Monday, May 05, 2008

A Discussion of “How Green is Golf?” by John Barton – Part 1


I was in the airport and had a quick scan in the book store to see what was in the current of Golf Digest issue beyond instruction - and the front cover said, “Plus - The Most Important Article We’ve Ever Published - page 196.” I opened it up to see what this article was about and read the title “How Green is Golf?” I didn’t need to read any of it and simply walked to the counter and paid my money to buy the article – they threw in the magazine. This was the first issue of Golf Digest that I have bought in a lot of years – and I’ll buy lots more if they give me one article a month as good as this.

John Barton opens his article with a mention of the first Golf and the Environment conference in 1995 and allows that to become the opening. It gives the impression that the movement is new but actually it has greater roots than that – but most don’t realize that the Golf Superintendents have as an industry been trying to become leaders in this area for quite some time. They often take a beating in this article – but I can tell you through personal experience that the leaders in the industry are well out in front on this issue. The difference now of course is that the subject of golf and the environmental impact has become a political hot button for non-golfers. The Golf Industry finds itself under enormous pressure.

This is an excellent article - and I think you should go out and buy the magazine and read this article.

Where it works best is the fact that John takes seven completely different people from all sides of the issue and gives them a voice. He begins with “The Golf Course Architect” Michael Hurdzan to speak for the architects but ends up speaking on behalf of the golf industry. He then turns “The Activist” Jay Feldman to talk mainly about the inherent risk of pesticides but also talks about some common misconceptions – some of this is either eye-opening or controversial – but well worth the read to understand where certain opinions stem from. The one I enjoyed the most was “The Golf Course Superintendent” Jeff Carlson who runs the only truly organic golf course in the United States. This section will inform you a great deal about what the environmentalists and public seem to want and what it means to you as a golfer.

“The Regulator” with Robert Wood seemed a little out of place with the others and deals mainly with his role in protecting wetlands. “The Advocate” with Ronald Dodson of Audoban International was one I looked forward to since he has played such a large role in getting the environmental movement going with-in golf, but strangely John seems more interested in following the controversy over the name Audoban than the actual role of the organization. This is an opportunity clearly lost. Everybody likes the goal of the organization, but I think John’s note about cost ($9,500 for new development) does explain some people’s questions about the money involved.













“The Grass Expert” James Snow is an interesting contrast useful to explain where the problems will come for golf in trying to go organic. His explanation about why the US can’t adopt the UK style because of climate is fascinating. Finally John concludes with the perfect choice with “The Environmentalist” Brent Blackwater. Imagine a lobbyist for Friends of the Earth who is also a single digit handicap golfer – nothing better than understanding the issues from both sides. He certainly makes a strong case for change - but also makes it very clear that golf has a place. He simply feels that we can be much better environmentally as an industry – and so do many people working in the industry.

Environmentalism in golf isn’t going to go away – this is just the early stages of what will be the most remarkable change the game has seen since the introduction of the Haskell Ball.

I’ll begin tomorrow by touching on each person’s comments – except Robert Wood and Ronald Dodson because I see no point - and discuss what they had to say. I’ll also touch on the sidebars which deserve some minor comment too.

To Part 2

18 comments:

Margaret Hepp said...

Glad you're deconstructing this feature. I think the most influential effect of "How Green is Golf?" will be the discussion it generates in the industry. Looking forward to reading your comment commentary.

Mick's Free Golf Tips said...

This is indeed an interesting topic. I would say that there is definitely an environmental impact associated with golf courses. I am amazed that there are not more organic golf courses.
For 10 years I administered a 2000 acre coffee farm so I don't understand why more golf courses aren't changing to organic management - it really isn't that difficult and eventually the costs can be cheaper.
I am sure a lot of golfers would like to see more organic courses and would be willing to travel a few more miles to support them.
Great article, it will be interesting to see how this debate progresses.

Anonymous said...

It was also my first Golf Digest in at least 5 years.
It's great to see the article continue to be covered and I really look forward to the analysis of the job Jeff Carlson is doing.
More and more golfers will be willing to go out of there way to support a truly organic golf course.

Jeremy

Ian Andrew said...

Jeremy,

I do see this as the start of a change that is inevitable. The more that magazines and editors educate people on the alternatives - the more possibility there is for a willing transition. As I keep saying - I really don't think we have any choice any more. The tough part will be the transition for the superintendents as people complain about what they perceive to be poorer conditions – when in fact there are likely healthier – just different. The superintendents are in the toughest position of all – and this is where one small point contained in a sidebar is key – they will need our support!

I honestly believe my generation will accept it - and the next one will demand it – but the “boomers” will be the hardest to convince since they are used to getting what they want.

Wayne said...

If Golf Digest thought that this was really the most important article they have ever published then shouldn't it have been the cover story rather than "Tiger's 3 Keys for Every Shot"?

I haven't read the article but it is not just a case of being organic - a golf course could be totally organic but could water the heck out of the course and encourage cart use, both of which are using more resources than are necessary. Remember that every electric golf cart in Ontario runs on coal since that is the marginal source of electricity generation!

Anonymous said...

Wayne, I agree with your concerns re: water usage and golf carts (and yes, the story should have owned the cover, baby steps I guess), these are two of any number of parameters that would be addressed by golf courses trying to be organic.
A truly organic course would be walking only (1 person segway carts for those who must), and it would recapture and reuse all of its water on-site. In the proper climates an organic course could probably get away with only watering their greens on a regular basis.

Jeremy

Ian Andrew said...

Wayne,

"Remember that every electric golf cart in Ontario runs on coal since that is the marginal source of electricity generation!"

One of the most asute observations I have heard in quite a while. The race is on to develop an electric car capable of 100 miles at a time .... with your comment about electricity from coal ... are we going to be better off!

I remember seeing Ken Seims talk about Loch Lomond's efforts to get lights turned off and to change light bulbs. The impact was far greater than I would have guessed.

Guy said...

You bet it's a big issue for non-golfers -- you only had to read the reader comments on the Globe website the day the pesticide ban came down to see that. And I honestly think they have a point. That's why golf has to get its act together before the regulators step in.

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