Are Golf Courses Bad for the Environment? (We Think So)

Maybe you’re an environmentalist, an eco-conscious golf aficionado, or just a curious mind eager to know whether golf courses are indeed bad for the environment as widely spread or if what has been making rounds is an old wives’ tale. 

So, are golf courses bad for the environment?

If that’s the question you’re grappling with to find answers, you just came to the right spot. 

Herein, we will examine gold courses from an environmental lens, identifying areas where it could be harmful to the environment. We’ll even suggest possible solutions to the problems, so please read on!

Read: Top 11 Emerging Green Technology Innovations

Are Golf Courses Harmful to the Environment?

Yes, golf courses are harmful to the environment. A golf course course involves inefficient use of natural resources like water and natural space, making it one of the less eco-friendly sports out there.

You see, golf courses require plenty of space. In fact, this sport requires more space per person than any other sport. And unfortunately, creating this space means the destruction of natural habitats, leaving the organisms inhabiting such areas homeless.

Furthermore, golf courses demand extensive water usage, which may not be the most efficient way to use this vital resource. This is particularly concerning as water scarcity affects over 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack access to this essential resource. 

And, of course, there are many more ways in which golf courses can be harmful to the environment, so let’s take a deeper dive into that!

Environmental Impacts of Golf Courses

Now that we have already stated that golf courses can cause devastating effects on the environment, let’s see how this can happen. 

1. Golf Courses Involve Heavy Use of Chemicals

Who doesn’t love the tranquil and picturesque setting of golf courses? But do you know just how much it takes to keep that grass looking greener?

Well, you guessed it right — chemical products!

For gold courses to remain as green as your eyes love to see, there must be a thoughtful blend of chemical products. These products come in the form of pesticides and fertilizers.

The pesticides help ensure that pests stay at bay, while the fertilizer improves the aesthetics and keeps the grass nourished.

Now, while the overall idea behind using chemical products is okay, the problem is that these products can cause havoc to the environment.

You see, chemicals used in golf courses can leach into the soil, and once the watering is done, they can easily find their way into water-bearing aquifers. When that happens, they can easily affect marine life and any other creature relying on this water for living.

But it’s not just about affecting the soil and water; these chemical products can also cause significant concerns for air quality. That’s because some of the elements used in the chemical can be dangerous when inhaled, causing short and long-term health concerns.

2. Golf Courses Require Plenty of Water

Golf courses require substantial water to maintain their health. The exact amount depends on factors such as the type of turf species, the climate of the area where the course is located, and other factors.

On average, a golf course in an area experiencing heavy rainfall will need about an acre-foot of water per year,  and that’s approximately 325,851 gallons of water. Golf courses in hot and dry climates may need about 6-foot acres of land over the same period, translating to about 2 million gallons of water annually. 

Plus, most golf courses have other facilities like clubhouses and conference facilities where water again comes in handy. Adding this to the high amount that goes into watering the grass makes it easy to see why these courses actually need lots of water.

Surprisingly, even with the heavy demand for water, only 12% of water used in golf courses is recycled. The rest comes from lakes, ponds, site wells, streams, creeks, and municipal water systems. This means that the sport has to compete with other basic water uses for the resource. 


3. Golf Course Requires the Altering of Landscape

Building a golf course requires large amounts of land. The size needed could range from anywhere between 60 to 100 acres for a 9-hole course and 120 to 200 acres for a standard 18-hole course, but the size needs would be as high as 350 acres.

All this land will need to be meticulously manipulated to suit the game’s needs. This can involve significant earth-moving operations, altering natural drainage patterns, and removing indigenous flora

The reshaping of land not only disrupts ecosystems but can also contribute to soil erosion and sedimentation, especially in hilly or coastal areas where courses are most scenic but also most vulnerable.

So, as we factor in the amount of water and chemicals that go into golf courses, let’s also consider the fact that it disrupts the ecosystem, sometimes driving animals living in the area away from their habitats. 

4. Energy Efficiency

Golf, like any recreational activity, demands energy, whether it’s for maintaining the clubhouses, powering the golf carts, or even fueling the helicopters monitoring the course. 

A report by the Gold Course Superintendents Association of America estimates that 47% of energy requirement in golf courses goes into turf maintenance work, while the remaining 53% ends up in other uses. 

And while the industry’s shift toward renewable energy sources and energy-efficient technologies is commendable, a lot still needs to be done to ensure golf’s footprint is reduced to a mere divot.

5. Wildlife Disruptions

Wildlife often finds itself at odds with the sprawling expanse of the modern golf course. Habitats are fragmented, and some species may face local extinction due to losing their natural environment. 

This isn’t the best news, considering the already high number — up to 150 of them — of species that grow extinct every day. 

However, there are success stories of golf courses co-existing with nature, providing refuge for some wildlife and demonstrating that with conscientious design, even managed landscapes can thrive with life.

Mitigating the Negative Effects of Golf Courses

Despite all the negative environmental effects that come with golf course sport, there’s a lot that can be done to minimize its impact.

Let’s look at some of the measures that can help mitigate the negative effects.

1. Sustainable Management Practices

One solution to mitigate the negative impacts of golf courses is to implement sustainable management practices. This involves making adjustments in various areas, such as improving water management and sourcing and using energy more efficiently, with the goal of preserving a healthy planet for future generations.

Examples of sustainable practices include integrated pest management, which minimizes the use of harmful chemicals and promotes a balanced ecosystem, as well as the use of organic fertilizers. These are just a few steps the golf industry can take to become more environmentally friendly.

2. Water Conservation Methods

Water is one of the most requisite resources in maintaining golf courses, with daily requirements clocking hundreds of thousands liters of water or even millions depending on the size of the golf course.  

In the water-stressed world, golf courses implementing clever irrigation techniques, such as soil moisture sensors, can significantly reduce water consumption. 

Furthermore, golf courses should now focus on using low-water-use turfgrasses, shrubs, ground covers, and trees. Doing this will immensely cut water use, helping better manage the natural resource. 

In fact, as per the United States Golf Association (USGA), using low-water-use grass can reduce the amount of water used in golf courses by a whopping 30 to 50%!  

In addition, the development of constructed wetlands on course property is highly recommended. This not only adds a scenic touch but also helps to filter run-off before it reaches public waterways.

3. Eco-Friendly Golf Course Design

From course construction to daily operation, the design of a golf course plays a pivotal role in its environmental impact. 

Modern eco-friendly designs include native plant landscaping, which requires less water and chemical input, as well as the incorporation of natural water features into the course layout to reduce the need for artificial irrigation and aid in water retention.

With these implementation strategies in place, it’s possible to mitigate the negative impacts of the sport without having to go the hard way of banning it entirely.


Economic and Social Considerations

Even though golf is loved worldwide, it’s essential to consider how golf courses affect the economy and society. By considering this and understanding how they impact the environment, we can decide if golf courses are worth having overall.

1. Local Economy Effects

The economic significance of golf courses cannot be overlooked. They serve as substantial employers, offering jobs to a diverse range of individuals, from groundskeepers to golf professionals, and have the potential to stimulate tourism and support local businesses. 

However, it is essential to carefully consider the overall value of the golf industry against alternative land use options. For instance, reforestation projects or the establishment of public green spaces could potentially enhance the quality of life for a broader segment of the population. 

Thus, while acknowledging the economic benefits of golf courses, weighing them against the potential economic and social advantages of alternative land uses is imperative.

Read: Are Fog Machines Bad For The Environment?

2. Community Green Space

Golf courses frequently serve as hubs for communities, offering spaces for people to socialize, exercise, and relax. They contribute valuable green areas within urban settings and support youth development through various golf programs. 

While these social advantages are evident, it is crucial to explore whether there are alternative, more sustainable approaches to achieving similar community benefits without incurring the same environmental expenses.

Share on:

About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.