Are we serious about sustainability in golf? Based on what we see and hear, says Jonathan Smith of Golf Environment Europe, quite clearly many people around the world think not.
Frequently, golf facilities are presented as un-sustainable development. Critics focus on how golf developments exploit and over-use natural resources, how they reduce environmental quality, and how they negatively impact on local communities.
Such criticisms are often misinformed – based on assumptions and poor science, but they exist and need to be addressed. This is important. The long term health and dynamism of the industry depends upon the demonstration that golf is socially and environmentally responsible.
This is a bottom line business issue too. By embracing sustainability as a real opportunity, the savvy developer can increase efficiency, create a more authentic and unique product, and benefit from strong community relations.
The alternative is that golf continues on a path where developments are increasingly perceived to be at odds with international environmental policy and more informed and influential public opinion. People recognise that environmental health and resource availability is directly linked to their own quality of their lives, including their own health and prosperity.
Take water as an example. The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, reports that only 15% of the world’s population lives with “relative water abundance” and that 33% live in countries “experiencing moderate to high water stress.”
And yet in that context we are still seeing golf course grassing plans that promote large areas of irrigated amenity grassland, dominated by water demanding grass species.
How many golf facilities currently undertake all the water efficiency measures that they could, coupled with maximising the use of re-cycled and non-potable sources?
Think of the cost and marketing benefits of being a low water course – where the full package of water saving technologies are combined with improved practices by people working at and visiting the facilty.
An Italian study, supported by the University of Pisa and Italian Golf federation, shows that grass species selection, combined with efficient irrigation design and minimisation of the amenity turf area, can result in water savings of between 30% and 50%. In tandem with such potential savings, there is much advice available on how grey water and rainwater can be harvested and re-used in course irrigation, which further reduces the need for potable or more intensively treated forms of water.
Golf facility development is a dynamic exercise, where creative planning and design generates huge opportunities for efficiency, for consideration of community issues and for environmental protection and enhancement. There is no hard and fast model for how a golf facility must look, and how a course must play.
Or is there? Perhaps one has emerged. And if so, is it the right model to carry forward into a future of higher energy and water costs, tighter controls on use, and where the public sense of what is acceptable is based on a broader, more informed view of what socially and environmentally just.
Golf Environment Europe believes the industry should proactively visualise and consistently deliver a more sustainable approach to golf facility planning, design and management. We also believe that there is a need for, and that the industry would benefit from, more informed land use planning which rewards sustainable development.
The onus is on the golf industry (in all its diverse forms), to prove that golf is, bottom line, good for people and wildlife.
Such claims need to be unambiguous and credible in terms of modern day environmental thinking. We should work towards this with objectivity and honest self-appraisal, by applying good science, transparently and in partnership.
This is no threat to the industry – it is a huge opportunity. The threat lies in not embracing the new sustainability agenda.
To get an indication of how the debate is moving on take a look at the international One Planet Living initiative (www.oneplanetliving.org). This offers an insight into real sustainability – where what we do, and what we claim to have achieved, is assessed against that most bottom line of indicators – the planet’s carrying capacity.
Golf should do this – not simply to try and legitimise itself. We should do it because it is the right thing to do, it makes business sense, and the industry’s future will be brighter as a pioneer in sustainable land-use, tourism, leisure and sport.
Golf Environment Europe believes golf is serious about sustainability, and that fundamentally, golf facility developers, managers and golfers themselves, want to be part of a socially and environmentally responsible industry, which also delivers important economic benefits.
So…what’s your role in this? Where do you fit in? What can you do towards a more sustainable future for golf and for society? And perhaps even more fundamentally…what do you look for in a golf course?
Golf Environment Europe www.golfenvironmenteurope.org