Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on October 10, 2007
Filed Under Traveling & Cool Stuff To Do
I am not an avid golfer. In fact, the last time I played golf I was probably putting a colorful ball through a giant windmill and praying it would land in the hole on the other side.
You don’t have to play golf, though, to know it’s a sport that embodies green fairways, blue lakes, white sand pits, and perfectly gardened flowers and trees. But if you do play, I’m sure you’d say much of the sport’s appeal is spending the day outdoors for 18 holes of picturesque heaven. But heaven on earth comes at a price, and the impact of golf courses on the environment is one costly bogey.
Golf has always been a popular sport. Even as a child, I remember watching the packed PGA tour on TV with my grandfather and rooting for Greg “The Shark” Norman because I liked his nickname. As an adult, I realize it can be both a fun day with friends or a vital business meeting. Whether you pride yourself on an under-80 game or just like riding around in golf carts, you can’t deny that in recent years the game’s popularity has soared. According to the National Golf Foundation, its business now contributes more than $49 billion a year to the economy. Young celebrity golfers like Tiger Woods have brought added media attention and enthusiasm to a traditional game. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of golf courses in the United States — making the U.S. home to nearly 18,000 of the world’s 35,000 courses. According to the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization that monitors and analyzes environmental trends, golf courses cover more than 1.7 million acres of land in the U.S. and soak up nearly 4 billion gallons of water per day. And you thought your lawn required a lot of attention!
Everyone knows golf tournaments only play on the best-kept courses, but keeping a course in top condition takes a lot of water, not to mention pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer to keep turf thick and weed-free. In places where water is frequently in shortage, such as Nevada, golf courses often purchase water rights to maintain their courses at the expense of local property owners. In addition, the chemical run-off from golf courses often contaminates nearby water supplies. So, courses not only use water that’s vital to nearby communities, they also affect the water they don’t.
In addition, golf courses usually include the development of clubhouses, restaurants, and parking lots on site, as well as nearby hotels and housing complexes. These projects not only use energy and resources, their construction often disturbs the natural habitats and ecosystems already in place. According to the Organic Consumers Association, environmentalists in Wyoming lost a fight last year to prevent the construction of a golf complex along the Snake River near Jackson Hole. This area was considered the premier ecological site for bald eagle nests, having produced more eagles in the past 26 years than any other area in the Yellowstone region. Biologists now report that the nests in this area are empty.
Does all this negative impact mean we should hang up our clubs and return those funny looking knee-high socks?
Not necessarily. We can always bring our game to places taking positive swings at “truly green” fairways (and still return the socks).
Environmentalists may have lost one battle in Wyoming, but the Three Crowns Golf Club along the North Platte River in Casper is sure to feel like heaven without putting the environment through hell. Highlighted in Forbes Magazine and Golfweek, this 350-acre complex that includes jogging trails, parks, and eight lakes, sits upon what was once a gasoline refinery. It started as a refinery in the early 1900s for Midwest Oil, then Standard Oil, and eventually Amoco (which became BP Amoco), before the eventual government crackdown in the late nineties on the site’s pollution.
Ironically, the oil companies responsible for ruining the land ended up saving it. BP Amoco spent more than $200 million dollars on cleanup — which included removing thousands of miles of pipelines — and constructed the golf complex with a special water treatment system. Engineers installed a two-mile bulkhead wall that prevents any groundwater from leaving the site. The water is then pumped into a treatment system, cleaned for chemicals and oil runoff, and directed into a nearby wildlife preserve called Soda Lake. This system provides the course with one million gallons of recycled groundwater per day and the oil that is removed in filtering is reused.
Although many golf courses are hesitant to take Three Crowns lead because of the expenses associated with going green, there is hope for the game of golf. Newer courses are being built with more advanced irrigation systems and designed with environmental impact in mind. Alternate varieties of grass that require less water are being used, as is treated liquid waste rather than drinking water for irrigation.
In addition, Audubon International, a well-recognized non-profit organization, began a program to register and certify golf courses that adopt environmentally friendly practices. Any course can register (by paying a yearly membership fee), and in return receives educational information on implementing greener practices in their courses. However, to be certified, the course must meet requirements in five areas: water quality management, water conservation, chemical use reduction & safety, environmental planning & habitat management, and outreach & education.
Currently, there are over 2,000 courses in 27 countries registered. However, of the U.S. courses registered, only an estimated three percent made the changes required to receive official certification. Golf’s surge in popularity has made it a big business, and public support of green courses will help ensure that big businesses take the initiative to update their courses.
Whether you can recite directions to the nearest 18 holes or the closest you get to a course is admiring how perfect the lawn looks, just remember the grass is always greener on the other side. But if you’re ever in Wyoming, be sure to check out Three Crowns fairways where the grass truly is green. Even if you hit a few bogeys, you’ll still feel like you played a perfect game.