By Tom Pilcher For CNN
Thirties Golf The Salt Lake County courses in Utah drink about nine million gallons of water a day to stay pristine green – that’s over 13 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Manage the turf on Golf Courses also involve using carbon-intensive fertilizers, mowing extensively, and in many cases clearing forests or trees that were absorbing carbon dioxide to make way for long stretches of fairway.
In other words, Golf is a dirty sport that destroys the planet. But it doesn’t have to be.
The impact of golf on the climate and the environment has led to increasing calls to make the sport more sustainable – even to play on dry grounds, like the golf legend Tiger woods appreciated.
And it’s not just about saving the planet, it’s about saving the sport itself, as the climate crisis threatens to turn many courses into muddy swamps.
American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) President Jason Straka said CNN Sport how the climate crisis has affected golf in flood-threatened Florida, as well as Ohio and Utah, which have been hit by warmer-than-usual weather and even drought.
“Clubs never had to shut down after a two inch rain, now they do. They also experience flooding on sunny days, ”Straka said.
In Miami, authorities are raising public drains to a minimum of 3.4 feet, but more than 50% of the city’s courtyards are below that minimum, ringing alarm bells for Straka.
“If they don’t come out and literally lift their imprint in the air, they’ll be in a deeper and deeper tub,” he said.
“If they think they’re in trouble now, 10 years from now they’re going to be a bog.”
But the change will come with the cost, and this is where golf critics find their voice once again: courses are simply no longer sustainable.
As courses in the eastern United States are threatened by changing precipitation, the deadly wildfires that have ravaged the west, including California, have resulted in poor air quality and closures in recent years.
Less brutal, but no less worrisome, are the rise in temperatures in Ohio, which is infested with Bermuda grass, a warmer seasonal grass that can be difficult to control.
Rain, fire, flood and ice
The situation in Australia is similar: the Lynwood Country Club, northwest of Sydney, was flooded in 2020 and again earlier this year. At one point, parts of the course were over 26 feet underwater, while along the NSW coast, Nambucca Heads received 42.5 inches of rain in just eight days.
On the same east coast, some 350 miles south of Sydney in Victoria, the Mallacoota Golf Club nearly perished in the bushfires of 2019 and 2020, the fairways providing a sanctuary for city dwellers. Club Catalina, further up the NSW coast, broke the firewall that threatened to wipe out the city.
But in a country used to regular forest fires, the courses adapt by trying to capture water when the rains are abundant to use it in the irrigation of the courses, even to extinguish fires.
“Golf courses in Australia, on the whole, all have some sort of irrigation storage which is very useful for fighting fires,” said Harley Kruse, president of the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects (SAGCA) , to CNN Sport, echoing Straka’s comments on the future forecast.
“Last year in Sydney there was a 100-year flood. We are going to have an increase in various storm events which could be wind, rain, cyclone or we will get a greater increase in drought events. Golf courses need to be flexible and more understanding.
His Australian colleague Tim Lobb, president of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA), promotes naturalization and grass reduction in Turkey to reduce water use – 15-20% of the area that was fine sod will use a grass species that requires less maintenance. .
In the colder regions, the coastal courses around the British Isles face a very uncertain future – nothing more than the fifth oldest track in the world at Montrose, a few miles from the coast of the big championship site Carnoustie, where Over the past 30 years, the sea has encroached by nearly 70 meters (230 feet) in places, according to a study published in 2016.
With sea level rising by one meter over the next 50 years, the birthplace of golf in St. Andrews, Scotland could be a Miami-like swamp as early as 2050.
More in IcelandRenowned Icelandic architect Edwin Roald and founder of Eureka Golf – a company “committed to mitigating climate change through golf” – told CNN how the increased frequency of freeze and thaw cycles in water colder climates in the northern hemisphere are becoming a real danger for the rangelands.
“We have a lot of problems with frozen water […] and numerous flash floods, repeated throughout the winter. This allows this to happen without the water eroding the land.
“Winter death, caused by suffocation of grass under the ice cover, is a bigger and increasing threat. This causes financial damage to the courses that open in the spring with dead grass. ”
Solar panels and robot mowers
At the COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow, the ecologist GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, based in North Berwick, showed a virtual audience how golf is learning to be a champion among sports bodies for a greener planet.
Woburn, the host course of the Women’s British Open 2019, built its own reservoir in 2013 to capture rainwater to irrigate its turf, and more recently drilled a borehole to draw water from the basement . The company running the course says the new infrastructure should make Woburn fully self-sufficient, so that it doesn’t use water that might otherwise be used for drinking and in homes.
At the Remuera Golf Club in Auckland, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were reduced by almost 25 tonnes from 2018-19, thanks to the elimination of all the club’s electricity consumption.
Finnish company Hirsala Golf aims to have 40 robotic mowers running on electricity from renewable sources by 2022, reducing the consumption of 1,000 liters of diesel fuel, while solar panels at Golf de Payerne in Switzerland have enabled save 1,080 tonnes of CO2.
Back in Iceland, the country measures the carbon status of all of its 65 golf courses through the Carbon Par project, the first golfing country to produce such an account.
“The method used to produce this estimate, hopefully others can use it in the future. To improve, you first have to know where you are at, ”Roald said.
“Golf courses sequester a tremendous amount of carbon, which I think few people really associate with golf. On the other hand, golf is a heavy user of land and will inevitably use wetlands in places. The emissions when you drain wetlands are so important. ”
Forests, peatlands, deserts and tundra can all absorb and hold stocks of CO2. Of all the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems, about 34% is found in grasslands, according to data from the World Resources Institute. This is not much less than the 39% held in the forests. So whether a golf course can actually absorb a fair amount of carbon dioxide depends on how it is managed and whether it destroys more valuable land to begin with.
Roald added: “It’s only a matter of time before the golf industry questions what we can do with these wetlands – this is where we can have the most impact. . ”
The clamor of climate change has caught the attention of one of golf’s most recognizable voices, Rory McIlroy, one of the many top athletes who fly huge distances.
“I wouldn’t claim to be an eco-warrior, but I’m someone who doesn’t want to damage the environment,” the Florida-based Northern Irishman told media at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“I live in a part of the world where hurricanes are very common and become more and more frequent over the years. I think we can all play our part in one way or another.
“We play on big pitches that use a lot of water and a lot of other things that maybe could be better used.”
“The way golf should be played”
Ahead of a trip to the world-famous Royal Melbourne in Australia, Kruse referred to Tiger Woods and Ernie Els’ 2019 comments at the Presidents Cup.
To get right to the point, both players praised the natural layout of the course – in essence, just like many previous Open Championships, the course was dry and large areas of rough and even the fairways were deprived of water, “letting Mother Nature prepare the elements to play the game,” Kruse said.
Well-watered, well-maintained golf courses can often offer milder conditions that produce better scores and prettier TV footage, but Els and Woods took the opportunity to praise another approach that will become the norm as the courses are looking for sustainable practices.
Els and Woods both talked about the benefits of playing on a dry course, like in Australia.
Kruse said he could barely believe his eyes when he saw a crew of maintenance personnel on television earlier this year using gasoline-powered leaf blowers to dry the crude, adding that U.S. runs likely have more sprinklers per golf course and water more turf compared to courses in eg Australia or the British Isles.
“Taking the drought in California a few years ago, I hope they haven’t gone back to their old ways and are rethinking,” Kruse said.
“You don’t need 2,000 irrigation heads from fence to fence to keep the course alive. You can let things dry.
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