When looked at from a distance, golf would not be considered one of the greenest sports. Courses use vast amounts of water, often in drought-stricken areas, especially in states like California and Florida. Runoff from pesticides can be a danger to water supplies and wildlife.
As you get closer, the picture gets a bit greener. We’ve covered in detail the incredible work Waste-Management has done to make its Phoenix Open tournament Zero-Waste. But that’s tournament golf, in which the greening is focused on the waste and water usage generated by the hundreds of thousands of attendees. Important stuff, to be sure.
What about the greening of the thousands of courses where PGA and LPGA tournaments are not held? We try to answer that question in a 2-part series, The Greening of Golf. This two-part blog takes a look at golf and sustainability at the course management level.
Part I is an interview with Aubrey McCormick, former professional golfer, entrepreneur, and sustainability consultant leading the way in bringing sustainable operations for the golf industry as a whole.
GreenSportsBlog: How did you come to the intersection of Green and Golf?
Aubrey McCormick: Growing up in Orlando, I was surrounded by lush, beautiful golf courses and my father always taught me to respect the environment and to appreciate being outdoors. I began playing golf in college then professionally, but always felt like something was missing. I needed to do more than chase a little white ball around.
GSB: So, what did you do from there?
Aubrey: I decided to leave my pursuit for professional golf, started working at Green America, an environmental non-profit, and spent years researching sustainability within golf and the lack thereof. I needed to transition to something bigger than myself and, given my lifelong passion for nature, that “something” became making golf more sustainable for people and planet. In the process, I learned profit was a huge driver as well.
GSB: I’ve heard you referred to as the first Green Golfer. How did you come by that moniker?
Aubrey: A pivotal moment came when I was seeking sponsorship of my efforts to qualify for the LPGA Tour and found myself pitching to a team of oil executives in Louisiana.
GSB: …WOW! I bet not many people know that aspiring LPGA golfers fundraise to support their qualification journey.
Aubrey: …Yes, over the 6 years I played professionally, I created an LLC, selling shares of myself as an athlete, raising over $300,000 toward my goal of making the LPGA tour. Pitching to oil execs to sponsor an environmentally aware player didn’t match!
Aubrey: I wanted to partner with people who were focused on doing right by the planet. So I turned the opportunity down.
GSB: Fantastic! And not easy to do…
Aubrey: …Looking back, those execs must have thought I was crazy to turn down a sponsorship opportunity.
GSB: …To say the least! So what was your next step?
Aubrey: I kept attempting to compete but realized during the 2011 LPGA Futures Tour Qualifying School event that I was burned out and wanted to focus my efforts elsewhere. . I was living in DC area at the time and started volunteering at Green America. Soon thereafter, I was offered a full time position as Donor Coordinator. While there, I researched and partnered with mentors in the environmental industry. While at Green America, I was selected as a contestant by Golf Channel to participate on Big Break Atlantis in 2012.
GSB: That’s the golf-themed reality show in which players aspiring to make the PGA and LPGA tours compete for some serious cash, right?
Aubrey McCormick, aka “The Green Golfer”, in a promotional photo for Golf Channel’s Big Break Atlantis in 2012. Aubrey has made the switch from aspiring professional golfer to sustainability consultant to the golf industry. (Photo credit: Aubrey McCormick)
Aubrey: Yes! It was a great experience. 17 days in the Bahamas with a great crew and awesome competition. The best part was being recognized as the first “Green Golfer.”
GSB: How did you place in the competition/show?
Aubrey: I made it through to the fifth episode. It led to my being a featured speaker at Experience Green event at Hilton Head, SC.
GSB: One of the capitals of golf…
Aubrey: Yes, a great event where environmental and golf leaders met and discussed ways to move golf forward. . My presentation consisted of preservation of golf’s natural beauty and player development. I like to understand the golf course superintendents’ perspective because they are the crew on the ground level. The golf management perspective is important as well because they run the business side. I viewed this as an opportunity to help make sustainability core to golf’s DNA.
GSB: So where do you see the golf industry in regards to sustainability?
Aubrey: When I first started my research there was little going on to green the game. The main efforts were on the course management level, specifically focused on water. And the industry, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the superintendents teamed up for, “Brown the New Green,” an initiative to make playing on more natural (i.e., less watered) courses.
GSB: Sounds like there was room for growth. How did you start making a business out of this?
Aubrey: Well, I’ve done a few things. I partnered with CEO Anca Novacovici of Eco-Coach, where my role is to spearhead sustainability consulting in golf.
GSB: How is that going?
GSB: What did that assessment reveal?
Aubrey: The Bull Run assessment revealed more than $24,000 in energy savings, as well some ways they can improve their environmental and energy management practices, thus saving even more.
Bull Run Golf Club in Haymarket, VA. Aubrey McCormick, working with Eco-Coach, conducted a sustainability assessment that revealed $24,000+ in energy savings. (Photo credit: Belwaygolf.com)
GSB: That’s a great start! What actions will they take?
Aubrey: They will work with their management company to seek ways to implement our recommendations. Going forward, they plan to gain specific certifications that will focus on energy, waste, water, and wildlife management. Bull Run is dedicated to sustainability and represents what the golf industry needs—which is an open mind.
GSB: Will you be conducting more sustainability assessments for more courses?
Aubrey: Yes. I am in the process of securing contracts with courses on the east and west coasts.
GSB: Which ones?
Aubrey: I will let you know once we get the contracts.
GSB: Fair enough. What else are you doing in the greening-of-golf space?
Aubrey: I’m working toward an MBA in Sustainability Management at the Presidio School of Management (San Francisco), with a Certificate in Sports and Sustainability (Class of 2016).
GSB: That’s the program started in part by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, now CEO of the Green Sports Alliance. We profiled the school in a 2013 GSB post.
Aubrey: That’s the one. The school is amazing! The class material aligns with real world experiences and industry leaders.
GSB: That’s fantastic—and it mirrors what I believe—that a significant chunk of US job growth going forward will come from sustainability-related work. Before we go, two quick questions about Green and the professional golf tours. 1. What do you think about the Zero-Waste Waste Management Phoenix Open? GSB is a big fan.
Aubrey: It’s fantastic—they really are doing it right. But why is it the only such tournament? I’d love to see that grow.
GSB: I’m with you there! And my last question: Why hasn’t the LPGA, which can use positive attention for sure, embraced sustainability.
Aubrey: Good question. The LPGA really needs a sustainability mission—it would be a smart business decision. Add that to my list!
GSB: Well, Aubrey, you have a long list. GSB will certainly keep tabs on your efforts.
Look for Part II of GreenSportsBlog’s Greening of Golf Series, an interview with M.G. Orender, President of Hampton Golf, on March 31.