Zero-Waste Golf: A Tradition Unlike Any Other

As the US sports scene (and CBS’ Jim Nantz) pivots from March Madness and the UConn Huskies (x2!!!) to Augusta National and today’s start of the Tiger-less Masters (cue treacly CBS Masters Music), it’s time to switch our attention from the Greening of Basketball (but not before you remember to tweet #NBAgreen by TODAY to get a tree planted during NBA Green Week) to the Greening of Golf.

Golf is green in many ways–there’s the grass and leaves and, of course, the “green” on which the hole sits.  And what will the winner of the Masters be awarded in the post-tournament ceremony in Butler Cabin?  That’s right, a Green Jacket!

But, almost 20 years after leaders from the environmental movement and the golf industry convened at Pebble Beach for the first-ever conference to discuss how to make golf more eco-friendly (link to a related 2008 Golf Digest story by John Barton about that conference here), and despite significant advances by the industry on a number of environmental fronts, the question of how green golf can be is still an open one.

Golf’s sprawling grassy footprint means it has a massive need for water (per a 2008 study, the average golf course used 300,000 gallons per day). The industry has made some wise steps in the right direction, including reuse of waste water, irrigating more efficiently, and using strains of grass that requires less water. But the problem will likely grow due to the effects of climate change. Golfers in warm weather and drought stricken areas will be playing on browner courses.  Water limitations as well as concerns about pesticides will likely mean fewer courses of the lushly green and perfectly manicured Augusta style and more British/Scottish links-style courses which more closely reflect the natural landscape.

Brown golf NPR

More intense drought and water use restrictions will mean more frequent scenes of brownish golf courses like this one in the Syracuse, NY area from 2013. (Photo Credit: NPR)

Beyond H2O, the industry has taken some innovative steps:

  • Audubon International (not directly related to the Audubon Society), whose mission is “To deliver high-quality environmental education and facilitate the sustainable management of land, water, wildlife, and other natural resources in all places people live, work, and play” has created The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program For Golf (ACSP). It is an award-winning certification program/standards regimen that, per the Audubon International website “helps golf courses protect our environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf.” As of February, 836 courses are taking part in the program including iconic courses from Bethpage Black on Long Island to Pebble Beach in California (Augusta National is not currently taking part).
  • Some courses, Jersey City, NJ’s Liberty National, have been built on top of capped landfill sites.
  • Dairy Creek, a public course in San Luis Obispo County, California, is on track to become the world’s first Zero-Waste golf course. Course management is moving towards that designation (diversion of at least 90% of waste from landfill) through reusing, recycling and composting all possible products from their operations. To me, composting and then returning the “compost tea” to the soil is like a tap-in putt–you can’t miss! 
  • Last but definitely not least, the Waste Management Phoenix Open has done an absolutely masterful job (MASTER-ful job–get it? Subtle, I know) of becoming the Green Standard of all golf tournaments–and, in their words, the Greenest Show On Grass.  Skeptical? Let me count the ways from the 2013 event (data is not available for 2014 yet):
    • 100% diversion of waste over the 7 day event which drew 500,000 fans (most attended golf tournament in the US).
    • No trash cans on the course–only recycling bins, compost bins and solar powered trash compactors.
    • 140,000 golf balls, found in water hazards and roughs, were all given to local charities for reuse.

Pho Open

Recycling and compost bins at the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open. The 2013 tournament achieved 100% diversion rate from landfill. (Photo Credit: Waste Management Phoenix Open)


GSB will be looking to see if Zero-Waste expands beyond the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2015–so Zero-Waste can become a Tradition LIKE Every Other (cue the treacly CBS Masters Music again).

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5 thoughts on “Zero-Waste Golf: A Tradition Unlike Any Other

  1. As a non-golfer, I’ve often wondered about the GREEN of golf. Glad you set out the current status and the need to figure out how to balance GREEN with playing on the green.

  2. Pingback: Green Sports News And Notes: Waste Management Phoenix Open Somehow Gets Greener | GreenSportsBlog

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