How “Green” Are Golf Courses?

Golf courses require extensive amounts of water and pesticides to preserve the pristine quality of greens.

Tiana Salisbury, Editor

Golf is a popular sport to play around the world for people of all ages. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many sports could not be played due to enforced safety measures. However, golf was one of the few sports that resumed quickly because of the relative ease of social distancing while playing. Consequently, the number of golf players surged; the R&A and Sports Marketing Survey revealed that there were 6.66 million golf players worldwide in December 2021, and this value has likely increased since then. Since golf is such a widespread sport, people should consider its environmental impacts.

At first glance, golf courses undoubtedly seem hazardous to the surrounding environment. Each course requires a vast amount of land and is carefully maintained to preserve a flawless landscape. According to The Golf Environment Profile, the average 18-hole golf course takes up 150 acres, which is far more land than most other sports. When building a course, natural habitats are destroyed, releasing harmful greenhouse gases in the process. 

I feel incredibly guilty that the sport I play results in such negative impacts on both the environment and people’s health.”

— Piper Guyton (12)

In addition to the extensive use of land, golf courses require immense quantities of water and pesticides. The California Alliance for Golf reveals that the average course uses almost 90 gallons of water per year – equivalent to 136 Olympic swimming pools. Using this much water contributes to the worsening drought in drier regions like Southern California. Numerous pesticides are used to treat courses to preserve the aesthetic of the picture-perfect scenery. A study titled “Toxic Fairways” concluded that a course uses almost 50,000 pounds of pesticides per year. Once applied, these chemicals eventually leach into the groundwater, putting both nearby residents in danger. Piper Guyton (12), who plays for the YLHS Women’s Varsity Golf Team, comments on her concern about the impact of her sport: “I feel incredibly guilty that the sport I play results in such negative impacts on both the environment and people’s health.”

I always get excited when I see wildlife while playing on the course. Seeing various birds and animals adds to the fun of the game!”

— Analise Hopper (12)

Regardless of the alarming amount of resources golf courses require, they offer some benefits to the environment. The R&A highlights that many courses are home to great levels of biodiversity, as numerous bird, insect, and plant species can flourish on courses. Even though ecosystems are damaged when constructing courses, the resulting land provides a safe space for plants and animals. This is especially true if the course is in an urban city with limited green spaces. In fact, the appearances of wildlife on courses provide enjoyment to some players; Analise Hopper (12), who also plays golf at YLHS, shares, “I always get excited when I see wildlife while playing on the course. Seeing various birds and animals adds to the fun of the game!” The United States Golf Association states that in addition to conserving wildlife habitats, golf courses also preserve soil quality and capture runoff from industrial pollution sources.

Although golf courses provide some environmental benefits, they will probably always do more harm than good. However, courses can implement various solutions to reduce the negative consequences. One potential fix is for golf courses to go organic, meaning that courses use no chemical treatments and have far fewer damaging effects. Though methods like these are more expensive and do not guarantee a pristine look, they are steps toward making golf a more environmentally friendly sport.