The images that come to our minds when we think of the game of golf, whether we play or not, are almost universally green. It’s not surprising for a sport that is played outdoors on varying lengths of grass, and one with a part of the playing surface actually called “the green”. This is the game invented in Scotland, and played professionally in beautiful coastal areas like Pebble Beach, Melbourne, and more.
The truth is, though, golf is anything but green, in the ecological sense. Yes, golf courses can often double as habitat for certain kinds of wildlife, and most of us would rightly see a golf course with trees and ponds as greener than a paved lot or shopping mall. Still, golf courses destroy habitat, cost an enormous volume of water, and produce surprising levels of runoff pollution.
Here are a few golf water facts that help to express just how harmful golf courses can be to the environment and water supply:
- Agriculture uses, on average, 2.7 pounds of pesticide per acre per year worldwide. Golf courses use 18 pounds per acre per year, or almost 7x as much pesticide.
- There are about 16,000 golf courses in the United States. Audubon International estimates that they use an average of 312,000 gallons of water per day, for a total of 4.9 billion gallons of water, every day. That’s more than would be needed to support the entire world’s human population according to U.N. daily minimums.
(Sources: The Water Information Program, NPR)
There is always going to be some amount of intrinsic water use for any golf course. Courses are judged by their lushness and the fresh, soft feel of their grasses, and that takes water. But there are options available to any golf course owner or manager that can significantly reduce how much water a course guzzles in an average day.
In places like Las Vegas, the greening of golf is already underway. I can almost see your reactions through the screen, as I use the words “Las Vegas”, “golf” and “green” in the same sentence, but the fact is that Las Vegas has been a leader, by necessity, in figuring out how to run golf courses on less and less water. There’s a long way to go, but lessons have been learned there that can be applied to every course in this country.
There are grass varieties that can exist on a fraction of the irrigation water required by traditional golf course grasses. We have the technology and knowledge to design courses specifically around the contours and slopes that are best to reduce runoff and require the least irrigation. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can do to reduce the footprint of golf, along with deciding whether it makes sense in a nation of 16,000 golf courses to ever build a new one on new land.
The organic food market is growing in this country, based on a consumer desire for cleanly produced, pesticide-free food. As our population grows and our personal and industrial thirst for water grows with it, we can make the same move toward an organic future for the game of golf. We need to start paying attention to golf courses as a major water user, even if we aren’t golfers ourselves. (Disclaimer: I’m not.) Those Americans who do enjoy the game need to take an even more active role, demanding that their courses take steps to reduce their water and pesticide use.
Golf can be greener, and we will continue to post here on the blog about ways that we can all push for a smaller, more organic footprint for our nation’s courses.