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Links' greens have some seeing red

Jim Kahanyshyn, general manager of Seven Hills Golfers Club, pointed to the course's second green, which was lush with newly planted, weed-free rye grass.

"Look at that green. . . . That's incredible," Kahanyshyn said from the seat of a golf cart.

"Once that's mowed, there won't be another course in town that will touch these greens."

Many former members of Seven Hills and the other course Kahanyshyn runs, Spring Hill Golf and Country Club, disagree. They say the overall condition of both courses has declined dramatically since Kahanyshyn took over two years ago.

And if Kahanyshyn has upgraded the tees and greens in recent months, as he and some members say, state officials have serious concerns about how he did it.

The Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services has fined Seven Hills $7,500 for nine violations for improperly buying or applying pesticides.

And on Thursday _ because of evidence the potentially dangerous practices were continuing _ the state ordered both courses to stop using all restricted chemicals.

Kahanyshyn called the violations minor and one of them _ buying restricted chemicals with another worker's license _ "a technicality."

But according to a state official, Kahanyshyn showed an unusual level of disregard for the rules.

"Once every year or two, a course comes along that is just doing a lot of things wrong," said Craig Bryant, the environmental manager of the department's pesticide compliance section.

Even in this company, Kahanyshyn is notable, Bryant said.

"It's going to be hard to get this guy into compliance because he just doesn't seem to be very cooperative."

Pesticides bring trouble to the greens

The fines, which Kahanyshyn said he plans to contest, are only the most recent of several controversies at the courses.

Kahanyshyn, 35, was hired to run them by his father, Michael, a Canadian resident who is the majority owner of Lemkco Florida, the company that owns both Spring Hill and Seven Hills.

Since the younger Kahanyshyn arrived, at least one league has left Spring Hill because of the declining conditions and a disagreement about the cost of play. Kahanyshyn has banished several Seven Hills' members, one of whom was led away by sheriff's deputies.

Many others have declined to renew their memberships.

One former member, Don Gilbert, said deteriorating conditions were only part of the reason he left. Mainly, he said, he was driven away by Kahanyshyn's attitude.

"He doesn't know how to treat people. He has no people skills at all. There is such a negative atmosphere because of the way he manages his own people, as well as the golfers," Gilbert said.

None of the previous problems, though, carried the potential of harming people or the environment.

The risk from improperly using pesticides, however, is serious, according to the state and their manufacturers.

All of the chemicals cited in a letter from the state, dated Oct. 28 and informing Kahanyshyn of the violations and fines, are classified as "restricted use" pesticides, meaning that purchasing or applying them requires a state license.

Some of them _ Nemacure 3, for example, a chemical created to kill a type of worm called nematodes _ are highly toxic and extremely dangerous, Bryant said.

Kahanyshyn bought Nemacure and another pesticide, Kerb 50-W, from a store in Dade City using the license of one of his employees, Ed Toombs, the letter states. That store and another that supplied Kahanyshyn have also been fined.

Nemacure is "fatal if swallowed or absorbed through the skin," according to its warning label. It also "causes irreversible eye damage," and "may be fatal if inhaled."

Inspectors do not have proof Kahanyshyn used Nemacure, Bryant said, "but he definitely bought it."

Weedar 64 is an herbicide that is "harmful if swallowed" and "potentially fatal if absorbed through the skin," according to literature produced by its manufacturer, Nufarm. The Weedar label specifically warns against applying it in the presence of people or pets.

But on Aug. 12, according to the violations letter, Kahanyshyn made "applications while golfers were in continuous play on the course. Golfers were allowed to enter the treated area before the pesticides were allowed to dry."

The Weedar label also requires users to wear coveralls, waterproof gloves and eye protection when mixing the chemical.

"You did not wear any of the proper personal protection while applying this tank mix," the letter stated.

The improper application and mixing were witnessed by a state inspector, Bryant said: "We were able to catch him in the act."

Kahanyshyn disputes that he incorrectly used pesticides. And, though the state has also cited him for improperly documenting pesticide application, he said his records prove he did not use the chemicals while the course was in play.

"My spray logs will show that," he said.

Several of the nine violations are related to buying or using chemicals without a license. Those are all but meaningless, Kahanyshyn said, because two of his workers are licensed to handle restricted-use chemicals. He had their oral permission to buy and use the pesticides, he said; he simply needed to get it in writing.

"I can just have my name added to their license at no cost, the way I understand it," he said. "It's a technicality."

But Bryant said the licensed employees must directly supervise all handling of the pesticides. Both of the licensed workers at Seven Hills told state inspectors that Kahanyshyn refused to allow them to do so, according to Bryant.

"Two of them were very adamant that . . . he was going out on his own and applying these things," Bryant said.

"He was basically pulling rank on them, and he was saying, "I'll apply these pesticides any time I want to.' There were licenses there, but he was skirting the way the program is supposed to work," Bryant said.

Though all of the violations occurred at Seven Hills, Bryant added, the Department of Agriculture has also temporarily banned the use of pesticides at Spring Hill "because probably a lot of the same things were happening there. Since he owns both, we felt obligated to stop use."

Disagreement surfaces about course conditions

Kahanyshyn said one other factor might have contributed to the state violations.

"We've had a couple of disgruntled members," he said. They may have complained to the state, meaning his courses have been subjected to more scrutiny than others in the area.

The root cause of the members' unhappiness, he said, was an abusive attitude toward staffers that was allowed under previous managers.

"Some of these guys used to get away with murder," he said.

And the higher level of maintenance on the courses, he said, meant more restrictions on play. The course was closed Thursday afternoon, for example, because the crew was spreading rye seed.

"There are inconveniences they never experienced before," he said.

The condition of the courses was never really bad, he said.

"We had some weeds crop up," he said.

They have improved steadily during the summer and will continue to, he said.

At least one member agrees, to a point. Art Carlsen was banned from Seven Hills in June after an argument with Kahanyshyn and has since returned to the course.

"As far as the course is concerned, it's in pretty good shape. We don't have any of that dollar grass on the greens or goose grass on the greens," he said, referring to two common weeds.

Other members have a different opinion about both the current state of the courses and the root cause of the turmoil, which they say is clearly Kahanyshyn himself.

Maintenance became more lax when he took over, they said. And the situation worsened earlier this year, with the departure of head greenskeeper Jim Basey.

Kahanyshyn assumed those duties, despite his lack of qualifications, said Jack Reynolds, a Seven Hills resident and former member who was banned from the course.

"He knows nothing about the game of golf and has made no effort to learn about it," Reynolds said.

Gilbert, who lives in the Wellington development that is part of Seven Hills, paid a total of $2,100 annually for he and his wife to belong to both clubs.

When herbicide applications caused three greens to go brown during the summer, Gilbert said, workers were forced to improvise temporary greens in the fairways.

And rather than refurbishing the fringes of some of the greens, Kahanyshyn simply allowed them to become part of the fairway, Gilbert said.

"He did things like reduce the size of the greens by 30 percent," he said.

Those issues bothered members of the Spring Hill Men's Golf Association, a 95-member league that once played at Spring Hill every Wednesday, said tournament director Smokey Stover.

But once the conditions began to drive players away, Stover said, another issue arose. Spring Hill began offering coupons that allowed the general public to play almost as cheaply as course and league members.

Coupons published in local newspapers this summer offered rounds for less than $10, Stover said, "and they were getting a sleeve of balls or a hot dog. So we're saying, "Why did we pay our (membership dues)?' "

About half the league remains at Spring Hill, while the other half now plays at the Dunes, in northern Hernando County.

Gilbert, like Stover, is willing to endure the inconvenience of a long drive to play at what he says is a better and friendlier course. A resident of Wellington, he is now a member of Southern Woods in Citrus County.

He has heard the Seven Hills course has improved but is skeptical. Weeds die naturally in the fall, he said, and a growth of winter rye can cover many deficiencies.

Also, he said, when he began playing at Southern Woods, he suddenly realized what he had almost forgotten at Seven Hills _ that golf can be fun.

"I couldn't be happier. You walk into the front door, and they say, "Hi, Mr. Gilbert.' They treat you wonderfully. They try to make your experience as pleasant as possible. It's totally different from Spring Hill and Seven Hills," he said.

"At this stage, I wouldn't even consider having anything to do with either of those courses."

_ Dan DeWitt can be reached at 754-6116. Send e-mail to dewittsptimes.com.

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