Golf courses

As Earth’s weather grows wilder, are golf courses living on borrowed time?

CNN.com sports staff

Thirties or more Golf Backyards in Utah’s Salt Lake County drink about nine million gallons of water a day to stay pristine green — that’s more than 13 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Manage the lawn on Golf also means using carbon-intensive fertilizers, lots of mowing 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.

Golf’s impact on the climate and environment has led to growing calls to make the sport more sustainable – even for playing on dry courses, as golf legend Tiger Woods appreciated.

And it’s not just to save the planet, but to save 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 Sports 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.

“Before, clubs never had to close after two inches of rain, now they do. They also experience flooding in sunny weather,” Straka said.

In Miami, officials are raising public drains to a minimum of 3.4 feet, but more than 50% of yards in the city are below that minimum, raising alarm bells for Straka.

“If they don’t come out and literally lift their footprint into the air, they’re going to end up in a deeper and deeper bathtub,” he said.

“If they think they have problems now, in 10 years they will be a swamp.”

But change will come at a cost, and this is where critics of golf find their voices: the courses are simply no longer sustainable.

As yards in the eastern United States are threatened by changing rainfall patterns, deadly wildfires that have ravaged the west, including California, have resulted in poor air quality and course closures in recent years.

Less striking, but by no means less worrisome, are rising temperatures in Ohio, which is infested with Bermuda grass, a warm-season grass that can be difficult to control.

The 30 or so golf courses in Salt Lake County, Utah, use about nine million gallons of water a day to keep the green pristine—that’s more than 13 Olympic-size swimming pools. (Christopher Lee/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images for PCA)

Rain, fire, floods and ice

The situation in Australia is similar: Lynwood Country Club, northwest of Sydney, was flooded in 2020 and again earlier this year. At one point, parts of the course were more than 26 feet under water, while on the New South Wales 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, Mallacoota Golf Club nearly perished in the 2019 and 2020 bushfires, with the fairways providing sanctuary for townspeople. Club Catalina, further up the NSW coast, breached the firewall that threatened to wipe out the town.

But in a country used to regular forest fires, the rangelands adapt by trying to capture water when the rains are abundant to use it in the irrigation of the rangelands, or even to put out the fires.

“Golf courses in Australia, on the whole, all have some sort of irrigation storage which is very useful in fighting fires,” said Harley Kruse, president of the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects (SAGCA). , to CNN Sport, echoing Straka’s comments about future predictions.

“Last year in Sydney there was flooding 1 time in 100 years. We are going to have an increase in various storm events which could be wind, rain, cyclone or we get a bigger increase in drought events Golf courses need to be flexible and more understanding.

Fellow Australian Tim Lobb, President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA), is promoting the naturalization and reduction of grass in Turkey to reduce water consumption – 15-20% of the area that was fine turf will use a low maintenance grass species.

In colder regions, coastal courses around the British Isles face a very uncertain future – none more so than the fifth oldest course in the world at Montrose, a few miles inshore from the main championship venue Carnoustie, where over the past 30 years, the sea has encroached nearly 230 feet (70 meters) in places, according to a study published in 2016.

With a predicted sea level rise of one meter over the next 50 years, the birthplace of golf in St. Andrews in Scotland could be a Miami-like swamp as early as 2050.

More in Iceland, Edwin Roald, renowned Icelandic architect and founder of Eureka Golf – a company “committed to mitigating climate change through golf” – told CNN how a greater frequency of water freeze-thaw cycles in the colder climates of the northern hemisphere become a real danger for the courses.

“We have a lot of problems with frozen water […] and lots of flash floods, several times throughout the winter. It’s allowing this to happen without the water eroding the land.

“Winter mortality, due to turf choking under ice cover, is a bigger and increasing threat. This causes financial damage to courses that open in the spring with dead grass.

Solar panels and robot lawn mowers

At the COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow, environmentalist 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 for the 2019 Women’s British Open, built its own reservoir in 2013 to capture rainwater to irrigate its lawn, and more recently drilled a borehole to capture water from underground . The company that runs the course says the new infrastructure should make Woburn entirely self-sufficient, so it doesn’t use water that might otherwise be used for drinking and in homes.

At Remuera Golf Club in Auckland, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been reduced by almost 25 tonnes compared to 2018-2019, thanks to the reduction of all electricity consumption at the club.

Hirsala Golf in Finland aims to have 40 robotic lawnmowers 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 to save 1,080 tonnes of CO2.

Back in Iceland, the country is measuring the carbon status of all of its 65 golf courses through the Carbon Par Project – the first golfing nation to produce such an account.

“The method that is used to produce this estimate, hopefully others can use it in the future. To improve, you first need to know where you stand,” Roald said.

“Golf courses sequester a considerable amount of carbon, which I think few people actually associate with golf. On the other hand, golf is a large land user and will inevitably use wetlands in places. when you drain wetlands are so important.

Forests, peatlands, deserts and tundra can all absorb and retain stores 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’s managed and whether it’s destroying more valuable land to begin with.

Roald added: “It’s only a matter of time before the golf industry starts asking questions about what we can do with these wetlands – that’s where we can have the most impact.”

The clamor for climate change caught the attention of one of golf’s most recognizable voices in the person of Rory McIlroy, one of many top athletes who travel huge distances by air.

“I wouldn’t claim to be an eco-warrior, but I’m someone who doesn’t want to harm the environment,” the Florida-based Northern Irishman told the media at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

“I live in a part of the world where hurricanes are very common and have become 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 put to better use.”

View of the Royal Melbourne Golf Course ahead of the 2019 Presidents Cup. (Warren Little/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images)

“The Way Golf Should Be Played”

Ahead of a trip to Australia’s world-famous Royal Melbourne, Kruse referenced comments in 2019 from Tiger Woods and Ernie Els at the Presidents Cup.

Getting straight to the point, both players praised the natural lay of the course – in essence, just like many previous Open Championships, the course was dry with large areas of uneven ground and even the fairways left without water , “letting Mother Nature prepare the elements to play along,” Kruse said.

Well-watered and well-groomed golf courses can often offer milder conditions that produce better scores and prettier TV pictures, but Els and Woods took the opportunity to praise another approach that will become the norm as courses seek sustainable practices.

Both Els and Woods talked about the benefits of playing on a dry course, like in Australia.

Kruse said he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw a crew of custodial staff on TV earlier this year using gas-powered leaf blowers to dry the rough, adding that US grounds have probably more sprinkler heads per golf course and irrigate more turf area compared to courses, for example in Australia or the British Isles.

“Taking the drought in California a few years ago, hopefully 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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