It’s Time to Stop Apologizing for Golf
Golf is a sport of the wealthy. Golf gobbles up resources, especially water. Pesticides on golf courses are poisoning the earth. Yada yada yada. How many times have you, as someone working in this wonderful industry, felt duty-bound to apologize for your involvement in it? Well, stop it! You have nothing to apologize for!
Clearly, this isn’t a forum for social commentary… I’m a photographer, for heaven’s sake! But the current political and cultural climates of "haves" versus "have nots", of "victims" and "victimizers" has so skewed folks’ perspective that in some circles… especially in environmentalist circles… golf is seen as a villain and golf’s use of land and resources is criticized as the thoughtless pursuit of a group of out-of-touch rich people responsible for drought, global warming and poverty. The environmentalist war on our industry is not new, and it won’t be going away any time soon.
In a typical mindless rant, an article on GreenBiz.com in March of 2011 begins, “It will come as no surprise that golf courses are not particularly sustainable. In addition to taking up a large amount of resources and real estate that could be put to more productive or even more ecosystem-beneficial uses, golf courses can often be found in already water-stressed areas, adding insult to injury, from an environmental standpoint.” Not surprisingly, there is no solid research to back up this theory, but there really doesn’t need to be, since the green movement is seen by many as pure, and motivated only by concern for Mother Earth. Say it enough times and it becomes true, right? Not so fast, Spanky. Let’s set aside the jingoistic “golf is bad for Gaia” ranting and look at some real information.
As concerns water usage, James T. Snow, former National Director of the USGA’s Green Section, has said: “The industry has taken a multifaceted approach to the problem, including the development of 1) new grass varieties that use less water or can tolerate poor quality water; 2) new technologies that improve the efficiency of the irrigation system; 3) "best management practices" in golf course maintenance that result in less water use; 4) alternative water sources that reduce or eliminate the use of potable water; 5) golf course design concepts that minimize the area maintained with grasses that require considerable use of water; and 6) programs that educate golf course superintendents and other water users about opportunities for ongoing water conservation.” And Snow doesn’t even address the fact that grass gobbles up carbon dioxide and generates oxygen in return. Or that water used by a golf course doesn’t simply vanish, but rather is filtered by the earth as it returns to the aquifer, remaining in the ecosystem for further use by anyone who needs it. The USGA has done a wonderful job of research into responsible resource usage in the golf industry, and numerous publications on the subject are readily available for anyone interested in the subject.
But it’s not just greenies, and it’s not just in the western world that golf is under siege. In China, golf’s use of water is used by the government as a reason for limiting… and even stopping… further development. When I was in Beijing last year, I was told that the regional government had raised water rates for golf courses by a factor of 40. Yikes. How do you spell, “going out of business?” The golf course in Beijing I was photographing, though… a wonderful, award-winning Rick Robbins design… demonstrably helps the environment, collecting and distributing all its own water, and removing 100,000 tons of dust annually from Beijing’s atmosphere. So tell me again how golf is bad for the environment!?
I could ramble on… and often do… but for now, let me simply say that the next time someone criticizes our industry, or your involvement in it, don’t feel like you need to explain yourself. And don’t share any pithy rejoinders about what they can do with their uninformed opinions. Simply smile. And take your frustration out on your Titleist next time you tee off! It’ll be a lot more productive.
Keywords: china, dave sansom, fertilizer, golf, golf course photographer, golf course photography, golf courses, resources, rick robbins, water
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