October 8, 2007
Making golf a bit greener
All of us who play golf, even if we seldom hit the green, welcome the greening of the greens reported by the Economist:
LAST summer the big three American automakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, who have all watched their market shares diminish under the pressure of foreign competition, suffered yet another embarrassment at the hands of Toyota. Paul W. Smith, who hosts a radio show in Detroit, passed over the hometown companies and asked Toyota to sponsor his annual golf tournament. Ten years ago, asking a foreign company to host a local event would have been unthinkable.
A decade ago it would have been similarly unthinkable for a company like Toyota, which adheres to a “global earth charter that promotes environmental responsibility throughout the entire company,” to sponsor an event on one of America’s often over-watered, over-treated golf courses. But like the hybrid vehicles Toyota now produces, golf is getting greener.
While some American courses are in cool-humid climate zones similar to that of Scotland, the ancestral home of the modern game, many are not. The Detroit metropolitan area is the tenth largest in the United States and its amenable climate sustains 50 courses and 4.4m residents. By comparison, the Phoenix metropolitan region is the nation’s thirteenth largest, and it already boasts more than 75 blankets of lush fairways laid out on the desert sands. The booming greater Las Vegas area has more than 60 courses for less than 1.8m residents.
These courses have increased property values and brought more tourist dollars to the Southwest, but they also consume immense amounts of ever-scarcer potable water. During the summer of 2002, the third-hottest year on record, the city council of Santa Fe, New Mexico threatened to sue Las Campanas, a luxury golf and residential development, which during the height of the summer drought was consuming 1.8m gallons of water a day, ten percent of the city’s daily supply.
Some courses in dry regions have begun using more efficient irrigation systems and untreated effluent water to reduce their strain on municipal supplies, but water remains scarce. Dennis Lyon, the manager of the Denver suburb of Aurora’s municipal golf courses, has placed posters on all his courses that read, “Brown may not be beautiful to some, but an additional 40 yards roll off the tee can be a beautiful thing.”
But keeping those fairways green requires more than just water. Beyond Pesticides, an environmental advocacy group opposed to pesticide use, calls golf courses “the most chemically treated land areas in the United States, second only to fruit orchards.” Pesticides, especially older broad-spectrum, long-residual concoctions, can wreak havoc on sensitive native plants and animals.
Runoff from fertilisers can lead to algal blooms that cause dissolved oxygen levels to drop to suffocatingly low levels, strangling aquatic life. Courses in humid climates can avoid both of these problems by using wild, drought-resistant grasses that reduce the need for both irrigation and chemical treatments.
More effective organic fertilisers have led some premier courses, such as the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii on the island of Maui (which hosts the PGA Tour Mercedes Championship), to drastically reduce chemical treatment, while about a dozen courses have gone entirely organic.
In response to these trends, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) and the US Golf Association (USGA) have collaborated with Audubon International to establish an environmental-certification program, which rewards golf courses with free publicity if they commit to conserve water, reduce pesticide use, and create wildlife conservation plans for the approximately 70% of course land which is not used for play.
Of course, a little research, a few organic fertilisers and certification programs do not a revolution make. But they are heartening steps in the right direction.
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