Sustainable Golf Development
At the moment when land, economic stimulus and people come together for golf development, a window of opportunity opens to do something genuinely good for local people and the environment
Sustainable Golf Development: Creating a Positive Legacy is a joint project supporting sustainability throughout golf development and renovation projects. Click below to view the eReader version, or here to download the guidance as a PDF.
Three of the most appealing attributes of golf are the focus on personal integrity and fair play; the important role the natural landscape plays in the game’s experience; and the desire to “give back” to communities.
The virtue of personal integrity speaks to how golfers respect the game, their fellow players, and the course. Golfers keep their own scores, serve as their own referees, and are expected to show grace and sportsmanship regardless of poor shots or bad bounces. Golfers resolutely play it where it lies, regardless of circumstance.
The second attribute — playing the game against the backdrop of nature — is unusual among competitive sports. Unlike most sports, which are played within the confines of a stadium, golf is enjoyed outdoors among the trees, grass, hills and dunes, where weather and terrain play as large a role in the outcome as the quality of the competition.
The admirable trait of contributing is also at the core of golf’s traditions. Professional golf contributes a large proportion of revenue to charitable causes. Amateur golf tournaments, built on volunteer input, support many local civic causes around the world every year. Golf combines the pleasure of playing the game with the pleasure of helping others.
Yet in its treatment of the land, golf has not always stayed entirely true to its values. Sometimes a desire to build spectacular designs has led to over-engineering, and sometimes quickly thrown up courses have led to the bulldozing of sensitive areas. A hubristic tendency to dominate nature rather than work with it, the sheer number of courses built since World War II, and a desire to make hefty short-term profits have all led to poor environmental and sometimes social decisions.
Developing — or redeveloping — golf courses around a vision of social, environmental and economic sustainability is an extension of golf’s roots. It’s not a revolution but an evolution of age-old values.
In the 21st Century, an era in which land is at a premium, water is ever scarcer, and communities worldwide have become alarmed at the degradation caused by ill-planned or poorly executed golf developments, it is becoming far more difficult for golf designs to be approved. Too many non-golfers in a community have begun to perceive golf developments as a net negative instead of a positive asset. Many people in the golf community itself see the ‘industrial’ approach to golf as undermining many of the most pleasing aspects of the game. They recognize the inherent costs built into shoddy designs or cheap executions. Enlightened golf designers seek an approach in which the sport builds upon what the land offers, in ways that make golf an unequivocally positive contributor not only to the environment but to the surrounding community.
These factors have come together in the modern effort to develop more sustainable golf courses. This attitude returns golf to its own values: personal integrity, a love of nature, and giving back to one’s community. Sustainable courses respect their surroundings and honour the natural environment. They create greenspace where the land may have previously been abused. They “pay the rent” for their existence by enhancing natural habitats and treading lightly on natural resources. And they seek to embrace the uniqueness of each site — not rewrite — its history, culture, landforms, and wild plant and animal species.
The surge in golf’s sustainability effort harkens back to its very origins: the original Scottish courses where natural landforms, including knolls, dales, coastal bunkers and ponds were existing features of the local terrain. No development required. Sheep sheared the meadows and maintenance was decidedly low input and organic. The game was affordable, and accessible to all.
Developing — or redeveloping — golf courses around a vision of social, environmental and economic sustainability is an extension of golf’s roots. It’s not a revolution but an evolution of age-old values. It reminds us that we can learn a huge amount from the older courses, particularly the way they work with the land, tread lightly, and respect the landscape that provides their form and context.
Sustainable golf course conception, design, and construction extends and encapsulates five centuries of golf tradition: enjoying fresh air and physical movement in an uplifting natural setting in a way that harms none and benefits all.