Greening The Game Of Golf
Keeping grass green needs a lot of water and the 18 manicured holes of a top golf course have a reputation for guzzling water and chemical fertilisers at an alarming rate. Add in the fact that too many courses around the world have been built in sensitive habitats or wetlands, and it’s no wonder many environmentalists shun the sport.
Yet a growing number of golfers and course owners are looking to rehabilitate the reputation of the game and strengthen the connection with courses and environmental concerns. The former president of Friends of the Earth, Brent Blackwelder, is a keen golfer who has often spoken about the potential for the game to connect people with nature.
Here in South Africa, the greenkeeper at Randpark Golf Club, Roger Innes, reckons that his club is better than most when it comes to conservation. Randpark owns the Firethorn and Bushwillow courses, and Innes says that those who still believe that golf courses can only bring damage and destruction to the environment are still thinking of golf courses of the past.
“Golf is seen as an elitist sport; this is true to an extent because golf courses in the past were closed societies giving access to members only,” Innes says. This is changing, he continues, due to modern ways of thinking and the need to be financially sustainable. Golf courses are now opening up to more members of the public who can make use of them for other functions apart from golf.
Innes also says that the same need to be financially viable is good for the environment.
“The perception that golf courses use millions of litres of fresh water daily and tons of chemicals and fertilisers to keep the grass green for a privileged few is simply not realistic any more, from both a budgetary and environmental sustainability point of view,” he claims.
The real situation is opposite to what many believe is the case, Innes says.
“Mowing and maintenance costs need to be kept to a minimum for a golf course to survive, and excessive watering and fertilising will only add to these financial problems,” he explains. “A golf course strives to create good playing surfaces, a wet, soft, over-fertilised area is a poor playing surface. The ideal golfing conditions are firm and dry and that’s what every greenkeeper tries to achieve.”
So what is Randpark doing to convince sceptics that there is indeed a paradigm shift in its approach?
“We use only organically-based fertilisers with slow release nutrients, not only is this cost-effective, but it also prevents nutrient leaching into the soils and water sources.”
The club has also implemented a strict indigenous tree policy and has installed beehives and owl boxes.
Regarding one of the major areas of concern — the spraying of pesticides — Innes adds that his “golf courses also follow an integrated pest management strategy, which means only spraying a chemical when it is absolutely necessary, and only in prime turf areas which are less than three per cent of the total area.”
Randpark isn’t the only club on this path to sustainability. In 2016, Silver Lakes in Pretoria became the first South African course to be certified by the global Golf Environment Organisation (GEO), and three of the local sport’s ruling bodies all signed an agreement to implement the GEO principles nationwide.
“Golf must be sustainable to survive. The American model of lush green, perfect golf courses is not sustainable, it is simply too expensive to maintain and is a waste of environmental resources,” concludes Innes.