Is Golf Sustainable?

As many of you know, I took a break for the holidays. I took 15 WHOLE days off!

I was completely unplugged (minus my GPS) and it was amazing. I felt inspired, rejuvenated and had time to work on some of my hobbies.

To be honest, I kind of forgot I had hobbies, but taking this break helped me remember!

Is golf sustainable from #ecofriendly #golf #sustainable

Growing up, I was an all-state golfer. My dad is still mad that I turned down golf scholarships to pursue theatre instead.

Things were a little bit different back then, but a lot of women’s golf scholarships were available, so my family got me into golf at a young age hoping I’d get a scholarship. It helped, that I was pretty good at the game. I actually played on the boys golf team in middle school because I was the only girl that played in the whole school!

It was the only sport I actually enjoyed participating in, probably because it involved a lot of walking outside which is still one of my favorite past times.

When I close my eyes to think of a happy place, I just remember the most beautiful scene from Hickory Creek where I used to play in high school.

It was like something out of a dream. It was so warm, the sun was setting, everything was golden glowing and the trees and greenery were so thick I thought I was in Narnia.

Some of my happiest memories spending time with my dad and friends happened on a golf course.

I thought about picking up my clubs again, but golf courses get a bad rep in sustainability.

I was curious about it after reading this great post on making tennis more eco-friendly and thought, maybe I should do a similar analysis for golf.

And, while I will get into some of those specifics later, I’m really curious about the courses themselves.

Most of the courses I played were very heavily wooded, so there’s lots of trees to absorb carbon, but I started wondering about other aspects of the course, and wondering if they’re really as bad as people say they are?

A problem I have with any movement, is that everything becomes black and white too quickly not allowing for nuance.

Very little in life is just black and white. So, much of what we experience is gray. And, with everything, I’m sure there are very eco-friendly golf courses and very un-eco friendly golf courses.

I don’t think it’s productive to write off an entire sport. Instead, I hope that we’ll appreciate the gray.

I’ve decided to go ahead and round up some of the most common issues and try to address them head on.

land use:

There are several issues environmentalists take with golf, one of them being land use. “All land use has an impact on the environment — the trick is to minimize damage and, where possible, enhance natural values,” from the book Distant Greens by Paul Sochaczewski.

Further, “Golf courses provide green breathing spaces in a concrete landscape and the well-managed turf has many valuable service values — soil protection, water filtering, pollution fixation and biodiversity conservation. A well-managed golf course can provide more environmental benefits than a poorly managed nature reserve,” he adds.

In the book, Guidelines for Maximizing Biodiversity on Golf Courses, John MacKinnon, a prominent scientist and field biologist argues that “golf and environment can easily develop side by side and golf courses can serve as miniature nature reserves.”

University of Arizona researcher Matt Goode, “There was a time when I would never have considered golf courses as anything but a disaster,” Goode says now he has changed his mind.

Is golf sustainable from #ecofriendly #golf #sustainable

“From a wildlife perspective, golf courses hold promise. If done right, they represent a more compatible land use for wildlife… The more species we can save, the better our chances to preserve biodiversity. That's why golf courses are important.”

He later goes into more detail of what type of animals are drawn to golf course and how proper management is facilitating their habitats like owls, snakes, birds, bees, butterflies, and amphibians. (read more)

Audubon International has created a certification that helps golf courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game with currently over 29% of all courses in the US as members.

While the land use often get’s a bad rep there are many positive aspects as well. Golf courses can act as watersheds for urban areas, in especially dry areas the lakes can serve as irrigation for the course but also neighboring villages, serve as mini-nature reserves, and act buffer zones between town areas and national parks.

water management:

I’m not sure which one is the biggest complaint, water use or land use? Either way they’re both up there. Golf courses are notoriously thirsty. After all, to keep the greens, green - it has to take a lot of water.

But, I started wondering about other sporting arenas? Football field and baseball fields have to be watered, mowed, and kept green too - but no one ever talks about them… it seems golf courses are the only ones people have a problem with.

Of course golf courses are much larger swaths of grass compared to a football and baseball arena, but they don’t have all of the concrete and same arena type settings.

As a bonus, all of the food I’ve ever eaten at the club houses, is served on real plates and in real glasses, making it at least more zero waste than food served at stadiums. ;)

Is golf sustainable from #ecofriendly #golf #sustainable

So, how much water do these courses really use?

The United States Geologic Survey estimated golf course irrigation accounts for only 0.5% of the 408 billion gallons of water used per day in the U.S.

According to the USGA, “The actual amount of water a golf course needs to sustain healthy turf growth depends on many variables including the species of turf, and the prevailing climate in a given area.

“Scientific studies have determined that various turf grasses require a specific percentage of the water that naturally evaporates from the soil and through the plants, also known as evapotranspiration (ETo).

“This reference number is typically measured by a weather station and models the inches of water that evaporates from a large, deep pan of water that is exposed to environmental conditions.

“Cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, creeping bent grass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue generally require only 80% of the total evaporative demand. Warm-season grasses such as bermuda grass, zoysia grass, seashore paspalum, and buffalo grass use even less at 70% of ETo.

“Golf courses in cooler climates and high rainfall can use less that 1 acre-foot of water per acre each year. Golf courses in hot, dry climates may require as much as 6 acre-feet of water per acre per year.”

Is golf sustainable from #ecofriendly #golf #sustainable

Type of grass seems to be one of the most important things to take into consideration when it comes to water conservation watch this video.

Another key thing that many golf courses are doing, is informing patrons of playability vs. color of the grass. Shifting perceptions of what playability looks like is a huge bonus for saving water!

Most golf courses only water 2 times a week, and the average golf course is 150 acres. And, they’re typically only watering the fairways and greens which is a significantly smaller portion of that.

More than 13% of golf courses are using reclaimed/recycled/gray water for watering cutting that number down further. With more golf courses switching all the time.

what to look for when choosing a golf course:

The USGA has some great guidelines on what to look for when choosing a golf course.

  • Does the course use recycled water?

  • Does the course have written set of maintenance standards? You can see how often the course is watered and how the take care of their lawns and wetlands.

  • Does the course have an environmental plan? What are some of their goals? Water conservation, animal habitat restoration?

  • How are the water featured maintained? vegetated buffers around water features filter the water and provide habitats for wildlife.

  • Is the course a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program

Of course, be sure to check out these five top eco-friendly golf courses that are all certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. Sustainability is their top priority providing valuable resources to the communities and of course providing a great past-time/ hobby.

There’s also a completely zero waste golf tournament! The Phoenix Open is hosted by Waste Management every year and there’s not a trash can insight.

The only bins available are compost and recycling bins, and WM employees actually go through and hand sort the compostables and recyclables just to make sure there’s no contamination.

They also host a sustainability forum during the sporting event and I get to attend this year! I’m super excited! Another reason why I wanted to look into the sustainability of golf courses.

Is golf sustainable from #ecofriendly #golf #sustainable

the future of golf course development:

As new courses are being built and old courses are being renovated, sustainability is one of the top priorities. Here are ways that golf courses all around the world are stepping up.

New positions are opening up called greenkeeping, through FEGGA, promoting sustainability for golf course management. More and more sustainability workshops and seminars are being hosted as well. (read more)

While, golf of the past might not have been the most eco-friendly past-time, things are definitely changing. You can expect to see more wildlife reserves, better water management, composting, and even, solar powered golf carts.

If you’re a golf course designer and managed to stumble on to this blog post… be sure to check this guide out.

how to be more conscious as a golfer:

Of course, as all of this is happening, there’s still more that you can do to be a more responsible player! The Audobon Society has created a green golfer pledge.

take the pledge:

“We value the nature of the game and accept our responsibility to ensure that golf courses are managed in harmony with the environment.

We pledge to:

  • Be kind to the course: repair ball marks and replace divots to help maintain playability.

  • Walk, rather than use a cart, when possible. Walking promotes physical fitness, healthy turf, and a clean environment.

  • Look for consistent, true ball roll on greens, rather than speed. Lower mowing heights required for fast greens are at the root of many turf and environmental problems.

  • Keep play on the course and stay out of natural areas. Respect designated environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife habitats within the course.

  • Use trash and recycling receptacles and encourage others to do the same. If you see trash, don't pass it up ... pick it up!

  • Appreciate the nature of the game. Watch for wildlife as you play and support the course's efforts to provide habitat.

  • Educate others about the benefits of environmentally responsible golf course management for the future of the game and the environment.

  • Encourage the golf course to be an active participant in environmental programs.”

opt for secondhand:

In most club shops, you can pick up second hand clubs. You can also rent clubs, if you’re just getting into the sport and not sure you’re going to like it.

Typically golf courses have a dress code of a collared shirt and no jeans allowed. Thankfully these items would be super easy to pick up secondhand at a thrift shop or on a site like ThredUp or Poshmark.

I personally always wore a polo and a khaki or navy skirt. I’m sure you could find golf shoes on a site like eBay, and I, personally, never liked wearing a glove.

get a better ball:

My next recommendation is to get a better golf ball! I like this one by Wilson. It doesn’t appear to have any plastic packaging, and it’s made with a recycled rubber core.

Is golf sustainable from #ecofriendly #golf #sustainable

my personal conclusion:

Is golf an evil, unsustainable sport that we should boycott and tear down? No, I don’t think so. Does the game of golf have a way to go in becoming more eco-friendly? Absolutely, but I think it’s well on it’s way and has already made great strides.

Will I pick up my clubs again? I’m not sure. I’d like to. And, it certainly does help that one of the most sustainable golf courses in the world is pretty close by.

I definitely think there are worse and more wasteful hobbies to have than getting out on the golf-course spending time in nature even if that nature is slightly manicured.

Being on the golf course was one of the main reasons I became interested in hiking and being nature. It’s probably the root of why I’m a conservationist. I wonder if other golfers feel the same way or if I’m just an anomaly.

I don’t know, but I’m curious to hear your opinion? What do you think about golf courses and sustainability? For me, I personally thought it was going to be a lot worse, but after doing the research, I’ve come out very pleasantly surprised.

For further reading: