vehement, near-vituperative response to Silent Spring, the anti-chemical treatise authored by environmentalist and biologist Rachel Carson. Then-GCSAA Executive Director Gene C. Nutter decried the ‘rumours’ and ‘distorted facts’ (Nutter, 1964: 43) to which Carson had given legitimacy. Furthermore, he lamented the opportunity lost: “How much more useful Miss Carson would have been to mankind had she pointed out the great value of modern pesticides to the advance of civilization, and had she stressed the continued practice of precaution in use of all materials” (Nutter, 1964: 46). In a rhetorical move that perhaps hindered as much as helped his argument, Nutter acknowledged the existence of cases of unwise chemical use – and even that some deaths followed from this. “Do we limit the number of automobiles because of driver carelessness that kills thousands of people a year in the USA?” he asked rhetorically. “Certainly not! Why, then, pick on agricultural chemicals” (Nutter, 1964: 43).

Carson was not the first to ‘pick on’ pesticides in this way. In the decade preceding the release of Silent Spring, texts such as Our Daily Poison (1955) by American chemist Leonard Wickenden and The Poisons in Your Food (1960) by journalist William Longgood had similarly cast scrutiny on the mounting prevalence of synthetic chemicals in the United States (cf. Paull, 2013). Kinkela adds that in America, the military, government agencies, universities, and private institutions had all questioned the safety of DDT in the post-war years, yet without much tangible effect (Kinkela, 2005: 163). Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in London, Franklin Bicknell (1960) published Chemicals in Food and in Farm Produce: Their Harmful Effects, further weighting the ‘critical’ side of the pesticide scale (cf. Paull, 2013). In 1962, the world was also not far from the ‘limits to growth’ and ‘treadmill of production’ critiques of industrial development described in Chapter 2.

Yet Carson was the critic who captured the public’s imagination, and who will forever be connected to the birth of the environmental movement, at least in America. It is noteworthy in this regard that Carson’s prior publications were ‘feel good’ nature books more so than technical scientific texts (cf. Paull, 2013). She had, in other words, an accessible writing style, though in Silent Spring this was dotted with alarmist language. This alarmism was first exhibited in chapter titles such as ‘Elixirs of death’, ‘Rivers of death’, and ‘Needless havoc’. It shone through as well in the prose that followed on from these macabre headings. The chapter ‘Needless havoc’, for example, begins as follows:

As man proceeds toward his announced goal of conquest of nature, he has written a depressing record of destruction, directed not only against the earth he inhabits but against the life that shares it with him. The history of the recent centuries has its black passages – the slaughter of the buffalo on the western plains, the massacre of the shoebirds by the market gunners, the near-extermination of the egrets for their plumage. Now, to these and others like them, we are adding a new chapter and a new kind of havoc – the direct killing of birds, mammals, fishes, and indeed practically every form of wildlife by chemical insecticides indiscriminately sprayed on the land.

(Carson, 2002: 87)

Indiscriminately sprayed on the land: it is not hard to imagine Carson writing this with helicopter-aided DDT spraying in mind.

Indeed, DDT was among Carson’s primary foci. She was concerned with the proliferation of chemicals in the post-war years in general, and mentioned golf courses as one of the factors contributing to the ‘astronomical’ acreage that now ‘needed’ pesticide treatment (Carson, 2002: 68). We saw above how in 1945 US Brigadier General James Stevens Simmons imagined the transportable properties of DDT to be of great benefit: a duck could unwittingly do the pesticide applicator’s work by transferring DDT on its feathers. Carson took the other side of this argument:

One of the most sinister features of DDT and related chemicals is the way they are passed on from one organism to another through all the links of the food chains. For example, fields of alfalfa are dusted with DDT; meal is later prepared from the alfalfa and fed to hens; the hens lay eggs which contain DDT. Or the hay, containing residues of 7 to 8 parts per million, may be fed to cows. The DDT will turn up in the milk in the amount of about 3 parts per million, but in butter made from this milk the concentration may run to 65 parts per million. Through such a process of transfer, what started out as a very small amount of DDT may end as a heavy concentration.

(Carson, 2002: 22–23)

Other chemicals deemed appropriate for golf courses (e.g. chlordane and 2,4-D) were similarly problematized in Carson’s text. Yet even having outlined some of the precise consequences of pesticide exposure, Carson’s greatest concern was perhaps the uncertainty wrought by the widespread adoption of synthetic chemicals. With products like DDT, “No one yet knows what the ultimate consequences may be” (Carson, 2002: 23). This is the same logic of caution in the face of scientific uncertainty that underpins the precautionary principle – now a guiding principle for many environmentalists.

In fairness, the ‘story’ of DDT is complex. As Kinkela (2005) documents, the fervour arising in relation to DDT in the 1960s and 1970s at times brought environmental and human ethics into direct conflict with one another. Proponents of DDT set out to stress the latter, emphasizing the health benefits of this product, especially in relation to fighting pest-borne diseases. For example, the World Health Organization claimed that their Global Malaria Eradication Campaign, started in 1955, had saved five million lives and had rescued millions of others from malaria’s effects (this despite its inability to eliminate malaria-bearing mosquitoes and the emergence of pesticide-resistant insects – see Kinkela, 2005: 160). From this perspective, the question was whether it was fair for ‘developed’ countries to privilege environmental responsibility when human health was also at stake.

Such a view is certainly reflected in the golf industry’s response to Silent Spring, and, more broadly, in its response to the alleged chemical ‘panic’ of the post-war years in general. Gene C. Nutter’s view that Carson could have better served the cause of humankind had she only emphasized the merits of DDT and its kin is a case in point along these lines. Likewise, in 1970 the golf superintendent magazine Golf Course Management published an article entitled “A THREAT to the Turf Industry” (emphasis in original) written by a Turf Products representative. The titular ‘threat’ was posed by looming bans on mercury-based fumigants, DDT, and other chemicals that, in the author’s estimation, protect grass, wildlife, and even people. “During, and immediately after World War II,” he wrote, “DDT saved at least five million lives and prevented 100 million illnesses” (Kerr 1970: 28). In the USGA’s Green Section, Professor of Biology Dr Robert White-Stevens – described by Kinkela as the chemical industry’s lead spokesperson (Kinkela, 2005: 163) – argued that there was little point in debating pesticide bans until suitable replacement technologies had been found. “Great strides have been made by the ‘Green Revolution’ in producing food, clothing and shelter for billions of humans. Let’s not negate these strides nor set an example for developing nations by hysterically restricting the use of pesticides” (White-Stevens, 1972: 21).

Let us pause for a moment on the word ‘hysterically’ in White-Stevens’ synopsis. Kinkela (2010) recounts that the defence of DDT and other chemicals rested first on their merits – which is to say, their stunning effectiveness in eradicating pests. It was not long, however, before the focus turned to an aggressive anti-Carson campaign, with terms like ‘emotional’, ‘hysterical’, and ‘unscientific’ featuring prominently, and at times seen as part and parcel of her gender. Michael B. Smith (2001) highlights a particularly piercing account along these lines from 1962, the year of Silent Spring’s release. Published in Chemical and Engineering News, and written by William Darby of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, the piece adopted a forceful command – ‘Silence, Miss Carson!’ – as its title. As Smith (2001) writes:

The title itself (which the journal later admitted was its own creation, not Darby’s) expresses the prevailing attitude among many of Carson’s critics that she was an uninformed woman who was speaking of that which she knew not. Worse, she was speaking in a man’s world, the inner sanctum of masculine science in which, like the sanctuary of a strict Calvinist sect, female silence was expected. Darby began his review by lumping Carson with groups he considered to be antimodern ‘freaks.’ … He then invoked a series of father-figure scientists who supported the use of pesticides and whom Carson supposedly ignored … Francis Bacon would have been proud of such a manifesto advocating man’s role as conqueror, master, and controller of nature.

(Smith, 2001: 738)

In other words, the rejoinders to Carson’s polemic were both gendered and decidedly modernist. To stand against chemicals was to irrationally stand against progress; to stand against progress was to fail in the task of carrying forward humankind’s ‘civilizing’ tradition.

This depiction of pesticide critics as irrational anti-modernists did not escape the pages of golf industry trade publications. For Nutter – someone who, it is worth remembering, was the Executive Director of the GCSAA at the time – pesticide critics were ‘crusaders’ and ‘opportunists’, rather than, say, concerned citizens. They build rumours and distorted information, Nutter argued, then magnify these “to the point where the public becomes honestly concerned out of all proportions of reason” (Nutter, 1964: 43, emphasis added). In 1970, once again in the publication Golf Course Management, a similar sentiment emerged. In an article entitled ‘Now is the time’ – billed as the first in a series on the ‘pollution-pesticide-environment-ecology controversy’ – the author reflected on the ‘tremendous’ amount of literature devoted to pesticide pollution: “Our ears ring with radio messages telling us that birds are becoming extinct because of DDT poisoning … [this] is pure, unadulterated and sensationalistic reporting. As such, it should be condemned by thinking people everywhere” (Alexander, 1970: 20). A year later, GCSAA President Richard C. Blake gave his President’s Message the telling name ‘Reason over emotion’. ‘Myths’ and ‘half-truths’ had been accepted as fact, he lamented, courtesy of a combination of the public’s lacking scientific knowledge and the machinations of ‘overzealous’ and ‘self-stylized crusaders’ (Blake, 1971). We find a similar view in Canada in an article from 1971 entitled ‘DDT: victim of incomplete facts’: “Some people go so far as to demand that all pesticides be eliminated. Again, half turths [sic] and incomplete facts are leading to damaging legislation – legislation which weakens man’s dominance in nature” (Van Buskirk, 1971: 9).

To be sure, counter-hegemonic views appeared on occasion in trade publications in the wake of Silent Spring’s release. In 1967, for example, agronomist Albert Neuberger wrote in the Green Section that while Carson had shown bias in her presentation of evidence, “unfortunately much of it is true” (Neuberger, 1967: 8). Neuberger’s concern was mainly directed towards the indiscriminate spraying of chemicals. Insecticides were ‘plastered’ across golf course landscapes, he observed, with little concern for their proper use. Likewise, in 1973, the GCSAA gave space to a spokesperson from the EPA who praised Silent Spring and warned that an environmental crisis – the ‘eleventh hour’ – was nigh (Hoffman, 1973). Nonetheless, it is difficult to regard Carson and her sympathizers as anything but personae non gratae in the golf industry in the wake of Silent Spring’s release. The GCSAA, as said at the outset of this book, has in more recent years acknowledged the strong backlash she received (e.g. see Ostmeyer, 2001).

Prometheus on the tee

To make sense of these developments, it is useful to return to the theoretical concepts described in Chapter 2. As noted in that chapter, the ‘treadmill of production’ is, at its core, a theory of economic change. The story of golf in the early post-war years – and indeed, even before then – is one partially underpinned by a relationship between capital and labour expenditure. In the time of Leonard Macomber, A. W. Tillinghast, and their contemporaries, labour power, deployed together with mechanical tools, was relied upon to confront the ‘pest problem’ on North American golf courses. As Macomber observed, the greenkeeper had the benefit of accumulated common sense in the task of properly caring for the golf course landscape. But as Foster (2009) writes, what is important to capitalism – at least when it comes to its relationship with the environment – is not simply re-investment, but the nature of investment. The above-described ‘proportioning machine’ was an initial step towards the easier deployment of pesticides in the face of ‘scourges’ such as the Japanese Beetle. More importantly, whereas golf superintendents evidently experimented with varied chemical mixtures in the 1920s and 1930s, the scientific-technical revolution of the post-war years yielded new, highly potent synthetic chemicals, and thus new avenues for the investment of resources. Indeed, the aforementioned promotion of helicopter-aided DDT spraying in Golf Course Management in 1967 was deemed timely in that “superintendents are looking to labor-saving devices to stretch what man-hours they have to give the most efficient maintenance possible” (Anon., 1967: 9).

Of course, this is not strictly an economic matter. The quest for efficiencies in maintenance was directed as well by cultural values regarding how a golf course ultimately should appear to consumers – a point we explore in detail in the next chapter. For the time being, the point is that golf had come to rely to a great extent on chemical treatments; as such, the golf industry was swept up in the ‘limits to growth’ critique that problematized not simply the use of synthetic chemicals, but the growing pace at which they were being deployed. Even Carson was not against chemical insecticides in principle. The problems she described emerged “because of the sudden rise and prodigious growth of an industry for the production of man-made or synthetic chemicals with insecticidal properties” (Carson, 2002: 16, emphasis added).

In response, and with some noteworthy exceptions, the golf industry mounted what can be termed a ‘Promethean’ defence. As Dryzek (2005) recounts, the Promethean environmental discourse is one where humankind’s dominant position in nature is merited, and unworthy of critical reflection. The name is derived from the story of Prometheus in Greek mythology: Prometheus stole fire from Zeus, and in doing so changed humankind’s ability to manipulate the Earth. “Prometheans have unlimited confidence in the ability of humans and their technologies to overcome any problems presented to them – including what can now be styled environmental problems” (Dryzek, 2005: 45). In 1971, GCSAA President Richard C. Blake offered a near-literal recounting of the myth of Prometheus:

The truth of the matter is that civilization did not begin until man learned to use fire and other tools to modify his environment. In other words, the fate of the human race and the wildlife that has shared in its rise rests on man’s ability to anticipate, modify, and control environmental changes.

(Blake, 1971: 7, emphasis in original)

In Foster’s (2012) terms, this is crude human-exemptionalism, whereby people hold the right to conquer nature.

Perhaps such a position could be expected. As Hoffman (2001) documents in his book From Heresy to Dogma, in the 1960s the chemical industry was taking a similar tack to that described above. This was evident in the industry’s response to an incident in 1964 whereby the pesticide endrin was blamed for the death of over a million fish in the American Midwest. “In a move marked primarily by denial,” Hoffman writes, “the CPI [chemical processing industry] maintained that there was no conclusive scientific evidence that pesticides damage the ecosystem and that its role in increasing food production was a proud example of its contribution to progress” (Hoffman, 2001: 52). The golf industry likewise decried the evidence put forth by ‘opportunists’ and ‘crusaders’. Golf was on the side of reason; opponents were merely swayed by emotion.

Yet we might also expect this Promethean response in that the modernist sensibilities of those designing and caring for golf courses were far from new; they were years in the making, as the historical analysis undertaken in this chapter has shown. That is to say, the rhetorical flourishes in the pages of publications such as Golf Course Management against the ‘anti-modernists’ who questioned the safety of chemicals like DDT did not spring from nowhere. They originated, we argue, with the perception that golf needed to distance itself from its ‘primitive’ roots, and that greenkeepers needed to transcend the ‘mysticism, quackery, and humbug’ of their forbears in favour of a more scientific approach. From this perspective, DDT was merely the latest in a long line of innovations that made the superintendent’s job easier, or at least more efficient, and gave superintendents themselves more control of nature. Modernization had reached its apotheosis. As we shall see, ecological modernization loomed.

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The greening of golf

Sport, globalization and the environment


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