What Happens on the Golf Course....
Two summers ago, I spent nearly a year working at a once upon a time elite golf course as a member of the golf course maintenance staff. I started in the mid-summer and I was terminated 10 months later. Here is my story of that fiasco.
I hired in as an entry level grounds technician. I was handed a weed eater, some safety glasses and issued a John Deere Gator to drive. I drove around the 5 ½ miles of fairway and trimmed anything and everything that needed trimming. As time went on, I was given more to do, and eventually became well versed at nearly all the duties involved in golf course upkeep.
The course was old, about 45 years old. Looking at the history of the course posted in pictures in the clubhouse, it was easy to see that it was way beyond its heyday. The fairways were in poor shape as well as the cart paths. They were full of cracks and pot holes.
But the wildlife there was phenomenal. The deer were plentiful, and occasionally you would see a family of bears on the greens. It was also a birdwatcher’s paradise. There was a beautiful lake there as well. It was sad to see that this course was in such bad repair because there was no funding. The people that lived around the course in this gated community were moving out and no one was moving in. It wasn’t hard to figure out why.
And then I noticed something odd. The course was situated in the Southern Appalachians, a wildlife paradise. Generally, throughout all of the lakes in this region, you will see abundant waterfowl, mostly Canadian Geese and ducks. But the lake within the confines of this community had none. Zero. Zilch. After walking the shoreline, I realized that there was no aquatic plant life either.
On my continued travels throughout the golf course, I began paying more attention to the numerous streams and small ponds that traversed the fairways. Unlike all other creeks and streams in this region, there were no frogs or tadpoles. There were no water bugs. There was little vegetation. I noticed herons and cranes flying about, but they never came down to the creeks in the fairways, much less the lake. They stayed in the water sources that were above the golf course, where they thrived. I began hiking to the higher elevations and discovered a plethora of frogs, aquatic insects and even water fowl like the cranes and herons.
So now my attention has turned back to the golf course and focused on the chemicals that the crew was spraying on the fairways. I snooped around in the warehouse where they kept the chemicals stored. The majority of the chemicals were manufactured by Monsanto and Bayer. I found labeling all over the packaging that clearly warned the end user how to properly use and dispose of the products, with plenty of personal protective equipment to be worn. It was clearly obvious that this information was being ignored. I began taking pictures.
One label specifically said that it was not to be used near fish and wildlife.
I was irritated and dumbfounded. My son and grandchildren lived in this community, and I was becoming deeply concerned. What I discovered next from my own research was even more disturbing:
After a detailed study of the topography of the area, I learned that the runoff from the lake feeds another lake in yet another community at a lower elevation. This lake also has no waterfowl or vegetation, and its runoff feeds into a mainline stream that the local town gets its water supply from.
So, I began asking questions. I confided in the assistant superintendent, Dave. We had become friends and we were the same age, in our early 60’s. His hand was withered and partially disabled due to spinal cancer caused from using chemicals while working for years as a golf course superintendent. This man confirmed everything I was suspecting. “Why do you still do this?” I asked him. “It nearly killed you.”
“It’s all I know. I’ve been doing it for my whole life. I’m close to retirement, just a couple more years.” He replied.
For the next several weeks I documented and photographed everything I could. Chemicals from the wash rack were being dumped directly into a spring that in turn fed the lake via a 200-yard-long creek. Also, no one was wearing protective clothing or equipment of any type. Nothing was disposed of in a lawful manner. I asked for some protective equipment once, and I was told that if I wanted some, I would have to provide my own.
Then, out of the blue while on the golf course, a long-time employee drove up to me with the sprayer and soaked me with glyphosate spray (Roundup). The chemical was mixed with blue dye, and I was a wet, blue mess. I drove my gator back to the shop and asked the superintendent for the MSDS sheets (Material Safety Data Sheets) so I could do what was necessary to safely clean myself up.
“We don’t have any.” He said.
“It’s a Federal Law.” I replied. “You have to have some.”
“Just read the label. You’ll be fine.” He replied. I removed whatever clothing I could and washed up as best as I could in the restroom. When I got home, I had to throw my clothing away.
The next day, I was terminated for “Being unwilling to do my job as required.”
I went to my son’s house there in the community and told him what happened. He wasn’t happy.
“Dad, I have to report this.” He said. “I’m mandated as a Federal Agent.” Which was true.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Just write it up in a report and give me the pictures. I’ll handle the rest.”
I did what my son asked, and then I called Dave. I told him as a friend what was happening so he could watch his back. Dave’s reply was to the point: “It won’t make any difference. This happens about once a year or so. Money changes hands, and life goes on.”
A Couple of Days Later
I went to the main office of the community and asked to speak with the General Manager, who was also a resident there. I introduced myself to him and he seemed a bit annoyed at my presence. I explained my side of the situation and told him the reason that I was given for my termination.
“Yes.” He went on, “I know why you were terminated. You were terminated because you asked too many questions. We don’t hire thinkers down there on the golf course. We just look for warm bodies that do what we tell them and don’t ask questions.”
“So, you are aware of the contamination?” I asked. I got no response. Just a stare.
“I was wrongfully terminated.” I told him.
I left his office, and by the time I got to my vehicle, the security officers were at my truck removing my community access decals. They escorted me to the gate and told me that if I was found within the community again, I would be arrested for trespassing. Once outside the gate, I called my son, and he came down, incredibly irritated, and notified the officers that I was to continue to have full access to the community and all of the amenities as his guest. They returned my access ID’s and left me alone. But I was watched.
From what I was told, it wasn’t long before the EPA, The Army Corps of Engineers, State Hazmat and the Department of Natural Resources came down on this community with a vengeance. I was told that they were cited and fined for numerous violations and the General Manager was replaced.
A Few Months Later
The local newspaper posted a front-page story telling how the town had hired a private company to conduct water sampling in the town’s water supply. The report said the water was found to be “free from all harmful bacteria and microorganisms”. The thought occurred to me, “maybe it’s free from ALL bacteria and ALL microorganisms”. There was no mention in the report of any chemical levels in the water, which I am sure were very high.
This very same creek is heavily stocked with trout every year for the annual “Take a Kid Fishing Day”. I’ve tried to warn the parents, but nobody cares. Our grandson is not allowed to fish or swim in any of these creeks.
It has been nearly 2 ½ years since this all transpired. There are still no waterfowl on the lake. The same superintendent is still there, and I still see them spraying the same blue colored chemicals on the fairways.
I wonder how much they paid? Nobody cares.
Some of the Evidence
© 2019 Del Banks