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Conditions Improving Naturally
By Colin Callander - Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph

BIOSEED PROBIOTICS, a Dorset-based company run by the Smart family, are leading the return to a more natural approach to golf-course care. They now advise and supply more than 200 courses, including Sunningdale and The Berkshire.

John Smart said: "By switching from an antibiotic to a probiotic approach the severity and frequency of certain turf-related diseases can be drastically reduced.

"Most clubs would see a marked improvement in as little as 12 months, but normally a greenkeeper switching to a probiotic approach would present the club at the outset with a three to five-year programme. It can take a while to wean a golf course off a chemical approach."

His father, David Smart, emphasised the 'sponge-like' danger signs. He said: "Over-watering and over-feeding greens inevitably leads to thatch which acts as a sponge, making the grass susceptible to disease. Water is precluded from going through."

John Smart paints a gloomy picture for those clubs who stick to the chemical cycle, likening stricken courses to drug addicts. He said: "Eventually the course suffers from the equivalent of a drug overdose. Infection - anthracnose and fusarium - sets in and mega-doses of drugs - fungicides - are administered to the weak and dying patient. "The greenkeeper then orders more chemicals. As the infection becomes critical, more fungicides are prescribed. A skin carcinoma - dead, brown patches - quickly spreads. A transplant is ordered, but too late; the patient dies of addiction and drug overdose."

Smart says that resuscitation is possible in most situations. "With balanced nutrition for both plant and soil, a lot of aeration, water control and good carbon-source most greens can be rescued," he said.

He also claims that an environmentally-friendly approach saves money. "If we can reduce the amount of chemicals applied throughout the year, then a more natural approach will lead to huge savings for clubs and their members."

Jim Arthur, arguably Britain's leading golf course agronomist, who is now in semi-retirement, said: "As far as I'm concerned the over-watering and over-use of chemicals is by far the most serious problem facing British golf. And it's a problem getting worse rather than better.

"I don't think I would be exaggerating to suggest that more than 50 per cent of British golf courses are suffering from it. It's rampant and it's wrecking traditional British golf as we used to know it. I'm not sure how you can justify throwing more and more water and fertiliser on to a golf course.

"Grass has survived in its natural state for millions of years so why on earth should we be attempting to change it just because some golfers don't like its colour. Some people will tell you that we need to fertilise our courses in order for them to withstand the increased traffic they get, but that's rubbish. In fact, the opposite is the case."