Grafik des Innenbereiches eines Kopfes

Climate change: golf needs communication

The reason for this article is loud protest. It resounded with me at a recent member’s meeting at a golf club when I spoke about the challenges of climate change for golf facilities. I couldn’t see the protesters because it was pretty dark in the back rows of the room, but you couldn’t miss them. Their opinion: The topics of sustainability and climate change are relatively irrelevant for a golf club and don’t need to be discussed deeper. Half an hour later, when the meeting was over, a good dozen other golfers approached me apologetically: for them, the subject was interesting.

The encounter was disturbing and instructive because it showed two things:

  • The politicization of the issue of sustainability, which we can observe throughout society in many countries, has long since reached golf clubs as well.
  • The issue of communicating climate change is so critical for golf facilities because golf facilities in particular are dealing with the impacts of climate change on many levels in terms of weather extremes, water use, and energy transition.

How important is the age structure?

And perhaps – but this is an unproven assumption – the golf scene also deals with the issue a little harder than other sports in terms of its age structure. Why? The average golfer in the U.S. is between 60 and 69 years old and male, according to a 2021 study by the USGA. More than 50 percent of all male and female golfers in Germany were over 55 years old in 2022, according to statistics from the German Golf Association. Two-thirds of all golfers in the UK are over the age of 50, according to a 2022 study by Hillier Hopkins LLc. At least in these three major markets – and the assumption is that it is not much different in other golfing nations – the majority of players are older.

How older people react to the topic of climate change or news about it has hardly been researched to date. But the Reuters digital news report 2022 says, for example, that “respondents under 35 in some markets are two to three times more likely” to follow climate news. In surveys on the introduction of a CO₂ tax for more climate protection in Germany, for example, more than half of the respondents from the 55plus generation rejected the tax completely or rather. However, in a survey conducted by Golf Sustainable and the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich in 2022, 59.14% of respondents agreed with the statement “Climate change is the central issue of our time.” The average age of the respondents was 54.76 years. The picture is therefore unclear, allowing only conjecture.

Climate change also a psychological issue

We don’t really know how golfers in general feel about encountering climate change. We do know, however, that climate change in general has long been a topic of interest to numerous psychologists at the scientific level. For example, they deal with cognitive dissonance when encountering the issue of climate change. Cognitive dissonance is the term used to describe the unpleasant and, in the long run, unhealthy emotional state that arises when actions, knowledge and values diverge. Lack of information and involvement with a topic obviously play a significant role.

In Germany, 32% of all respondents in a Pace study conducted by the University of Erfurt recently agreed with the phrase “I’m tired of hearing about climate change.” On the other hand, a Pew Research Center survey of 14 industrialized nations in 2023 found that 70% of all respondents considered climate change a major threat.

Conclusion: A golf facility that wants to cope economically with the tasks and changes resulting from climate change and new laws in the next few years must inform its golfers, take them along, and perhaps also take away their fear of the topic.

Analysis instead of drama

Arguably, the key challenge, again a finding of the 2022 Reuters News Report, by the way, is to “portray the whole issue in a way that focuses attention on the ground and the decisions that lead to disasters, not the disasters themselves.” In other words, what is needed is not a dramatic description of the drought on the golf course, but an analysis of why it happens.

To dispense with this type of communication altogether, it is true that at first it makes it easy for members not to have to deal acutely with the problems facing golf facilities. In the medium and long term, however, this strategy is a dead end – in most cases, members end up having to pay for the extra costs, retooling in greenkeeping, energy supply or repairing damage caused by water or drought. It helps if they are informed then.