The Environmental Impact of Golf Courses (golf courses water usage, etc)

Oh, golf courses, I’ve always hated them, but why?


I’ve always known, even since I was young, that they destroy wildlife. Why eliminate biodiversity and wastewater just for a little recreation? That seems to be a common theme, these days, though.


So, let’s dive into exactly how golf courses eliminate biodiversity, deplete our water, and are just overall a threat to the planet (you can watch the video version of this post here).



Biodiversity


First, let’s talk biodiversity. If this is the first time you’re hearing this word, I suggest you check out 3 videos I made early this year: what is biodiversity, how we are killing biodiversity, and how saving biodiversity will save the planet.


Ultimately, golf courses fit into that second video: how we are killing biodiversity. In short, biodiversity is the mash-up of two words “biological diversity.” It refers to all the life on earth in all levels and all varieties.


Now, think of a golf course: wide-open spaces of just grass, maybe a few trees and bushes here and there, but acres and acres of nothing but mowed, watered, and fertilized grass. The average golf course is 150 acres of which about 2/3 is maintained grass. That’s roughly 117 football fields per golf course. This is nothing but limiting to local, natural biodiversity. In some areas, the grass isn’t even a native plant which means native plants and animals will be competing with this invasive species.


Of course, this does hinge on a few factors. Golf courses in urban areas can actually be good for local wildlife as urban areas typically lack green spaces. But, this is also nuanced. Are the golf courses planting native flowers, trees, etc? Are the golf courses using too much water?


I think a small number of golf courses has the potential to be a good thing when managed properly.



But here’s the thing about water: it’s a finite resource


I see no problem with properly cared for golf courses in regions where it rains. This means that the golf courses aren’t using our precious water we use for cooking and cleaning to maintain some grass. This is where the main problem for golf courses comes into play, at least, for me.


As I mentioned, I’ve always hated golf courses but that hatred really flourished when I moved to Las Vegas. Upon moving into our new home, we were hit with plants dead after not being watered for only a few days and strict water restrictions. I didn’t mind them at first, it’s just part of desert life, I thought. That was until I began driving past golf courses, greener than any grass I had ever seen in the desert.


Wait, I thought, how is their grass so green? How much water are they using? WHy are we under water restrictions as citizens but these golf courses don’t seem to be?


Photo from Storyblocks

First, how much water does the average golf course use?


Audubon International estimates that the average American course uses 312,000 gallons per day. But, in desert places, they estimate a golf course can use up to a million gallons of water per day. That is, each course each day in Palm Springs consumes as much water as an American family of four uses in four years. EACH. DAY.


Let’s dive into Las Vegas now. From manually counting, I found 57 golf courses in the Vegas metropolitan area alone, but there are roughly 81 golf courses within Clark County. Let’s assume that these 81 golf courses use about 500,000 gallons of water per day, to be generous. That would be 40-41 million gallons of water per day just to keep grass green so people can hit some golf balls in the desert.



Why is this a problem?


I dive deeper into the drought issue in the SW US in this post or this video here, but ultimately, we are facing a 20-year drought out here. Citizens are under water restrictions, Lake Mead, our sole reservoir, drops about 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools every day.


We are in a severe drought. Our precious water is likely to run out if we don’t take drastic measures. There are already city cuts on ornamental grass and restrictions on how much grass an individual can plant or maintain, but there are no cuts for golf courses. In my opinion, the remaining water we have left should be used for drinking, cooking, farming, and bathing. Maybe the occasional car wash, but golf courses should be restricted.



What are some solutions?


I think the easiest (is it easy, though?) solution is Astroturf. If you’ve never heard of this, it’s fake grass. Yes, it is made of plastic, so it shouldn’t replace all grass, but I think it should replace golf course grass in the desert. You have to pick and choose your battles. Plastic sucks, but life would cease to exist out here without water. This fake grass does not need to be watered, fertilized, or mowed. So, not only does this cut water usage but also gas usage and reduce drastically the number of fertilizers that enter our groundwater.


I don’t see this as a likely solution, at least on a big scale, though. This is largely due to upfront costs. Artificial grass typically costs $5.50 to $18.75 per square foot, for an average price of $12.33 per square foot. With a normal-sized golf green on a course ranging from 4,500-6,500 square feet, that puts the average cost of laying turf at $55,000-80,000. It’s quite hefty upfront, but there would be incredible savings in the end. But, Depending on the amount of water needed, a typical golf course can spend between $7,000 and $108,000 per year. Since Vegas is in the desert, we can probably speculate that golf courses here pay on the higher end. This means that laying turf could pay itself off in just one year.


Another solution is taxing water usage. For example, citizens can already get ticketed for watering on days of the week we are not allowed to water on. I don’t know if this already applied to golf courses, but if not, it should.


There could also be restrictions on building new golf courses. There are already 81, I think there are plenty.


What other solutions could you see implemented?



Moving forward


This year for Plastic Free July, I spent the entire month writing letters to our government, business, and even golf courses. I didn’t hear back from any of the 10 golf courses I emailed, though. So, moving forward, I want to email more golf courses simply asking them how much water they use, how they plan to move forward with the ongoing drought, and see if they would be interested in laying astroturf. After all, it could save them SO much money.


I encourage you, too, to email your golf courses with these questions and present them with these facts and evidence. I encourage you to write your governments, officials, etc, and tell them how outrageous it is that households and farmers are seeing mandatory water cuts but not golf courses.



If you’d like more tips on letter writing, be sure to check out this post or this video here.


And don’t forget to share this post or the video version with your friends and family, especially those who live in the desert, too. Together, we can amplify our voices to save our water.


Thank you for reading this, I know it’s not the most glamorous topic to cover in the name of zero waste living, but it’s important, especially in the desert. I appreciate you taking the time to learn more about this topic.


As always, remember that our small actions make a big difference in the long run :)


Emma


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Emma

Dendler

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by! 

My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...

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