Dad and the Dandelions

A filmmaker tries to unlock the mystery behind his father's cancer. Is there a connection to golf's manicured perfection?
Available on CBC Gem

Dad and the Dandelions

Nature of Things

After the death of his father, from the blood cancer Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, filmmaker Andrew Nisker starts hunting for answers to his many questions about why this particular cancer, and where it came from.  His search, to his surprise, takes him into the manicured world of golf. In this world of pearl white bunkers, and putting greens that look and feel like velvet, Andrew discovers that these “greenspaces” are anything but. There's a lot more than nature at work creating these perfect carpets. At a golf industry trade show he sees the array of chemicals on offer to achieve that championship perfection. To his surprise, he hears at the show that golfers have consistently shown resistance to caring about any health or environmental impacts of their sport.

golf ball next to a dandelionCan we live with a few weeds on the golf course?

Andrew's father’s had a passion for health and fitness. He loved to eat right, he took pride in sharing his knowledge about his healthy discoveries. But he rarely made the connection between environmental issues and personal health. To him, playing golf was a natural, healthy hobby. Walking the course with his bag on his back, taking in the sun, and breathing fresh air amongst the trees was his happy place.

Andrew's search reveals to him how little we know about the complex causes of cancers .He learns how it's nearly impossible to track down the cause of a single cancer like his father's. An epidemiologist explains to him the mapping studies, or epidemiological studies, which map patterns in causes of death and can be used to assess cancer risk. He meets up with  a campaigner from the grassroots movement against the use of lawn pesticides which started in Quebec.That movement led to the creation of the first provincial lawn pesticide ban in Canada. But, as usually happens,  golf courses are exempted from the ban.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Director Andrew Nisker asks: Did exposure to pesticides on the golf course contribute to his father's cancer?

Andrew forms a bond with a sportscaster in Pittsburgh who is blaming golf course pesticides for the cancer death of his own father, a golf course superintendent. Then a visit to St Andrew's, Scotland takes him to the birthplace of golf, where he discovers that the game started out as something very rough and tumble, the course kept in shape by rabbits and grazing cattle, not chemicals. Is an organic golf course possible? There are approximately 34,000 golf courses around the world and very, very few don't use pesticides. In Martha's Vineyard, he finds  an organic golf course. It's organic because the community insisted on it. Their chosen weed killer?  White vinegar.

How to Avoid Possible Exposure to Pesticides While Playing Golf
Can We Learn to Live With A Few More Dandelions?
he Real 'Greening' of the Golf Course

As he follows up on his hunt to find out more about pesticide use on golf courses, Andrew asks can golfers themselves learn to kick the chemical habit? He's convinced that if golfers knew what goes into maintaining the artificial beauty they play on, they'd learn to love dandelions a little more.