Reducing Golf’s Green Handicap

A kangaroo relaxing at Anglesea Golf Club. Credit to GothPhil on Flickr


It’s not easy being a golfer

Besides the endless frustration of the game, your beloved sport gets a bad rap for its environmental footprint.  From clearing rainforest to create tourist golf links in Bali, the privatisation of green space in park-poor cities like Los Angeles, or the level of fertilisers making their way into ground water in Thailand; golf has a hard time defending its green credentials.

But what about the humble Melbourne golfer?  For a city that prides itself on its sporting lifestyle, what is the impact of teeing off?

Scotland.  Seriously?

Golf originated in the wilds of Scotland.  The first golf courses were rugged, wet and muddy as they followed the natural topography of the land.  When Scottish migrants headed across the Atlantic to the Americas, they packed their tartan golfing trousers and introduced the game to a new continent.  The golf courses of the motherland received a new-world make-over to become the manicured courses seen today.  The landscaped masterpieces displayed during the Masters tournaments have created high expectations from golfers, called the Augusta National Syndrome. But just like an episode of the Batchelor, what you see on TV is not the full story.  Even the masters golf links only look that good for the TV season, they can’t be maintained to that standard all year round.

Melbournian golfers need to accept that our Summers are hot and dry, and that a tinge of brown around the edges will not hurt your game.

Is golf for the birds?

But what if your golf game could save Melbourne’s native flora and fauna?

As Melbourne becomes more densely populated and developed, the open spaces of golf courses provide valuable green corridors for wildlife.

The average Australian 18 hole golf course covers 150 acres, and uses two-thirds of its area for fairways, with the remaining third for vegetation.  That’s 50 acres of available land that is increasingly being turned into areas for native biodiversity.  This land provides bird wildlife sanctuaries, protects remnant indigenous vegetation, and promotes indigenous flora with targeted planting.

The Royal Melbourne Golf Course has a program to protect and promote the local sandbelt species of wildflowers and orchids, as well as native grasses.  They can protect these species from the hazards of urban development including pesticides, weeds and foot traffic.

Scored a birdie?  Credit to Kool on Flickr

Golfing is Thirsty Work

Golf courses don’t just have wildlife corridors because it is the right thing to do.  Native vegetation requires significantly less irrigation than grass or exotic plants.

It takes a lot of irrigation to water a golf course.  In January, Melbourne has an average evaporation rate of 141mm, meaning irrigation will need to mimic 141mm of rainfall.  After adjustments for the needs of couch and kikuyu grass on the fairways, that’s am massive 65 megalitres (or $20,000) of irrigation in January alone. The cost of irrigation drives golf clubs to look for alternative water sources, mainly from storm and recycled water.

As the suburban land around Melbourne’s golf courses become more densely populated, we cover more land with non-porous cover like buildings, roads, and footpaths.  This creates more storm water run-off, which collects contaminants from the streetscape before being pumped into our waterways like Port Phillip Bay.

A well designed and maintained golf course can provide more environmental and wildlife benefits than a general purpose, poorly maintained public park.  Onsite lakes and water storage holes support aquatic wildlife diversity in urban areas.  Storm water often includes nutrients that the grass requires, like nitrogen and phosphorous, reducing the use of synthetic fertilisers.

As green as you want to be

If you are one of the many that likes to dress up in plaid trousers and walk in circles in the pursuit of following a little white ball, the power of greening golf is in your hands.  Ask yourself and your golf club committee a few questions before your next game.

  • Does the course have an environmental strategy? Do they follow it?
  • Do they prioritise native planting?
  • Does the course use recycled water?

And accept that in Summer, the fairways can be a browner shade of green. I promise you it won’t increase your handicap.


4 Responses to “Reducing Golf’s Green Handicap”

  1. Caroline Norton-Smith says:

    Hi Cax, Most golf course are moving towards a more indigenous plant pallet. This is also driven by many golf courses being on council land, and the local councils encouraging/creating by-laws for golf courses to increase their green practices.

  2. Jack Duckett says:

    found this really interesting! had thought about the fact that different sports might have differing environmental impacts

  3. cax says:

    Never think about golf from the environmental view. Good topic, and happy to see some gulf field do actions to reduce environmental impact. Do most of Melbourne gulf course start environmental work list in the end?

  4. Natali says:

    This is an interesting topic that we know .