Golf courses: our planet's environmental sanctuaries

Presented by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America

Have you ever looked at those lush golf courses in your community and wondered how much water and how many chemicals were used to make them look so beautiful? You say to yourself, "Golf courses can’t possibly be good for the environment, right?"

Well, take another look. You’ll see that golf courses are a lot friendlier to Mother Nature than most people realize. A well-managed golf course provides substantial ecological and community benefits.

"The game of golf is a release for many," says Greg Lyman, GCSAA's director of environmental programs. "But I think more and more people are recognizing the value of well-maintained golf courses. The facilities not only offer recreation, but also provide an environmental sanctuary to numerous plant and animal species. I would guess most don’t realize the cleansing effect golf courses have on air and water, which filters through local communities. Superintendents have long known the benefit of golf courses, now others are learning our little secret."

After all, golf courses provide community green spaces that offer not just recreational opportunities for people, but key sanctuaries and habitat for wildlife. The trees and turfgrass produce vast amounts of oxygen while cleansing the air of pollution and cooling the atmosphere. The golf course also provides a recreational place for non-golf activities, such as jogging, walking and bird watching, with some restriction.

Healthy turfgrass is an excellent filter that traps pollutants, preventing them from reaching groundwater supplies. And golf courses can actually serve as catch basins for residential and industrial runoff. In fact, golf courses are effective disposal sites for effluent wastewater.

The water used on a golf course can be an excellent investment in both economic and environmental terms. Many courses use recycled water as a part of their irrigation practices. When effectively irrigated, healthy turf provides numerous environmental benefits.

As a result of computerized irrigation systems and improved turfgrass varieties, courses now use less water efficiently to achieve the same level of conditioning. Continuing research will provide even more “low-water” turfgrass varieties in the future.

Creating a golf course also is a good way to reclaim and restore an environmentally damaged site, like a landfill.

Environmentalists are sometimes at odds with golf courses, citing their use of pesticides, impact on water and soil quality, and the amount of water wasted in irrigation. But university and government studies indicate that properly applied pesticides and fertilizers do not leach into groundwater in amounts to cause risk. And modern turfgrass management practices greatly reduce the potential runoff.

In addition, no golf course superintendent worth his or her mulch would cover an entire course with pesticides and fertilizers. Most of the property often consists of natural areas with little maintenance. These areas include diverse varieties of native plants and trees.

Golf course superintendents take their relationship with Mother Nature very seriously. The vast majority has two- or four-year college degrees in agronomy, horticulture or related fields. They enter the profession because they love nature and the outdoors. And surveys have shown they give high priority to management practices that have a positive impact on the environment.

For more information about how golf course superintendents are helping the environment, contact your local superintendent or the GCSAA at 800-472-7878 or