Column: Greater focus on sustainability in golf in 2022

The year 2022 starts rough for the golf scene when it comes to sustainability: In its column Ecobalance – Everyday Things in the Sustainability Check, Stern magazine took on golf courses. The balance is rather negative and contains only small rays of hope. Without going into detail at this point as to whether all points in the column are actually presented 100 percent correctly, one thing remains:

Sustainability is gaining in importance

The topic of sustainability will not lose importance in golf in 2022, but will also gain in importance due to the changed political requirements, for example in Germany. And: golf courses that traditionally struggle with an image as environmental sinners will still be viewed critically when it comes to their sustainability record.

Some of the points of attack are also addressed in the Stern column:

  1. The water consumption of golf courses was already an important topic on the golf courses themselves in 2021. The importance of this point increases when you consider that there are still golf courses that use drinking water. And: The amount of water used per facility, criticized by Stern, of an average of 35.000 m² is actually a value at which many an 18-hole course gets into trouble if longer dry periods follow. The question of how to further reduce water consumption, what type of water is used and how to communicate this fact to the golfer remains a top issue.
  2. Mobility is a sore point when opening the sustainability debate about golf. It’s true that few golf courses are easily accessible by public transport . Quite apart from the fact that it is relatively difficult to carry a bag, a trolley, etc. first into the S-Bahn and then possibly into the bus. However, anyone who speaks to golf course operators also knows that more and more golfers drive to the course alone in a car in order to be flexible. The parking lots have been getting fuller for years. In the course of an increasing CO² reduction debate, this fact is not particularly helpful – even if a quick solution is difficult to imagine. In any case, this is a broad target that golf undoubtedly offers.
  1. Tourism remains a hot topic, even if the popular argument of water wasters at the golf courses of Arizona’s desert doesn’t hold up: Many of the places in desert states are only allowed to use industrial water. The question of whether golfers fly more often than average and then offset the CO² emissions is likely to be asked more frequently in the future. The environmental certification of the places that are visited is then a follow-up issue. Even classic tourism regions such as Tyrol or Carinthia have a problem here.
  2. A look at international tournament sport is likely to be similarly critical: In 2021, Rory McIlroy was the only top golfer who even addressed the issue of CO2 compensation from his tournament trips. Tournament organizers only discuss this question in very few individual cases. The big tours of the LPGA, PGA Tour and European Tour are keeping a low profile.
  3. This also fits in with the fact that golf is actually only represented by one golf club worldwide in the United Nations initiative “Sports for Climate Action on the Race to Zero”. To date, not a single golf association, not a single major umbrella organization has made a commitment to CO2 neutrality by 2050 – unlike FIFA or World Sailing, for example, which are among the numerous sports and sports associations behind the UN initiative.

Solidarity with environmental policy helps

Whether in Germany, in Austria or in Switzerland: With an increase in the importance of “green” parties in federal, state and regional politics, the focus on the use of resources will become more precise. At the same time, one or the other politician might also recognize that golf, for example, achieves far more in the “promotion of biodiversity” than many a critic previously believed. Cooperations such as the “Lebensraum Golfplatz” in the Baden-Württemberg Golf Association or the Bavarian Golf Association’s Blühpakt, where environmental ministries and golf associations come together, are a significant long-term step in promoting understanding of golf.

In the light of increasing attention, the golf scene itself will have to work on its weak points. The standards by which the assessment is made are becoming stricter. To put it somewhat laxly: A few beehives will not be enough in the long run. There is no time to lean back.

The good thing about it is that many a golfer, club president and official have discovered the topic of sustainability in recent years. 2022 is the year to get it across to the wider golf scene.

Petra Himmel