Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Golf is Far from Green -- Water, Toxins, Wildlife Killer?

For PacifiCAD readers of the sustainability, an added benefit is my columnist position not only at the Pacific Northwest Inlander, but with Down to Earth Northwest, a blogsphere frame supported by the Spokesman Review. I will be attaching various columns from that gig here. They have hired me on as a climate change, sustainability reporter, largely for my role in Spokane the past 10 years, but also because I am part of the change, including working on Earth Days, including the 40th Anniversary here in Spokane, which will be featured in blogs and on April 24 on the Nation's Mall in the form of a photo essay on a Jumbo Tron.

Zen of Golf – Look Where You Spray those Toxins and How You Suck Up that Water

By Paul K. Haeder

Golf seems like a leisurely enough sport, almost low impact and egalitarian, but in reality golf causes wild life disruption and puts millions of pounds of fungicides, insecticides and pesticides, along with fertilizers, into the soil, air, drainages, water tables, and rivers and creeks. It’s such an exclusive sport that in most places only millionaires can afford yearly club dues and greens fees. Land is gobbled up, and as a leisure activity, so many resources are pumped into the sport.

More than 62 million people in the world golf.

We know it’s not always been that way.

It’s no exaggeration, but golf’s beginnings go back 500 years to Scotland. Mark Keast describes golf’s original natural origin poetically:

There, Mother Nature designed the links–grasses on sandy stretches were fertilized by the droppings of breeding seabirds and cut short by grazing rabbits. Bunkers were allegedly formed by sheep and other animals burrowing into the turf. The result: wide open playing areas with random clumps of razed grass, the perfect terrain for thumping a small, hard ball across the countryside

I promise I’ll get to the environmental impact of playing a round of golf in a world of water stress, pesticide and fertilizer toxicity, and global warming, but first I’ll digress and bring in the Apprentice’s boss – “the Donald” -- and his battle and victory (economic but not environmental) to build, in his words, the greatest golf resort in the world.

We’re talking about the bedrock of golf, Aberdeen, Scotland, where Trump has used his billions worth of influence peddling and “lawyering-up” to defeat common sense, climate change predictions and environmental health.

In a coastal resort north of Aberdeen, Trump’s golf heaven will cover 2,000 acres encompassing two 18-hole championship courses, a half dozen blocks of 950 timeshare condos, 500 "exclusive" homes (known as second- and third-homes for the millionaires), 36villas for billionaires, a golf academy, and in situ housing for 400 staff.

Eminent domain is planned for the hold outs, tough fishermen and old timers who just don’t want the bully on the block, with his approved coastal road, Trump Boulevard, running through their historic home which is near an ecologically sensitive stretch of dunes overlooking the North Sea.

The Aberdeenshire Council committee rejected Trumps tee-off resort based on a slew of reports from Audubon types, wetlands and marine scientists, and people just really gearing up for some major sea level rise in the next 50 years. The Scottish Government reversed that decision, caving into their own visions of endless queues of golfers dumping millions of pounds each year into the economy.

This is why I like the underdog, the commoner, who seems to “get” it while the trillionaires and staid, corrupt governments do not -- "They reckon the construction will last 10 years, but I'll never ever sell to that loudmouth bully,” said the most famous protestor of Trump’s links plan, Michael Forbes. The fisherman and quarry worker has refused dozens of offers to sell his home, which is on the land needed for Trump’s golf dream. He intends to live out his life there, on those 23 acres.

Speaking of St. Andrews, the Mecca of golf, more delusional thinkers per capita play golf, and the impact of their jaunting around fairways and greens on our air, water, land, species is tremendous.

While there are 1,200 “links” courses like St. Andrews in the US – along coastal areas – by 2100, according to many reports, including a National Science Foundation-funded study, if warming continues at its current pace, a 19-foot rise in sea level by 2100 could wipe out more than half of them.

Bye-bye the bottom foot of Florida, and those golf course properties in coastal New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas will be history. This isn’t some cool-headed global warming activist or scientist talking -- Golf Digest commissioned the study from the Longitudes Group.

“Inundation” is what’s it’s called, and of course sea level rise affects farming, urban water systems, sewers, natural fresh watercourses. The Puget Sound is building dikes or sea walls as part of a half a billion dollar project to keep the sea at bay.

I’ve already discussed the water issue in one DTE column, so the fact that 5,000 gallons of water is needed to support an average American family of four over ten days is way over any other global national water footprint. But this pales in comparison to the Tiger Woods sport: one round of golf in an arid climate like Arizona, California or Nevada costs 5,000 gallons of water.

I’ve seen the battle for water in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas as aquifers draw down while golf courses put bigger drains on that vital resource.

The past decade has seen the US explode with golf course development – 18,000 or more out of the 35,000 worldwide, according to World Watch Institute, are USA based. Those cover around 1.8 million acres and use up four billion gallons of water daily. Yes, pesticides and fertilizers contribute to water pollution.

The story gets even more bizarre, and I am not talking about the five-legged frogs and asexual fish created by DNA mutations caused by the dozens of organo-chemicals used to maintain golf courses. A review of death certificates for more than 600 golf course superintendents by the College of Medicine at the University of Iowa found unusually high numbers of deaths from brain cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Yes, Tiger Woods is the bane of environmentalists because his rise and popularity have created an obscene growth in the number of supersized golf courses being built worldwide. Yep, a $50 billion dollar a year industry it is indeed, according to the National Golf Federation, but at what price?

Water wars. We see it in Reno, where property owners are up against a high-priced golf club that has leveraged itself into senior water rights to maintain a tournament-condition course while sucking up the available water supply needed for everything else.

Again, going by the numbers – those American greens use up 312,000 gallons of water a day per course. Palm Springs has 58 major courses. Do the math.

Yes, there are moves to work with wildlife and environmental groups to mitigate or lower the impact of a golf course on wildlife and the environment. There are grey water and recycled black water courses in my old stomping grounds, El Paso. Organic golf courses actually are more than a pipedream.

Going brown is also in. Letting major swaths of grass – preferably more drought resistant and native varieties -- dry back is also one aspect of the new arid golf management school. This is not an easy pitch, though, as the average golfer in the US is not enlightened when it comes to global warming. According to a poll done by Golf Digest, 41 percent of golfers believe global warming is a MYTH!

But groups like the World Golf Foundation are initiating some sort of change, or at least planning on change in the form of the program, "Golf's Drive Toward Sustainability." It’s a collaboration of hundreds of associations, business partners and other organizations to strive toward what the 41 percent of the duffers think is either silly or some sort of conspiracy – sustainability.

This story can’t end without a little justice exacted on Trump: It took seven years, but those rich suburbanites in Mount Kisco, NY, recently forced Donald Trump to pull back on yet another golf course “development” after the residents somehow proved the risk to their only water supply from runoff pesticides and fertilizers was greater than the millions to be generated each year from slicers and handicappers trying to improve their game (read, “ego”).

Yelling “four” now has a whole new meaning. Or maybe Trump should replace the word "Mulligan." Down with Trump logic. We hope communities continue to fight golf courses and Trump mentality.


  1. Welcome to the team Paul!
    Nice to officially call you one of my colleagues now.

  2. Very interesting post. I enjoyed the content and look forward to more posts in the future.


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