By: Claire Donohoe
November 15th, 2022
Since the 1700s, people have been dressing in polo shirts, carefully spiked shoes and fitted gloves to compete in one of society’s most respected games: golf. The slow-burn competition, calming environment and social aspect draw people in—regardless of their skill level. However, the highly regarded activity comes at a cost. Over the past few years, golf has been said to be a largely unsustainable sport.
Despite being an outdoor game, golf does not automatically align one with nature. Because the sport requires a perfectly manufactured setting, golfers fail to honor naturally-occuring environments and wildlife.
The act of deforestation is extremely common in golf course production. Heavy machinery emits gasses, affects waterways and renders groups of wildlife homeless. Not only are chemicals used to maintain the course and its manicured perfection, but golf courses steal natural resources, too, causing more harm than good.
Golf course designers strive to develop courses that not only excite people, but also invoke a sense of pride among their patrons. People want to feel like they are paying for a day in “true” nature – while benefiting from safety and a lack of harmful, interruptive wildlife. The course then benefits financially from creating a space where people feel like they are out in nature, which is imperative to course developers.
According to Creative Golf Design, a golf course takes roughly 2 years to plan, receive approval for and build. The average cost for an 18-hole golf course is about $14 million, not including the necessary land purchase. Patrons eager to pay for a picturesque, scenic day makes the investment worth it for developers.
Former all-state golfer, Kathryn Kellogg, writes that despite having a deep, personal connection to the game, she recognizes the environmentally harmful effects of golf as a whole. After extensively researching the biggest concerns about the game herself, she “think[s] there are worse and more wasteful hobbies to have than getting out on the golf course [and] spending time in nature, even if that nature is slightly manicured.”
Kellogg believes that golf does have a long way to go in terms of eco-friendliness, but she points out that strides have been made with renting used clubs, purchasing eco-friendly packaging for accessories and equipment and using solar-powered golf carts.
The Golf Environment Association (GEO) offers a quick online program to educate golfers on how they can practice sustainability. Similar to Kellogg’s points, many of the GEO’s articles discuss eco-friendly choices like reducing mowing, adding more biodiversity and even turning biodegradable waste into organic fertilizers.
However, the potential for positive change going forward does not erase the fact that putting greens have already done significant damage to wildlife and the environment. These negative actions also connect to the bigger picture: as the climate crisis continues, ecosystems will change drastically, and the manufactured ecosystem of a golf course is no exception. Courses will become swampier overtime, cause fires from tall grasses and risk irresponsibly sequestering carbon. Future damage can be prevented, but erosion, the destruction of habitats and toxic emissions via course maintenance cannot be undone.
If golfers truly honor the game, there is hope that they will work to preserve existing courses and protect surrounding wildlife: walking more, repairing damage and cleaning trash. The question becomes: will golf continue to prioritize its aesthetic over the environment, or will golfers begin to take serious action to curb the negative effects of the game?
Claire Donohoe is an undergraduate sophomore studying English with concentrations in both professional and creative writing, and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry, watching terrible reality TV and shopping for strange jewelry. You can find more of her work on Instagram @cwroteit.