Have you ever considered the level of sustainability in golf? While you might have taken more environmentally friendly actions into account in your home life or at work, have you thought of doing the same for the game you love? Sustainability is a bigger issue than ever before and golf isn’t immune to it, and there’s plenty you can do to play your part without compromising your enjoyment of the game.
This blog takes a detailed look at the issue of sustainability in golf: why it’s important, the measures being taken at a higher level, and the practical actions players and courses can take.
Why is sustainability in golf so important?
There is a lot of pressure for golf to improve its sustainability, in part because it naturally consumes a large amount of resources. Golf courses take up a lot of space, and need a lot of energy and water to be maintained in tip-top condition; combined with the travel involved to get to courses, the environmental impact of the sport is perhaps bigger than most.
There’s also a perception angle to consider, too. Rightly or wrongly, golf is often considered to be a sport played by a wealthier demographic, and there is an expectation in some quarters for the game to take action that benefits everyone.
What measures are in place to support sustainable golf?
One of the biggest advocates of sustainability in golf is the GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, a not-for-profit organisation that runs a range of initiatives. One of them is called Driving Net Zero, which in the short-term is aiming to halve the collective carbon emissions of the sport by 2030. Clubs, tournaments, courses and professional tours alike are working hard to drive towards these targets, and ensure that golf plays its part in building a more environmentally friendly future.
What can you do as a player to support sustainable golf?
While there’s plenty of theory around sustainable golf, and lots of action being taken in the corridors of power, it’s natural to wonder how you as an amateur player can make a difference. The actions you can take are many, and while they may feel small, they can make a real difference if more and more people adopt them and pull in the same direction. As much as is practical, we recommend the following:
Walk instead of using a buggy
This is perhaps one of the simplest actions you can take and can make a substantial difference. You may think that it’s OK to use a buggy to get around a course because they’re electric, but there will most likely be an emissions impact if the power used to charge the batteries comes from the mains. There’s also the issue of the mining required to obtain the materials like lithium that are within the batteries, which means that buggies aren’t as environmentally friendly as they might seem.
Obviously, if mobility is an issue for you and you would find walking a full 18 holes difficult, then you should still use a buggy. But if you’re physically able to walk, take the advantage at every opportunity – you’ll feel the benefit in your fitness, too!
Replace divots and repair pitchmarks
Replacing any divots you leave with your fairway drives, or any pitchmarks you leave on the greens, is often seen primarily as a piece of golfing etiquette. But the impact of not repairing any marks you leave behind can stretch much wider.
If you don’t do it, then somebody else will have to come and do it for you. That means additional vehicular travel around the course and associated energy use by the course staff. In the case of divots, it also heightens the risk of turf disease, which can have a major impact on the condition and ecology of the course in the long-term.
That’s why there are practical reasons for being fastidious in repairing all of your divots and pitchmarks, and calling on your playing partners to do the same.
Buy recycled and second-hand golf balls
Golf balls are diverse in their design and technology, with a huge range of different types available to suit differing playing styles and levels of experience. But if you need a new set of balls, or some extras to fill out your bag, do you really need to buy new ones?
All too often, golf balls considered just a little bit old are discarded by players who are keen to get shiny new ones. This means that extra golf balls ended up being manufactured for sale while there are still perfectly good ones sitting around in bags, on shelves (or in bushes around the course!).
So next time you need to get some golf balls, ask around your playing partners and golf buddies to see if they have any going spare. Not only will it extend the life of some perfectly good balls, but it can help you save money compared to buying new ones, too.
Try sustainable tees and accessories
In golf as in every other sport (and in life), the use of plastics is a major contributor to emissions and pollution, whether it’s the energy required in making products or the inability to recycle them when they’ve been disposed of. There aren’t too many plastic items involved in golfing, thankfully, but one that has a big environmental impact is perhaps the smallest thing in your bag.
Golf tees are so tiny that it seems that they can’t make much of a difference to sustainability in golf. But consider that it’s estimated that as many as five billion plastic tees are discarded by golfers worldwide every year. So why not consider using bamboo tees instead? They’re just as good as their plastic equivalent but are made of renewable, natural material.
Other areas where you might want to consider moving away from plastic include your golf towels and even your bag; in both cases, there’s a growing market for more sustainable alternatives.
Bring your own drinks bottle
It’s vital to stay hydrated when you’re playing a round of golf, as you need to keep up your concentration levels for a number of hours. Often this means drinking water, especially on a hot day, but there’s a sustainability impact if using a bottle made from single-use plastic. As with the golf tees mentioned above, consider how many millions of golfers all over the world go through however many bottles of water on every round they play, and the problem soon mounts up.
The simplest alternative is to bring your own drinks bottle with you, whether you reuse an old plastic bottle or buy a more permanent (and sustainably made) bottle. More and more courses are providing the facilities to fill and refill these while you’re on the course, especially at the clubhouse at the start of the round, and in the halfway house (if one is available).
Use public transport if possible
The image of a golfer travelling across the countryside on his or her own, with their golf back tucked in the back of a huge 4×4, doesn’t help the sport’s sustainability credentials. But whether that’s true of all golfers or not, it does raise an interesting point around how players travel to and from courses to play.
Some golf courses are naturally more accessible than others by public transport, especially in urban settings. Even a grand old course like Carnoustie has a train station called Golf Street right next to it! So if your local course is close to a bus stop or railway station, consider making use of those services: this will obviously be easier if you have a trolley for your golf bag.
Car-share with playing partners
If you aren’t able to viably use public transport to get to a particular course, then the best alternative is to contact your playing partners and see if you can share a car to and from the course. Even if one of you has to go a little out of your way to pick up the other, the saving in fuel and therefore emissions is substantial. Most cars have the capacity to take two passengers and two golf bags, while larger vehicles should be able to accommodate three if part of the back seat can be folded down.
What can your local course do to promote sustainability?
Practical actions don’t stop at what you can do as a player – your local courses can play their part, too. The amount of energy and effort needed to maintain sites as large as golf courses is considerable, so making some changes can have a substantial impact on sustainability efforts:
Use energy-efficient equipment
There is so much equipment involved in managing and maintaining a golf course, meaning that there’s a multitude of opportunities to find more energy-efficient alternatives.
For example, any petrol or diesel-powered buggies, mowers, strimmers and other maintenance equipment can be swapped for electric alternatives. If there are concerns around where the electricity is being sourced from, then it’s worth exploring whether there are potential sites around the course for a small solar farm to be situated. Even an array of just a few dozen panels could generate a substantial amount of electricity for course use.
Use non-toxic fertilisers and pesticides
Golf courses naturally require large-scale horticultural work to keep greens and fairways in pristine condition. This means widespread use of fertilisers to encourage growth in the right places, and pesticides to prevent any damage by insects to the look and playability of the course.
The problem is that many of these pesticides and fertilisers contain toxic chemicals. Not only are they energy-intensive to manufacture, but they can be extremely harmful to local wildlife, and can pollute water courses if they run off into rivers and streams. However, there are plenty of environmentally friendlier alternatives that do just as good a job without causing these levels of harm.
Restrict single-use plastic
It can be difficult to ingrain sustainable practice into people’s routines, whether through forgetfulness, stubbornness or just simple habits. This is why it can help if courses take proactive steps to minimise the amount of waste and single-use plastic that is used by its players.
While it isn’t really realistic to completely ban any single-use plastic from players’ bags, courses can at least switch their food and drink offerings to those that only use recyclable packaging.
Build a sustainability culture
Courses can take the lead in promoting more sustainability across everyone on a course, from players through ground staff to those that work in the clubhouse and pro shop. Initiatives that encourage more sustainable behaviour, including discounts and financial incentives, can be a real motivator to get people on board with the idea of sustainability.
Get golf insurance with SportsCover Direct
If you’re engaged enough with golf to get involved with these sustainability measures, then there’s no doubt that you take the game seriously. And if you’re serious about your golf, then it’s essential that you have insurance in place every time you tee off.
SportsCover Direct’s comprehensive golf insurance means that you’re covered if anything goes wrong. If you suffer an injury while out on the course, accidentally hit someone with a stray shot, or your clubs are lost, damaged or stolen, we’ll pick up the tab and ensure you aren’t out of pocket. We’ll even pay for the traditional round of drinks at the bar if you hit a hole in one!
Our cover starts at just a few pounds a month, giving you peace of mind for just a tiny fraction of your annual golfing costs. Take a closer look at our flexible, affordable golf insurance policies today.