Words by GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf
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 derived from the ecosystems around us – that we gain so much from – that, in fact, we depend upon.
For golf, this sentiment runs deep and true. In fact, for the game’s ongoing growth and success it is now, more than ever, a crucial consideration requiring significant action from all parties.
So how and why is environmental sustainability important to golf, and who are some of the kay actors that can drive significant change moving forwards?
There are countless reasons why golf is such a special, unique and cherished sport. As golfers, we are fortunate enough to understand and experience these on an almost daily basis as we play and practice.
4-5 Hours of fresh air; exercise; prolonged social interaction all bring about an abundance of health benefits that continue to shine a light on the sport and demonstrate why it really is, and can be, a sport for everyone to enjoy and benefit from.
But it also brings everybody closer to nature. It strengthens that connection between us and the outdoors – the wildlife, the plants and the trees.
Inevitably however, the product and experience we enjoy so much is determined by the climate, the availability of natural resources, the health of the soil and the landscapes – from mountains, grasslands, forests, wetlands, sand dunes and coastlines. Each depend on it.
Golf is better with nature. So often the most natural courses are celebrated as amongst the best courses. They are the ones we talk about, most want to play, remember most vividly.
Nature gives us the richest stage.
Texture, shape, character, atmosphere – the sense of time and place – are all enhanced by each course’s unique combination of plants and habitats. These can transform a bland, homogenous landscape into a unique and vibrant place with an abundance of life, an oasis of biodiversity.
To drive sustainability in the sport and reduce the use of natural and harmful resource that facilities often depend upon, we will actually create a more valuable and cherished experience for everybody.
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, spreading wider benefits to local people and families.
It’s not always understood just how much of golf already embraces nature and delivers this value to players and communities. Look closely and you will see thousands of examples of how golf is already actively protecting and restoring ecological spaces. Add the growing movement in species conservation – whether it be birds, bats, mammals, amphibians, insects and pollinators – and the contribution of the existing 34,000 golf courses is significant.
PGAs and PGA Professionals
Inducing change is never easy. No matter what the challenge (or opportunity) is. It requires concerted action from a significant majority that are each pulling in the same direction.
To create a more environmentally-friendly sport, this principle doesn’t change. Golf’s workforce are the people on the ground who can make a difference. In fact, they have to be the one who make the difference. Club managers, driving range attendants, senior executives, food & beverage managers, head agronomists, directors, volunteers and golfers. They all will make the difference.
As spearheads for education in golf, national PGAs are at the forefront of developing the workforce for the game. They continue to be the organisations educating, championing and shaping the modern PGA Professional. It is those PGA Professionals, who number in their tens of thousands across the planet that we are looking to protect, that can be at the centre of inducing real and positive change.
The PGA Professional so often finds themselves at the epicentre of their facility or golf club, helping to shape the future direction of each respectively. They are golf’s key influencers – influencing golfers and colleagues. We are already seeing this with new and ambitious campaigns such as #CaringForCourses. As gatekeepers of the sport, their position is enviable yet crucial.
By informing, educating, supporting and leading, PGAs can shape a PGA Professional that continues to be considered the expert in the game and an influential figure at their facility, whilst also being more environmentally-conscious and increasingly sensitive to the impact that golf has on the ground and surrounds in which we grace.
GEO Foundation is the international not-for-profit dedicated to accelerating sustainability in and through golf. The organisation delivers programmes that help people on the ground to evaluate, improve and credibly communicate their work of fostering nature, conserving resources, strengthening communities and taking climate action.
GEO delivers practical guidance, tools and solutions through its OnCourse programmes for developments, golf clubs and facilities and tournaments all around the world, backed up with credible certification.
GEO Foundation is certainly the driving force behind change in this area. The organisation reaches millions of people and has the opportunity to be a catalyst by raising sustainability awareness and leading by example.
Creating a sustainable sport is perhaps golf’s greatest challenge yet at the same time, its greatest opportunity. As universal attitudes and public perceptions shift towards creating and needing an environment that is better looked after, golf cannot afford to be left behind.
In fact, golf has the opportunity to shine. It has the opportunity to lead from the front. COVID-19 showed to the masses what the sport can bring to the table as a health benefactor, it should now be able to demonstrate to the masses why it is an activity leading the charge to create a sustainable future.
Like with COVID-19, the impact of creating such a positive perception and backing it up with action will create knock-on effects through increased demand and participation. People want to associate and identify with entities and activities that are doing their bit.
Throughout this vital Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, launched by the UN on World Environment Day in June, as we all need to do as much as we can to heal our one planet, let’s proudly demonstrate golf stepped up and played its part.