Environment

Climate crisis: Golf courses on borrowed time as Earth’s weather patterns become more wild

And it’s not just saving the planet, but the sport itself, as the climate crisis threatens to turn many training courses into bogs.

American Society of Golf Course Engineers (ASGCA) President Jason Straka told CNN Sport how the climate crisis has affected golf in flood-threatened Florida, and in Ohio and Utah, which are hit by hotter-than-normal temperatures. weather and even drought.

“Clubs never had to close after two inches of rain, and now they close. They also get flooded on sunny days,” Straka said.

In Miami, authorities raise public banks to as little as 3.4 feet, but more than 50% of the city’s courses fall below that minimum, which rings alarm bells for Straka.

“If they don’t get out and lift their stamp in the air, they will always be in a deeper and deeper bathtub,” he said.

“If they think they have problems now, in 10 years, they will be a quagmire.”

But the change will offset the cost, as golf critics find their voice once again: the courses aren’t sustainable anymore.

While courses in the eastern United States are threatened by changing rainfall patterns, deadly wildfires that have swept the West, including California, have led to poor air quality and track closures in recent years.

Less noticeable, but no less worrisome, is the warming of Ohio, which is dotted with Bermuda grass, a warmer season grass that’s hard to control.

Read: Lydia Koe: “Sometimes the results are exaggerated,” says the former world number one

rain, fire, flood and ice

The situation in Australia is similar: Lynwood Country Club, northwest of Sydney, was flooded in 2020 and again earlier this year. At one point, parts of the course were more than 26 feet underwater, while on the New South Wales coast, Nambucca Heads received 42.5 inches of rain in just eight days.

On the same east coast, about 350 miles south of Sydney in Victoria, Malakota Golf Club almost perished during bushfires in 2019 and 2020, with fairways providing a safe haven for city-dwellers. Club Catalina, which lies further off the coast of New South Wales, has smashed a firewall that threatened to wipe out the city.

But in a country accustomed to regular wildfires, courses are adapting by trying to capture water when it rains heavily to use for irrigation, or even to put out fires.

“Golf courses in Australia, in general, have some sort of irrigation storage which is very useful in fighting fires,” Harley Cruz, president of the Australian Golf Course Architects Association (SAGCA) told CNN Sport, echoing Straka’s comments about the future outlook.

“Last year in Sydney, there was one flood in every 100 years. We will get an increase in various storm events which could be wind, rain, cyclones or see a greater increase in drought events. Golf courses should be flexible and more understanding.”

Australian Fellow Tim Loeb, President of the European Institute of Golf Courses Engineers (EIGCA), is promoting naturalization and weed reduction in Turkey to reduce water use – 15-20% of an area that was good turf will use less-maintenance turf grass.

In the colder regions, coastal courses around the British Isles face a very uncertain future – no more than the fifth oldest design in the world in Montrose, a few miles offshore from the main championship venue Carnoustie, where in the past 30 years the sea has in some places surpassed by nearly 230 feet (70 meters), according to research released in 2016.

With sea levels expected to rise by one meter in the next 50 years, the home of golf in St Andrews in Scotland could be as swampy as Miami as early as 2050.

In Iceland, Edwin Rold, the famous Icelandic architect and founder of Eureka Golf — a company “committed to mitigating climate change through golf” — told CNN how repeating cycles of water freeze and thaw in colder climates of the Northern Hemisphere are becoming a reality. Danger on courses.

“We have a lot of issues with frozen water […] And a lot of torrents, frequently throughout the winter. It allows this to happen without the water eroding the land.

“Winter killing, by suffocating the grass under the ice cover, is a bigger and growing threat. This is causing financial damage to the courses that open in the spring with dead grass.”

Read: ‘Celebrity’ golf coach Federico Alba reveals the hidden life in Sicily

Solar panels and robotic mowers

At the COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow, GEO Sustainable Golf based in North Berwick showed a virtual audience how golf is learning to be a champion among sporting bodies for a greener planet.

Woburn, the host of the 2019 Women’s British Open, built her own reservoir in 2013 to capture rainwater to irrigate her land, and recently dug a well to extract water from underground. The company that runs the course says the new infrastructure should make Woburn completely self-sufficient, so it doesn’t use water that can be used for drinking and in homes.

While at Remuera Golf Club in Auckland, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were reduced by about 25 tons from 2018-2019, by cutting off all electricity use at the club.

Finland’s Hirsala Golf aims to have 40 renewable energy-powered robotic mowers by 2022, reducing the use of 1,000 liters of diesel fuel, while solar panels at Golf de Payerne in Switzerland have saved 1,080 tons of CO2 .

Back in Iceland, the country measures the carbon status of all 65 golf courses through Project Carbon Par – the first golfing country to produce such a calculation.

A general view of Woburn Golf Club on September 19, 2019.

“The method that is used to produce this estimate, hopefully others will use in the future. To improve, you first need to know where you stand,” Roald said.

“Golf courses sequester a large amount of carbon, which I think few people actually associate with golf. On the flip side, golf is a big land user and must be using wetlands in some places. The emissions when draining wetlands are very large.”

Forests, peatlands, deserts, and tundra can all absorb and retain stocks of carbon dioxide. World Resources Institute data show that of all the carbon found in land-based ecosystems, about 34% can be found in grasslands. This is not much less than the 39% found in forests. So whether a golf course might actually absorb a good amount of carbon dioxide depends on how it’s managed and whether it destroys more valuable land initially.

“It is only a matter of time before the golf industry is asked questions about what we can do with these wetlands – and that is where we can make the most impact,” Roald added.

The hustle of climate change has caught the attention of one of golf’s most famous voices, Rory McIlroy, just one of the many high-profile athletes who travel long distances by plane.

“I’m not going to say I’m an environmental warrior, but I’m someone who doesn’t want to harm the environment,” the Florida-based Northern Irish man told the media at the DP World Championships in Dubai.

“I live in a part of the world where hurricanes are more common and become more prevalent over the years. I think we can all play our part in one way or another.

“We are playing on large plots of land that take up a lot of water and a lot of other things that could be put to better use.”

How to play golf

Ahead of a trip to the world-famous Royal Melbourne in Australia, Kruse noted comments in 2019 by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els at the Presidents Cup.

Cut off from the chase, both players praised the track’s natural setting — in essence, like so many previous Open Championships, the track was dry and vast areas of bumpy trails and even trails were clear of water,” making Mother Nature shine “the elements of the game,” Cruz said.

Manicured, well-watered golf courses often provide softer conditions that produce better grades and nicer television pictures, but Els and Woods took the opportunity to praise another approach that will become the norm as courses pursue sustainable practices.

Els and Woods both talked about the advantages of playing on a dry cycle, as in Australia.

Visit CNN.com/sport for more news, features and videos
A general view of the Royal Melbourne Golf Course ahead of the 2019 Presidents Cup.

Cross said he hardly believed his eyes when he saw a team of maintenance personnel on television earlier this year using gasoline-powered leaf blowers to dry out raw materials, adding that American courses probably have more sprinkler heads per golf course and more water than an area of ​​lawn. Comparison of courses in, for example, Australia or the British Isles.

“Given the drought in California a few years ago, I hope they don’t go back to their old ways and rethink,” Cruz said.

“You don’t need 2,000 watering heads from fence line to fence line to keep the track alive. You can let things dry.”

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