Is Tiger Woods Bad for the Environment?
April 24, 2008 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Are golf courses bad or good for the environment? Chances are the answer you give depends on whether you are actively involved with the game. Representing anti-golf we have the Organic Consumers Association, the Journal of Pesticide Reform (pdf), and the Global Anti-Golf Movement. Speaking on behalf of golf course management the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (pdf) and the United States Golf Association. A group of leading golf and environmental organizations have jointly developed Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United States.
posted by netbros (38 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hopefully things have improved a bit since I worked at a golf course (10-15 years ago) where a) everything in all of the ponds was dead because the water was the colour of a Mountain Dew Slurpee, b) we were given tanks of incesticide (that we weren't qualified to use) and told to spray them on ant infestations as we saw fit, and c) many of my co-workers went out of their way to drive over quail eggs and frogs.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:03 PM on April 24, 2008

I'm going to go with "irrelivant to the environment". There just aren't enough golf courses to have any really meaningful impact.

Now, if you want to argue that golf courses are a symbol of an elitist game and that their large, single purpose low-use, is nothing more than a means for the aristocracy to rub our noses in our poverty that's another matter.

But environmental impact? Compared to the millions of square kilometers of paved roads with oil, gasoline, etc running off to soak into the soil? Compared to pig farms concentrating millions of liters of pig shit into a few hectares?

I suppose you can argue that golf courses do have a negative impact on the environment, but they're such small fry that they're not worth fighting.
posted by sotonohito at 12:05 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

dammit. "large, single purpose low-use *ACERAGE*"
posted by sotonohito at 12:06 PM on April 24, 2008

b) we were given tanks of incesticide

That must have been nirvana.
posted by dersins at 12:10 PM on April 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Coincidentally, the current Golf Digest devotes a huge amount of space to this issue (it looks like their website does too, but I can't tell if it includes all of the articles). Some really interesting reading there. And despite the fact that the writers are (obviously) "actively involved with the game," the general thrust is pretty pro-environment.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:12 PM on April 24, 2008

Here in the American Southwest, there's not much debate. Golf courses waste a precious limited resource, water, and require the introduction of non-native plant life and the fertilizers and pesticides necessary to sustain it (which then runs off into the water sources we do have, contaminating them). The only "environmental" argument in support of them is that they are a light-free open space in urban areas, which cuts down on light pollution. And that's it. All other arguments are purely economic: apparently people enjoy the wasteful conspicuous consumption of their hobby in an environment that can't sustain it, and are willing to fork over a fair amount of cash to do so.
posted by redhanrahan at 12:12 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

> That must have been nirvana.

It wasn't as cool as sitting around the equipment shed on rainy days and shooting wasps with that spray that kills them on contact...until we started to get light-headed, that is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:14 PM on April 24, 2008

Very few human activities are environmentally positive. A golf course's pesticide/herbicide use is probably on par with that of farming.
And, sotonohito, a trip to your local public golf course should show you that most golfers aren't the aristocratic elite you think they are.
posted by rocket88 at 12:19 PM on April 24, 2008

It also has a lot to do with where said golf course is located. Golf course in lowland Florida? Maybe not a huge local impact. Golf course near Tucson? Probably going to wreak hell on the local water table/supply.

The most comical example I saw of this was in Tunisia, where the dictator's president's wife had complained about the lack of suitable amenities in the southern part of the country. Five years later, the golf course is a veritable oasis in Tozours, attracting wealthy tourists and the politically connected alike. Meanwhile, it's a gated community unto itself; the course is surrounded by a 12-foot wall, and on the other side of said wall is an open-air debris yard, and the shell of a city. Every living thing for miles is dead from the drought brought on by the need to feed the course's mighty thirst, since you certainly can't supply a golf course AND a city when you're on the fringes of the Sahara.

That was probably the sight that cemented in my mind the association between golf courses and the privileges of wealth.

On preview: what redhanrahan said.
posted by Mayor West at 12:21 PM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

How about all the water they consume, in places unsuited to acres of lush grass? Not the fault of grassy acres, but rather the fault of where we build them.

The elitist thing, I don't accept that. Everyone in my family, except myself, golf. To call them elite is plain silly. My sister's kids are the first to get all the way through university. But maybe it's an oddity of locality, being a UAW town and all.
posted by Goofyy at 12:22 PM on April 24, 2008

Country clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wasters of prime real estate! Dead people? They don't need to be buried nowadays. Ecology, right? Ask Wang. He'll tell you. We just bought property behind the Great Wall. On the good side!
posted by inthe80s at 12:33 PM on April 24, 2008

I'm going to go with "irrelivant to the environment". There just aren't enough golf courses to have any really meaningful impact.

I can sort of agree with that. I wouldn't say "irrelevant, but maybe that their impact is "negligible". Now if nearly every house in the US had large areas of often non-native grass, much like golf courses, that use huge amounts of water collectively...
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2008

Awesome. I've always wondered about this, actually. Not even joking - thanks for the post!
posted by lunit at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2008

> I suppose you can argue that golf courses do have a negative impact on the environment, but they're such small fry that they're not worth fighting.

They're low-hanging fruit. For the purpose they serve -- which is recreation, and recreation for a relatively small number of people at that -- they do a great deal of environmental damage.

I'm not disagreeing with you in the slightest that CAFOs are a much more severe problem, as is our dependence on the automobile in general, but it's a mistake to think that we should ignore golf courses because we haven't found a good solution to other problems. It's not a zero-sum game, where the effort expended on golf-course pollution is necessarily going to be expended somewhere else where you think it's more needed. (In fact, quite the opposite -- if you tell people that a problem in their neighborhood isn't worth solving, they may not give much of a shit at all about a more severe problem that's less immediate and further away. Once you let apathy set in, everyone loses.)

As others have brought up, water use is a major problem. Fertilizer runoff is another. Habitat destruction is also a part, although I suspect that a golf course probably preserves more habitat than frequent alternative uses for the same land (housing tracts, strip malls, etc.).

Personally I think the solution isn't to ban golf courses, it's to try and figure out ways of making golf courses less environmentally damaging. Maybe that means playing on different (native!) species of grass, or tolerating a rougher rough and an artificial green so that less fertilizer is required to produce that living-Astroturf surface. I could think of lots of ways that you could still have a good time smacking a ball around a field that wouldn't involve massive terraforming or chemical deployment. The game doesn't have to be that bad; players may just have to get more realistic expectations and understand they're playing an outdoor game.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:41 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Never bothered with that useless game involving a white ball, but I once played bar golf in Tokyo. 18 different drinks in 18 different bars. We even stopped for a beer before hitting the back nine.

BAD for the environment. Let me tell you.
posted by three blind mice at 1:04 PM on April 24, 2008

They're low-hanging fruit. For the purpose they serve -- which is recreation, and recreation for a relatively small number of people at that -- they do a great deal of environmental damage.

This bears repeating.

Here in the west, golf courses are gigantic water-sucking beasts that leech out herbicides and pesticides like a hastily abandoned Monsanto factory. They use an amazing amount of resources to cater to a very select few who can afford these kinds of things.

Note that in most of the West and Southwest, lush, thick carpets of green grass do not naturally grow.

In places like Los Angeles, the walled-off, not-for-public-use greenery of golf courses usually outnumbers the green acreage available in nearby public parks. Hell, the closest "greenery" in one place I lived at in LA was a cemetary.

Yet I'm not allowed to merely wander the course? I can't throw a picnic? Not even off to the side of the course? Look, I even brought a hard hat and a waiver. No? I have to play golf?

What, am I just supposed to be satisfied with the free extra oxygen wafting over the opaque fence?

How about "Fuck you, golfer!"?

Yes, I've played golf. What a perfectly good way to spoil a nice walk through a park. Hell, what a perfectly good way to ruin a park, too. Try frisbee golf, you dumb old coots. Try a walk in a park. Try sharing. Try not to tame nature so damn much just so you can whack a little ball around with a fucking stick. Fuck your "sport", man. If you really wanted sport you'd be playing golf in the rocks of Death Valley, not on that manicured tea-lawn you call a par-5. Wussies.
posted by loquacious at 1:05 PM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

> We even stopped for a beer before hitting the back nine. BAD for the environment. Let me tell you.

Not really. Vomit is compostable, right?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:08 PM on April 24, 2008

> How about "Fuck you, golfer!"?

Golf is a beautiful sport (that I hardly ever play anymore because it's too expensive), but golf culture is awful.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:10 PM on April 24, 2008

Not really. Vomit is compostable, right?

All human oozings are compostable. I know this... from experience... oh, oh my God, I'm a hippy, aren't I?
posted by loquacious at 1:12 PM on April 24, 2008

How much worse is a golf course for the environment than, say, a football stadium (plus surrounding parking lot), which generates gridlock traffic and fills with cars on a regular basis?
posted by pmbuko at 1:19 PM on April 24, 2008

I'm a golfer. I know paint a giant red L on my forehead now.

I've always kinda reckoned that in an age of precarious food security golf courses were a communities best insurance against starvation. If as the environmentalists claim we're rapidly devolving towards famine due to transport costs and overpopulation and mono cultural agriculture, having a golf course in your city is the best way to assure open easily arable land is available on a moments notice.

I might even drop a few carrot seeds in the rough this weekend, just to get the ball rolling.

And yes, Country Club members are the most horrible people on earth.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:34 PM on April 24, 2008

I don't think anyone can make a reasonable argument that golf courses are actually good for the environment. The question is how bad they are and compared to what.

I'd argue that golf courses are pretty bad compared to other types of recreation. There is the very high water use, the pesticide use (this site claims 4 times as much pesticide is applied per acre on golf courses compared to agricultural land), and the fertilizer use (again, much higher per acre use than for agriculture), not to mention the land use issues (primarily increases in urban sprawl with all the resulting negative effects). It is hard to think of a recreational activity that is more environmentally damaging per person, though I imagine quads, snowmobiles, speed boats, etc. are worse. Compared to a game of soccer, a walk through the park, or a day at the beach, golf looks pretty bad.
posted by ssg at 1:41 PM on April 24, 2008

Vomit is compostable, right?

You mean outside? I never go there. It's unhealthy. And there's nothing for me to do.

What I meant is that it was BAD FOR MY ENVIRONMENT.
posted by three blind mice at 2:00 PM on April 24, 2008

This should help: Golf Participation in Decline.
posted by notyou at 2:14 PM on April 24, 2008

It's silly to try to turn this into a simple yes or no answer.

It's hard to deny that Las Vegas area golf courses are completely and totally unnatural, and that some serious consideration should be made about the amount of water required to care for them. That's not to say they should all be banned, but steps should be taken to ensure that their effects on limited resources don't hinder higher priority tasks, such as allowing people to drink and shower.

That said, there are many areas where golf courses would seem to have quite a limited impact on the environment, as the appeal of the location is that the golf course fits in quite naturally, excepting for the large swathes of grass and small holes.

Pesticide usage is certainly high in some areas, but again, that's likely to vary quite dramatically by locality.

And even if we discount that, one should consider the negative effects of the likely alternative uses. While it's true the land would likely be better left as untouched pristine forest, is a golf course superior to a housing development? How about a series of big box stores? Are there positive aspects of having a large amount of carefully managed green space in the midst of the residential areas where courses are most common?

That said, some back of the envelope math indicates that golf courses cover approximately 0.1% of US Land, so it seems unlikely that they're a high priority environmental concern, except in edge cases.
posted by Project F at 2:15 PM on April 24, 2008

Are golf courses bad or good for the environment?

They're not so good now, but they'll come in handy when when we're trying to find somewhere to put those hundreds of millions of global warming refugees.
posted by jamjam at 2:18 PM on April 24, 2008

I've always kinda reckoned that in an age of precarious food security golf courses were a communities best insurance against starvation. If as the environmentalists claim we're rapidly devolving towards famine due to transport costs and overpopulation and mono cultural agriculture, having a golf course in your city is the best way to assure open easily arable land is available on a moments notice.

I'm pleading with you that that time has come and gone.

People are starving now, and have been, for our fuel, to sustain our unsustainable lifestyles. This problem is getting worse with food-to-fuel programs with biofuels.

It is happening in the US, it's happening in Europe, and its most obviously happening many more places.

Before this, there have been wars. There has been murder - in our name.

Whether or not you choose to see it or accept responsibility for it does not exonerate you, me or anyone - these problems exist in our name and the particular problems I indicate have been created by us so that we may live in luxury.

Stated simply: All of our choices affect everyone else. This is a function of economics, not simply hand-waving. Our choices ripple far beyond our local space.

So, when do we get to plant on these, err, rather polluted, over-chemicalled lands with life-giving food? When do you see the property owners of golf courses just giving it all away in such a judicious and fair manner? When the barbarian, starving hordes are clamoring at the gate, or before?

Would there be time, then, to patiently till the earth and plant tomorrow - undoubtably in crisis - or should we begin planting today? In earnest? Or just a few carrot seeds in the rough?

The time has long passed for sane, judicious change. Great thinkers and futurists much, much more apt and capable than I ever will be have been haranguing us for years and years - decades. Much of what they've warned of is coming to pass.

I am pissed off and strident about all of this because I can see it coming, and its going to suck. I've been talking about it for years, and people won't listen, and I'm growing frustrated.

My motivations are arguably selfish because I do not wish to be part of this crisis. I want us to avoid it. I want to be able to at least continue living somewhat comfortably, if simply. But that won't be possible when the excrement hits the air conditioning.

This frustration with, well, basically most of everone around me, even the ones I like can best be described with the following metaphor:
Life to me feels like a particular sort of party. There is a lot of beer at this party. There's no reason for the party to be over at any particular point - there is nowhere else to go. There's just this party. There is, I must reiterate, a great deal of beer. Enough to keep everyone happy and warmly buzzed for a very long time.

A vast majority of the people at this party really like beer, any beer. They see this great heaping mountain of beer and - even in the face of so much bounty - grow both greedy and foolish. Normally kind, sane people suddenly argue that they are much thirstier than they really are. People are filling up buckets and guzzling until they get sick and pass out. Someone fills up all the tubs with beer, others readily swim in it. The lawns are being watered with beer. Someone builds a slide. The house is being wrecked. The party shifts from something pleasant to a fucking nightmare. There's more shouting and squabbling over the beer than there is pleasing conversation. People are peeing in the potted plants, the couch has been set on fire more than once, etc, etc.

Then, suddenly, at the ignoble surprise of all but a few all of the beer runs out. Just about at 2:15 AM in the morning on the first night of the party, when all of the other beer stores are closed. They wouldn't have any beer, anyway, since we bought it all for this one party - and goodness knows we would need a little beer for fortitude on our journey to get more beer, anyway.

And the great party that is Humanity dwindles away, one by one, and passes out. In shambles, beerless and dangerously sozzled, leaving only a few grassheads, insomniacs and the relatively crazy and/or sober to try to pick up the pieces.

I've already been to that party. It sucked, especially the morning after. No beer, no breakfast, no coffee and no smokes.
posted by loquacious at 2:29 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

The golf course here is pretty much all sand (except for the greens). You carry some fake fairway along with you.
posted by ODiV at 2:42 PM on April 24, 2008

Mini-Golf, on the other hand, has low water and pesticide use and requires much less land. I've seen a fair number of them with windmills, so I suspect that they're years ahead of traditional golf courses in terms of wind power generation. Mini-golf courses also provide important protected habitats for rare and endangered species that would otherwise surely become extinct. Not only are mini-golfers rarely accused of being elitist, many of them lead the effort to educate the community about recycling and environmental sustainability.
posted by Kabanos at 2:54 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Two courses nearby. One is at the end of my street and is visible from my kitchen window, bedroom window and backyard. So let's see, I'm selfish. Replace the golf course with a shopping center? Condos? Both proposals defeated, thankfully. Runoff bad, green space good. The other one is about one and half blocks away. I don't play golf or really care very much about it, but yeah, I was happy that it stayed green. The members are getting older and wouldn't pay what they were asking, so both have restructured their fees. One was bought by a Korean-American family, who built a restaurant and banquet center where they hold weddings and the like. Golf is fine by me, even if it is a good walk spoiled.
posted by fixedgear at 3:25 PM on April 24, 2008

I've always kinda reckoned that in an age of precarious food security golf courses were a communities best insurance against starvation.

Because golfers are badly camouflaged, well-fed, and easy to chase down, even in those little carts?
posted by pernoctalian at 4:05 PM on April 24, 2008

Runoff bad, green space good.

Golf courses and many lawns act more like impervious surfaces than actual vegetation. There is plenty of runoff coming off of your golf course and it is dumping pesticides and fertilizer into your local streams.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:37 PM on April 24, 2008

As a Scottish person, I'd just like to say: I'm sorry. When you've invented everything ever, you must inevitably have a bad day.
posted by scruss at 5:39 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

An slightly opposing view here. Where this sort of nature is not natural (southwest/arid areas), it's obviously a huge waste. In areas where grass/trees/bushes are natural and the golf course is much closer to the natural enviorment, can't golf course be better than the alternative for that area? In many cases, if there wasn't a golf course, there would be houses/streets/builings/etc. In that case the golf course seems like a hell of a lot better for nature than a subdivision. For birds (yes birdies,eagles), I would think it would be a lot closer to a nature preserve than a subdivision.
Of course, the amount of water and weed killers is bad. But I don't think its clearly a black/white issue. One example- Columbus Golf Course, a nice green space in western Chicago. Better for the environment than houses? Yes. A nature preserve? No, but how likely is that to happen? And to counter the "artistocrats" them, a public course.
Maybe I'm giving too much of a benefit of doubt, but i enjoyed spending <$20 with some friends occasionally smacking a ball while enjoying the nature and a (cheap) beer or four.
posted by superchris at 6:02 PM on April 24, 2008

I'm all for a pesticide ban. I don't own a golf course, so I don't know how much revenue I'd bleed and how much it would cost me to to hire more weed pickers. As a golfer, it wouldn't make much of a difference what the fairway consists of. It all gets trimmed anyways and the greens can get the staff on it to keep it weedless. I'm not familiar if the greens need pesticides to keep it looking that way. Call it a challenge. Rules change, goalie equipment gets smaller in the NHL, then golf can adjust too.

In any case, Toronto Council has made a motion to eliminate pesticides. More In Depth Debate. The Toronto's Pesticide Bylaw and Natural Lawn and Garden Care for the scoop on how to go natural [all the freakin' rage], Health Effects of Pesticides, What Can I Buy in Stores? and What Else Do I Need to Know?.

Interestingly enough, Golf Courses are Excempt./
Imagine that.

It's a start though and I'm all for it.

I'm more concerned about water usage, not only for golf courses, but your front and back lawns. This really bugs me. It's more about the attitude of homeowners, that scoff on wild flower front gardens or Potato, Tomato, Carrot etc gardens in the front 'lawn'. You'd get a notice from the local neighbourhood goodwill bandwagon to step up to a lawn or be damned to hell forever. There was a botanist, growing specific species' of wild flowers and the city trashed it. Fucking trashed it, because of neighbourhood complaints about her unsightly fucking 'weeds'.
Once I own a home, I'll plant corn and wheat and tell the neighbours I'm from out West and miss the farm, see.
A damn sight nicer than some lawn.

Check out Waterloo, which plans to ban all bottled water sales in schools by 2009,
to promote their quality tap water./

What's going to happen when that tap water goes to skunk¿ Canned water next¿ I certainly see the work around that bit of 'legislation'. I really find it odd that water bottling companies are basically helping themselves to profit in water. A Permit from the government and you're off to the bank./

Know what else worries me¿ Canada has a lot of fresh water. USA, doesn't.
The invasion. Water invasion.
posted by alicesshoe at 6:21 PM on April 24, 2008

People are spot on with the whole issue of water being the main problem, which suggests that a golf course is going to have an environmental impact depending on where it is (here in water-starved Australia, for instance, they're not all that great).

But it's more than just as issue of them needing a lot of water and the thirsty non-native vegetation involved. Golf courses love to be placed next to rivers. Not just next to... they love to be placed on rivers. Any river going through a golf course is in for a bad time. Along with the runoff of various phosphates, nitrates etc. mentioned earlier, you're usually going to have any worthwhile riparian vegetation removed (anything that is planted next to the river is usually totally inappropriate). The rivers also undergo massive channelisation, after all, you don't want some damn river changing the dimensions of hole 14.

It's no surprise that Sydney's most polluted and modified river, the Cooks River, runs right through a golf course (to be fair, it is a lot more than golf that has done over the Cooks).

It's easy to think of environmental damage as being something that affects huge spans of land, but really the destruction of these small, dynamic systems that we almost completely rely on to survive seem to be far more pressing.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 6:38 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've always kinda reckoned that in an age of precarious food security golf courses were a communities best insurance against starvation.

There's a lot of meat on some of them, and they're already cornered. I approve.
posted by vbfg at 3:35 AM on April 25, 2008

People who try to claim that golf is not an elitist, environmentally destructive game amuse me.
posted by azazello at 9:22 AM on April 28, 2008

« Older Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell...   |   "Big Bird says it's time to wake up..." Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments