Going “Green” on the Green

January 18, 2011- By Brett Leverett

When it comes to going green, golf courses have ironically been going in the wrong direction.  Since the beginning of the 20th Century, traditional links have turned into massive resorts.  Natural water hazards and local plants have been replaced by artificial ponds and invasive species.  The seemingly pristine environment you will find when swinging your clubs has damaged the soil structure, drained precious water resources, and leaked uncontrollable amounts of chemicals into the surrounding ecosystem. 

Doesn’t sound like a way to relieve your stress anymore, does it?  Yet, like with every unplayable lie, we find a solution to our problem.  Some golfers have begun to fight against this stigma, and take tips from the past to create courses which are as green as they look.

El Chocolatal golf course in Bolivia is one course that has completely thrown out the modern rule book for constructing a golf course.  Buying a devastated piece of land that was already heavily logged and used for slash and burn agriculture, the developers of this course have created a sustainable playing ground.  Their secret has been the use of golf literature which predates modern pesticides and fertilizers. 

Without adding any new soil from the outside, they have used the existing soil to the best of its abilities.  The native, sandy soil facilitates internal drainage and allows the grounds to be usable even during prolonged downpours.  “Push up” greens have been built by simply taking soil from other parts of the course and adding it where necessary while their bunkers have been dug out to expose more playable sand.  Hidden compost piles are scattered around the property which are combined with fairways that make good use of a natural nutrient cycling system from mowing, grazing horses, and brush falling from the surrounding forest.

This is a step in the right direction compared to importing premier sand and soil from around the world.  Instead of relying on harmful chemicals, which will leak into the surrounding water system, truly “green” courses use a natural defense.  Local ecosystems have already developed their own unique, sophisticated systems in order to function; so why not take advantage of them?  While infestations that kill the turf are usually dealt with pesticides, patience allows a natural defense to counteract those pests without the harmful chemicals.

However, new technology is not always a negative concept when it comes to going “green” on the greens.  There are current strategies available which can turn a golf course into a certified wildlife refuge.  The Tournament Players Club in Dearborn, Michigan, is a great example of modern techniques and ideologies used for the benefit of the environment.

Jack Nicklaus designed this championship course on a dump site previously used by the Ford Plant.  Sprucing up the suburbs of Detroit, the management of this course uses daily measurements to see if watering is necessary.  But, of course, the land sits on a flood plain and uses a relative small amount of water.  The course has become home to wildlife spread throughout the suburbs which sparsely had a home before.  Like many other courses, the wildlife found here is more concentrated and diverse than its surrounding area.

Even with a few courses setting an example for the rest of the golf world, we still have a long way to go before we can consider golf to be environmentally friendly.  While the average American golf course consumes nearly 50 million gallons of water a year (comparable to the yearly usage of 1,400 people), courses can use “gray water” instead; nonindustrial waste water that is recycled for purposes other than drinking.  Development of the land can be done without heavy machinery, and on top of areas like landfills which would not support a diverse habitat otherwise.  There are even companies which have begun producing solar powered golf carts.  With a combination of strategies from the past and present, golf can officially prove it is worthy of using the name “green”.

Photo by Ulrich Mayring

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