Guilty About Golf: How Your Favorite Pastime Is Killing The Planet

Dear EarthTalk: I love to play golf, but what is the sport’s impact on the environment?

—Jared Pyatt, Springfield, MO

The relationship between golf courses and the environment is not a simple one. Many golf courses are public parks that help preserve native habitats, save wildlife and get millions of people outside. But golf courses can also be elitist playgrounds, put thousands of pounds of pesticides and fertilizers into the ground, displace animals and birds, and use exorbitant amounts of water. Until the 1990s, the words “environmentally sensitive” and “conservation” were not even mentioned in the planning stages of most golf courses.

Now, most golf course architects, superintendents and executive boards are working to create an environment for players to enjoy nature without harming it. The United States Golfing Association (USGA) annually publishes the magazine Green Section, and all certified golf course superintendents must go through environmental management training.

However, the work to create a healthy relationship between golf and nature is far from over. As an environmentally conscious golfer, you can encourage the preservation of native lands, ask the local Audubon society to set up bird sanctuaries at your course, and support the courses in your area that implement environmental policies. Earth Share also gives the following tips on how to become a greener golfer: a) Support positive turf management techniques; b) Encourage alternative fertilization processes and overall reduction of chemicals; c) Be happy playing on brownish fairways in dry spells and encourage reduced water practices; d) And always replace your divots and ball marks.