(CNN) – The roughly 30 golf courses in Salt Lake County, Utah, consume about nine million gallons of water a day to stay green, equivalent to more than 13 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Golf course lawn care also involves the use of high-carbon fertilizers, an impressive amount of pruning and, in many cases, cutting down forests or trees that absorbed carbon dioxide to make way for long stretches of streets.
In other words, golf is a dirty sport that is destroying the planet. But it doesn’t have to be.
Golf’s impact on the climate and the environment has led to growing calls for the sport to be more sustainable, including for playing on totally dry courses, as golf legend Tiger Woods has done.
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And it is not just about saving the planet, but about saving the sport itself, as the climate crisis threatens to transform many fields into muddy swamps.
The president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), Jason Straka, explained to CNN Sport how the climate crisis has affected golf in Florida, threatened by floods, and in Ohio and Utah , affected by a warmer climate than usual and even by drought.
“Before, clubs didn’t have to close after a 50-millimeter rain, now they do. They also experience flooding on sunny days, ”Straka said.
In Miami, authorities are raising public sewers to a minimum of one meter, but more than 50% of the city’s fields are below this minimum, setting off Straka’s alarm bells.
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“If they don’t and don’t pick it up, they’re going to be in a deeper and deeper bathtub,” he said. “If they think they have problems now, in 10 years they will be a swamp.”
But there is cost to change, and that’s where golf critics find their voice again: The courses are no longer sustainable.
While fields in the eastern United States are threatened by changing rainfall patterns, deadly wildfires raging in the west, including in California, have led to poor air quality and field closures in recent years. .
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Less crude, but no less worrisome, is rising temperatures in Ohio, where Bermuda grass, a warm-season grass that can be difficult to control, is becoming infested.
Golf courses have been affected by both droughts and floods.
Rain, fire, flood and ice
The situation in Australia is similar: the Lynwood Country Club, northwest of Sydney, was flooded in 2020 and again earlier this year.
At one point, parts of the field were almost 8 meters underwater, while off the coast of New South Wales, Nambucca Heads received 10.7 meters of rain in just eight days.
On the same east coast, about 560 kilometers south of Sydney in the state of Victoria, the Mallacoota Golf Club almost perished during the 2019 and 2020 forest fires, and its fairways were a sanctuary for the inhabitants. from town. The Catalina Club, further up the coast of New South Wales, broke the firewall that threatened to destroy the town.
But in a country accustomed to regular forest fires, fields are adapting by trying to capture water when it rains heavily to use it to irrigate the field, or even to put out fires.
“Australia’s golf courses generally have some form of irrigation storage that is very useful in fighting fires,” said the president of the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects (SAGCA). ), Harley Kruse, to CNN Sport, agreeing with Straka’s comments on future forecasts.
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“Last year in Sydney, there was a 1 in 100 year flood. We are going to have an increase in storms, which can be wind, rain, cyclone or a greater increase in drought events. Golf courses have to be flexible and more comprehensive ”.
His Australian colleague Tim Lobb, President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA), promotes naturalization and reduction of grass in Turkey to reduce water consumption: between 15 and 20 % of the area that was fine grass will use a grass species that requires less maintenance.
In the colder regions, the British Isles’ coastal golf courses face a very uncertain future, especially the fifth oldest course in the world, Montrose, a few kilometers off the coast of Carnoustie, one of the main Championships venues, where in the last 30 years the sea has invaded almost 70 meters, according to a study published in 2016.
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With sea levels forecast to rise one meter in the next 50 years, Scotland’s St. Andrews golf course could turn into a swamp like Miami in 2050.
In Iceland, Edwin Roald, renowned Icelandic architect and founder of Eureka Golf, a company “committed to mitigating climate change through golf,” told CNN how the increased frequency of freezing and thawing cycles of water in climates colder northern hemisphere is becoming a real danger for the fields.
“We have a lot of problems with frozen water […] and many flash floods, repeatedly during the winter. This allows it to be produced without the water eroding the land ”.
“Death from frost, produced by the suffocation of grass under the ice sheet, is a greater and growing threat. This causes economic damage to the fields that open in spring with dead grass. “
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At the COP26 summit, held in the Scottish city of Glasgow, the GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, based in North Berwick, showed a virtual audience how golf is learning to be a champion among sporting bodies for a greener planet .
Woburn, the host field for the 2019 Women’s British Open, built its own reservoir in 2013 to capture rainwater to irrigate its turf, and more recently drilled a well to take advantage of groundwater. The company that manages the field claims that the new infrastructure should make Woburn fully self-sufficient, so that it is not using water that could otherwise be used for drinking and domestic use.
While at the Remuera Golf Club in Auckland, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were reduced by almost 25 tonnes between 2018 and 19, thanks to the reduction of electricity at the club.
Finnish club Hirsala Golf aims to have 40 robotic lawnmowers running on electricity from renewable sources by 2022, reducing the use of 1,000 liters of diesel fuel, while the solar panels at the Golf de Payerne in Switzerland have saved 1,080 tons of CO2. .
Back in Iceland, the country is measuring the carbon emissions status of its 65 golf courses through the Carbon Par project, becoming the first country where golf is played to carry out this measurement.
A general view of the Woburn Golf Club on September 19, 2019.
“The method that is being used to produce this estimate, hopefully others will be able to use it in the future. To improve, you first have to know where you are, ”said Roald.
“Golf courses sequester a considerable amount of carbon, which I think few people associate with golf. On the other hand, golf is a heavy user of the land and is forced to use wetlands in some places. The emissions produced by draining the wetlands are very large ”.
Forests, peatlands, deserts, and tundra can absorb and maintain CO2 reserves. Of all the carbon contained in terrestrial ecosystems, about 34% is found in grasslands, according to data from the World Resources Institute. It is not much less than the 39% that forests contain. Therefore, whether a golf course absorbs a good amount of carbon dioxide depends on how it is managed and whether it destroys more valuable land in the first place.
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Roald added: “It’s only a matter of time before the golf industry asks what we can do with those wetlands – that’s where we can have the biggest impact.”
The clamor for climate change has caught the attention of one of the most recognized voices in golf, Rory McIlroy, one of the many high-level athletes who travel enormous distances by plane.
“I would not call myself an ecological advocate, but I am someone who does not want to harm the environment,” the Northern Irishman who lives in Florida told the media at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“I live in a part of the world where hurricanes are very frequent and more and more so over the years. I think we can all do our bit in one way or another ”.
“We play on large fields that take up a lot of water and many other things that could perhaps be used better.”
“The way golf should be played”
Before traveling to the world-renowned Royal Melbourne in Australia, Kruse touched on comments made in 2019 by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els at the Presidents Cup.
To cut to the chase, both players spoke highly of the natural configuration of the course: in essence, as in many previous Open championships, the course was dry and vast areas of the rough and even the fairways had run out of water, ” letting mother nature provide the elements to play with, ”said Kruse.
Well-watered and manicured golf courses typically offer milder conditions that produce better results and prettier television images, but Els and Woods took the opportunity to praise another approach that will become the norm as courses seek sustainable practices.
Both Els and Woods spoke of the advantages of playing on a dry field, like Australia’s.
A general view of the Royal Melbourne golf course ahead of the 2019 Presidents Cup.
Kruse said he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw a team of handymen on television earlier this year using gasoline-powered leaf blowers to blow dry the rough, adding that American fields probably have more sprinklers per golf course and irrigate more lawn area compared to courses in, for example, Australia or the British Isles.
“Considering the California drought of a few years ago, I would hope they have not gone back to their old ways and rethink the situation,” Kruse said.
“You don’t need 2,000 fence-to-fence irrigation sprinklers to keep the field alive. You can let things dry out. “
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Climate crisis: golf courses live on borrowed time as Earth’s weather patterns become more unpredictable – KESQ