Golf courses are recognized for their lush fairways and manicured greens, but it takes a lot of work to keep them beautiful. One of the ways golf courses keep grass so green is by using fertilizer. Fertilizer is used to help plants—like grass, flowers, and trees, as well as corn and soybeans—grow by providing essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. 

Not all of the fertilizer given to plants is used by them, though. The fertilizer that doesn’t get used can run off and through the land and into our streams and rivers. Increased nitrate and phosphate levels in the water can cause algae populations to explode! This is called eutrophication, and many streams, rivers and lakes can end up covered with a layer of slimy green algae. When the algae die and start to decompose, oxygen that’s dissolved in the water gets used up. With less dissolved oxygen available, fish and plants can die.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to reduce nutrients that run off of golf courses and lawns: just use less! If we use less fertilizer, less will get into our water. When fertilizer is applied matters as well. If fertilizer is applied just before it rains, the plants don’t have enough time to take up the nutrients, meaning more runs off into our water. Additionally, a number of golf courses around the country are reducing nutrient usage, positively changing how water flows through the golf course, creating habitat for wildlife, all while keeping their course beautiful (read more about Audubon International’s golf course certification program HERE). With these simple solutions, it’s easy to improve water quality!

Additional Resources

Enhanced Learning Activities (recommended for Grades 4-7)