Greening the Greens: Sustainable Golf Courses

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Golf courses are often resource intensive--each using millions of gallons of water each year, spraying thousands of pounds of herbicides and other chemicals, and contributing tons of CO2 to the atmosphere.  Studies have shown a link between the use of chemicals on courses and increased incidences of cancer and diabetes.  Most of this results from continuing to do business as normal.  But the golf industry is no different than many other industries that have made a push to "green" operations both as a way to do the right thing and to save money. 

It's a nice fall day and you're out on the golf course enjoying the weather and the greenery.  It's a picture perfect day and the brightly colored foliage frames the brilliantly green fairway.  Most people wouldn't picture environmental destruction like this, but it is what it looks like at many of the nation's golf courses.

Keeping a golf course well-manicured and green is no easy task.  A lot of water is required--an average of 312,000 gallons per course per day.  That's enough water to fill over 7,500 Olympic-size swimming pools.  Course superintendents spend endless hours figuring out ways to keep the fairways weed-free.  Precipitation, temperature, time of year, the types of common weeds, and new weeds all affect what products will work well for their course.  They've typically found combinations that work and are reluctant to risk trying new products. 

As with any industry shift, there have been trailblazers willing to take the risk of experimenting.  There are now numerous golf courses around the world that are recognized as leaders in sustainability.  Many of these have earned the Audubon Society's golf course certification or the one offered by the Golf Environment Organization

One course in Naples, FL, the Old Collier, found a turf grass that does well in salty soils, allowing the course to utilize salty, brackish water instead of potable water.  They also maintained wildlife corridors, mangroves, and wetlands.  An integrated pest management plan allows them to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers

Another course has calculated it's carbon footprint, taking into account not only emissions from things such as electricity consumption, but also from pesticides and fertilizers.  And another has gone to solely organic methods of keeping up the fairways. 

It is possible to have sustainable golf courses.  More and more courses are re-evaluating how they keep the fairways pristinely groomed.  It requires more planning and research, but it yields a lower maintenance course that is healthier for the environment, as well as golfers and course superintendents.   Next time you hit the links, consider asking what your course is doing to lighten their footprint.