Words by GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf
Ben Hogan once famously said: “As you walk down the fairway of life, you must take time to smell the roses, for you only get one round”.
That sentiment has arguably never had more meaning nor more relevance to golf – perhaps also to wider society.
We all know that the pressures on the natural world have never been greater. There has never been a more important time to stop and think about the value we derive from the ecosystems around us – that we gain so much from – that, in fact, we depend upon.
For hundreds of millions of players, the wonders of the natural world are literally right in front of us, around us and under our feet.
We escape into greenspaces. We immerse ourselves in grasslands, forests, wetlands and coastlines. We expose ourselves to the elements on hillsides and clifftops. We socialise. We laugh. We breathe deeply. We strengthen our bodies and replenish our minds.
The product and experience we enjoy so much is determined by the climate, the availability of natural resources, the health of the soil – often more than golfers ever know, but facts that are not lost on those that manage our courses.
Our great sport also advertises versions of nature. Hundreds of televised events are beamed out through sports media outlets to hundreds of millions of fans. Top athletes stand in front of stunning landscapes on different continents. Landscapes that have provided the backdrop to the drama, the spectacle and the revenue.
We gain so much, and we can give so much.
Golf is better with nature
Isn’t it interesting that so often we celebrate the most natural courses as amongst the best courses. They are the ones we talk about, most want to play, remember most vividly. That narrow tee shot through the trees, the iron that flies the wetland onto the green, the par three with the sand dune and ocean backdrop?
Nature gives us the richest stage. It can give us focus, thrill and reward.
Texture, shape, character, atmosphere – the sense of time and place – are all enhanced by each course’s unique combination of plants and habitats. These being the things that transform a bland, homogeneous landscape into a unique and vibrant place with an abundance of life. So often an oasis of biodiversity in a wider context of intensive agriculture; residential and industrial estates; and rapid tourism development.
Communities are better with nature
So as golf embraces nature, and golfers enjoy a better experience as a result, wider communities also benefit. Clean air, clean water, carbon storage, more pollinators, more birds, urban cooling, flood alleviation. If golf is an ecosystem, then it delivers ecosystem services to everyone. If courses also allow or provide some other forms of recreational function, then the benefits are even more direct and profound. This is golf as a force for good, spreading wider benefits to local people and families.
Time to reflect, time to do more
It’s not always understood just how much of golf already embraces nature and delivers this value to players and communities. Look more closely and you will see thousands and thousands of examples of how golf is already actively protecting and restoring ecological spaces. Add to that the growing movement in direct species conservation – whether it be birds, bats, mammals, amphibians, insects and pollinators – and the contribution of the existing 34,000 golf courses on an area roughly the size of Belgium is already pretty large.
However, the world is changing, we all need to do more, and if we’re honest in golf – we don’t always get it right.
Golfer’s demands often lead to manicured landscapes, pushing nature out and building resource consumption in. Like the slow creep into a diet with too much salt and sugar, our tastes have changed over recent decades and not necessarily for the better.
Think of the landscape, think of your surroundings, think of your watersheds. Think what you can do, this time, to capitalise on nature. Let it come in and add value and interest to the wonderful experience you offer. Let it push out costly maintenance and resource use. Let it even cut to the heart of your brand, marketing and customer satisfaction.
As we all need to do as much as we can to heal our one planet, let’s proudly demonstrate how your business, course and golf club stepped up and played its part.