Game Changer (Golf, COVID-19, and Copper)

Time changes times.  (4/26/20)


A little extra

Golf Courses, COVID-19, and Copper

COVID-19 has changed the way we live; it has changed the way we die.  Recently, life has taken some strange and unexpected twists and turns.  Every day is a new.  Every day has more changes.  Golf courses have not escaped the merry-go-round of change.  Eventually, some things will return to ‘normal’ but other habits, practices and processes will remain for many years to come.

Fortunately, many golf courses remain open.  Most of these facilities have removed frequently handled items like benches, coolers, bunker rakes, ball washers, and divot buckets.  These efforts reduce the potential for spreading disease and make the course a little safer.  Most courses have not removed cups and flagsticks, as they seem too integral to the game.  Many have modified the cups and most disinfect flagsticks throughout the day.

Superintendents are aware that copper, in addition to being and essential plant and animal nutrient, has strong anti-microbial properties.  It has been used for hundreds of years in agriculture for its anti-microbial properties.  It probably gained its prominence as a fungicide in grapes (Bordeaux, circa 1880).  In the golf industry, copper-based pesticides remain a common tool for many superintendents.

In human medicine and pharmacology, ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures used copper as a curative for human diseases caused by various fungi, bacteria, and virus.  During the cholera epidemics (1800’s), individuals with moderate exposure to copper possessed less chance of being infected by the cholera bacteria.

In more recent times, studies show copper destroys a long list of fungi, bacteria, and virus responsible for human diseases.  These microbes include norovirus, coronavirus (possibly the strain causing the current pandemic) and strains of E. coli.  Although copper’s mode of action seems simple, it is probably more complicated than currently understood.

Copper surfaces contain small amount of ‘free’ ionic copper.  When a virus contacts the copper ion, the ion appears to destroy the outer membrane of the virus and degrade the cell.  This degradation includes destruction of the cell’s DNA and RNA, rendering the virus nonfunctional.  In some instances, these reactions occur within minutes.

For several years, researchers have promoted the idea of using copper-based metals in public areas.  Studies show copper-based items can reduce the presence of microbes by 80 percent.  In addition to common public areas, Bill Keevil (professor of environmental health care at the University of Southampton, England), recommends using copper in sports settings and with athletic equipment.

A golf course contains areas and items that receive a lot of handling (rest rooms, carts, ball washers, bunker rakes, divot scoops, cups and flagsticks).  Most of the items that receive repetitive handling are made of hard plastic, fiberglass, or metal.  Research on the longevity of COVID-19 on various materials in new.  It seems to last longer on hard surfaces like plastic and metal.  The virus remains viable on hard surfaces for 3-7 days. On softer surfaces like paper and cardboard, the virus lasts 1-2 days.  On copper surfaces, the virus lasts 3-4 hours.  

A couple weeks ago, the management group at ‘my’ course began contemplating the idea of replacing standard fiberglass flagsticks with copper flagsticks.  To test the idea, we built a flagstick from half-inch copper pipe and old flagstick fittings. It was easy to build and relatively inexpensive (about $25).  Initially, we were concerned about the appearance of the copper flagstick.  However, on a green, it looks good…almost cool.

The copper flagstick may have a few drawbacks.  It is more difficult to see than a traditional yellow or white flagstick.  It will likely oxidize and weather, and change in appearance.  It seems a little flimsy (a thicker-walled pipe or an internal ‘filler’ may be required). And, in certain situations, it may be prone to theft.

Converting flagsticks to copper may not eliminate the need to disinfect.  It would reduce the required frequency, and, in all likelihood, it would reduce the overall microbial population.  Ultimately, the use of copper could extend beyond flagsticks.  Undoubtedly, superintendents could create a plethora of ways to incorporate copper into the course accessories (ball washers, rake handles, divot scoops, etc.).

COVID-19 will continue to change the way we live; it will continue to change the way we play.  Hopefully, humanity will gain ground against the virus in the near future, but we are forever changed.  We are more aware of the potential threat of infectious diseases and we will be more cautious for many years to come.

Within the golf industry, we have limited influence on the battle against COVID-19 or other diseases.  More research is needed, but evidence suggests if golf courses incorporated more copper accessories, it would improve safety levels for players and the community in general.  Under the current conditions, this seems a worthy endeavor.








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