By 2025 (in just eight years) 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity and two thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. By 2030, this figure is predicted to rise to almost half. Such a horrific picture should be worrying to golfers and golfing hotels, when the main ingredient in the recipe for a perfectly pristine ‘green’ golf course is water because turf grasses, unlike trees and shrubs, have very little capacity to store water and withstand periods of drought. We as travellers might want to move beyond eco friendly hotels and beyond sustainable hospitality to something far more important – but when it comes to golf courses and golfing hotels, we are still (largely) stuck in an unsustainable past.
In reality, few companies take action until water shortages become critical – as they have in California, USA. As Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, now is a more urgent time than ever for the worldwide golfing industry to play its part and speed up the pace of ‘greening’ golf.
An 18 hole golf course in the USA can use up to a whopping one million gallons of water in an average summer week, according to The Alliance for Water Efficiency. This is the equivalent to having about 20,000 baths EACH WEEK!
Most course keepers also need to use nutrients to boost growth, herbicides to kill weeds, pesticides to control insect damage and fungicides to control disease. British organisation Tourism Concern calculates that an average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1,500kg of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers.
Clearly how much water a golf courses needs depends on its location – think of the difference in weather conditions between Scotland and Florida. But the question over their environmental impact is the same: where is the water coming from, how is it distributed, how plentiful or scarce is the water supply in that part of the world and how is it affecting the water tables for the surrounding communities?
It’s obviously not appropriate to set up a golf club in a desert, where water is not naturally found, or anywhere that the local community may be in short supply. But you can tee off on reclaimed or degraded land previously cleared for mining, agricultural or industrial use such as landfill, for example, and play on courses that are watered with recycled grey water and rain water run-off and that use fewer chemicals and more organic solutions.
There are some organic ‘green’ courses leading the way, including the Earthcheck-certified Grupo Vidanta Riviera Maya hotel in Mexico, which has been able to reduce its dependence on local and country-wide drinking water by installing two water treatment plants that process waste water generated by both the resort and the community. The golf course and gardens are only watered with this treated water, and irrigation schedules are adjusted when it rains.
RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast of Australia, which hosts the Australian PGA Championship on its 27 hole golf course, has introduced a closed looped wash down bay for its vehicles that harvests rainwater and recaptures any used water to be recycled again. The system also separates green waste and refilters the water, and they have research and deployed more environmentally friendly fertilizers and chemicals.
Despite such examples, the sheer size of golf courses and the fact they are mostly used by men of a certain age and with a certain pay packet means that they can have significant impact on the planet whilst servicing relatively small numbers of people.
Isn’t it time golfing became a sustainable outdoor activity that everyone who wants – of any sex, age or background – can enjoy, played on smaller, communal and alternative surfaces such as synthetic turf instead? Brown needs to become the new green.