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Gopher and Mole Control on Golf Courses

This page is targeted towards golf course superintendents and other turf managers and is designed to provide specific information on optimizing gopher and mole trapping programs on golf courses.  In addition to our trap production business, we've operated a mole and gopher control service business in the Bay Area of Northern California for 17years, and we have extensive experience doing mole and gopher control on golf courses. In the western states, gophers tend to be the primary burrowing pest on golf courses though moles are also present in some areas.  Courses located in the east are unlikely to see gopher damage, but often see significant damage from moles. 
Pile of gophers caught with gophinator traps
2 buckets of trapped gophers on golf course
Macabee gopher trap with explanaton of trap avoidance and trap shyness
Mole damage on golf course
Golf course with San Francisco Bay in Background
We currently operate ongoing gopher and mole control programs on 15 golf courses, and in taking over the gopher control on these courses either from the maintenance crews or from other independent contractors, we have repeatedly seen several key factors that often cause gopher control programs on golf courses to fail.   All the courses we do have had gopher control programs of one form or another in place before bringing us on, but none of them had achieved the kind of near 100% control that is possible with the implementation of an optimized trapping program.  Listed below are several of what we feel to be the most important factors in determining success. 
1. Trapping vs. Fumigation and Baiting

There is a common misconception that trapping is not as efficient as phostoxin fumigation or pesticide baiting when dealing with large populations of gophers as often exist on golf courses.  Nothing could be further from the truth--we've seen many courses where populations of hundreds of gophers survived phostoxin fumigation efforts, but were quickly brought down to near zero with an optimized trapping program.

The success of phostoxin varies widely depending on soil composition and moisture content.  Soils that are on the sandy or dry side allow the phospine gas to diffuse into the soil, and you simply don't build up a sufficient concentration to kill the gophers.  And baiting and fumigation are completely ineffective in controlling moles, as their long narrow tunnels make it even less likely that fumigants will build up to lethal levels in their tunnel system.

As seen in the picture to the right, trapping can be a devastatingly effective control technique.   It's also a relatively hassle free from a regulatory perspective.  No pesticides to buy and store, and no pesticide permits, licenses or notices of intent are required. 
Moles and gophers often push dirt into sand bunkers.
An optimized trapping program using the right traps and techniques will result in a gopher massacre, not an ongoing battle.
2. Trap Shyness and Trap Avoidance

If you look closely at the Macabee trap shown at right, you see gopher hair between the tines of the sprung trap, but no gopher.  Macabees, Easy Sets, and other similar traps may catch juvenile gophers on a regular basis, but they just don't have sufficient spring strength or the proper mechanics needed to catch the larger adults consistently.  Many larger adults are pinched in traps, but wriggle free to live another day.   And they do learn from their experience.   Gophers that are pinched in ineffective traps and manage to escape will quickly become trap shy and almost impossible to trap.  Once they know the danger associated with that foreign object in their tunnel system, they will repeatedly pack dirt against it or simply avoid it altogether.

Creating trap shy gophers through the use of marginally effective traps is a disaster for any gopher control program.  Your staff will spend countless hours of wasted time repeatedly  re-setting traps for the same trap shy gophers with minimal results, and the trap shy gophers will continue to breed and produce offspring that will re-invade tunnel systems on a course.   You may continue to catch many naive younger gophers, but without eliminating the larger breeding adults, you will never disrupt the breeding cycle and achieve real population control.

When we take over doing gopher control on golf courses usinig our stainless steel Gophinator traps, we'll literally haul out buckets of trapped gophers, as seen in the picture to the right.    The superintendents on these courses are often shocked by how efficient our trapping program is compared to results they obtained with their staff using rusty Macabee traps or similarly ineffective traps. Theyr'e also consistently shocked by the size of the gophers we catch, as they're used to seeing the juveniles that their staff catch with less powerfull traps, and they're not used to seeing the full sized adult gophers that we take out with the Gophinators.   


3. Spot Treatment vs. Population Control

I've noticed on many of the golf courses we've taken over that due to time constraints, the maintenance staff tend to "spot treat" gophers when they get into highly visible areas such as greens, tees, bunkers, and out in the middle of fairways, but often pay less attention to them when they're in the roughs or other less critical areas.   In my view this is a short sighted approach to gopher control, because even though those gophers in the less critical areas may not be a major concern, they do continue to breed and thus produce an endless supply of new gophers to re-invade the critical areas of the course. 

A more effecitve approach that will result in far better control and will also eat up significantly less staff time in the long run is to shoot for 100% control throughout the grounds.   Gopher control becomes a vastly easier proposition once you get the population low enough to break the breeding cycle.    You'll always have to trap gophers invading from the perimeter, but this is a very easy proposition compared to constantly trying to keep pace with the natural increase of a breeding population. 


Consultations

I do a lot of work on golf courses as part of my service business, and I enjoy talking with golf course superintendents about gopher and mole control, so if any of you have questions about gopher trapping or need advice about getting going with a truly effective trapping program, please feel free to call me for a no cost consultation.  You more than likely will get my voice mail  during the day, but if you leave your number and a good time to reach you, I will definitely get back to you. 

Steve Albano, owner
Trapline Products
(650) 363-7963
Macabee trap with gopher hair between tines showing that a gopher has escaped the tines of the trap--and most likely become very trap shy.
First day on a new golf course account, and we trapped about 8 gallons of gophers with our Gophinator traps.   None of these guys had the chance to become trap shy!
A view towards the San Francisco Bay from Sequoyah Country Club in the Oakland hills.  No gophers in sight.