On the Green: More Golf Courses Choosing To Embrace Sustainability

Golf Courses Embrace Sustainability

In some circles, golf has developed a reputation for being less than environmentally friendly.

For those not associated with the sport, golf courses can be seen as nothing more than enormous parcels of meticulously manicured grass carved out of the native landscape, an unnecessary presence in the natural world that displaces indigenous trees, plants and wildlife.

Add in the need to use vast amounts of water, poisonous fertilizers and toxic pesticides which often end up in the watershed, and gas-powered, carbon-emitting mowers, golf courses have a bad reputation from the environmentally conscious crowd.

So, in some people’s eyes, the term “green” and golf only go together in inasmuch as it describes the putting surface, color of the fairways, and jacket given to the winner of The Masters.

But in the last two decades both course managers/developers have begun to address ways to change this reputation and embrace sustainability.  Driven by an ever-increasing consumer awareness of green practices and a hard-hitting economic recession environmentally-driven golf course development and management are slowly finding a place in the industry.

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf, an educational program offering certification to participating golf courses who choose to become environmental stewards while preserving the natural legacy of the game, is one option for superintendents to explore in making their courses greener.  The program, supported by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA,) provides the industry guidance and education with regards to:

  • Environmental Planning
  • Wildlife and Habitat Management and Preservation
  • Chemical Use Reduction and Safety Practices
  • Wise-use Water Conservation and Quality Management
  • Outreach and Educational Programs

The program leads the way in enhancing the naturally occurring ecosystems and riparian habitats that are often found on golf courses through improvements in efficiency, reduction in usage, and efforts to reduce the detrimental impacts often associated with the operation of golf courses.

Nearly 700 courses have made the decision to become ACSP-certified.  While that comprises only 4% of all courses in the country, those that have decided to participate are certainly making an impact.

Audubon International estimates that those certified courses which have implemented improved irrigation practices save upwards of two million gallons of water each every year, preserving a diminishing resource while also reducing capital expenditure on utilities.

Additionally, many courses have also taken measures to reduce the use of pesticides, saving money while minimizing the environmental impact.  These efforts can also translate to reduced liability and lower insurance premiums, resulting in an even greater savings.

The global golf community has also become involved in the promotion of green practices, including the Golf Environment Organization (GEO,) an enterprise devoted to environmental and social philanthropy while promoting golf and its heritage.

The organization’s mission is dedicated to the notion that by building green awareness, creating dialogue between stakeholders, providing education to golfers and course managers alike, and recognizing results of participants.

Through these and other efforts, many within the golf industry are slowly becoming aware of the impact environmental certification may have on their brands, course reputations, and standing within the community at large.

And golfers are taking it upon themselves to help encourage and promote eco-friendly courses and greater stewardship of the land on which they sit.  In recent years, many have chosen to take the Audubon “Green Golfer Pledge” supported by both the USGA and Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA,) which reads:

  • Be kind to the course: repair ball marks and replace divots to 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 the 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 environment.
  • Encourage the golf course to be an active participant in environmental programs for golf courses such as those offered by Audubon International.

Golfers can play an important role in reversing the reputation earned by golf courses as being resource- consuming behemoths.

Scott McCormick is a golf enthusiast and an advocate for increased sustainability and common sense.

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