Are Golf Courses Bad For The Environment? Weighing Up The Positive And Negative Environmental Impact Of Golf Courses

One common misconception surrounding golf courses is the belief that they harm the environment.

While it is true that golfing activities can lead to increased foot traffic and erosion, the reality is that, in most cases, golf courses contribute positively to the environment. 

They offer green spaces in a world where such areas are gradually disappearing. So, are golf courses bad for the environment?

According to the United States Golf Association, golf courses provide various environmental benefits, including:

Creating habitats for wildlife, safeguarding topsoil from erosion caused by water and wind, absorbing and filtering rainwater, enhancing air quality, capturing and purifying runoff in urban regions, and restoration of damaged land areas.

However, these advantages only provide a general overview of the positive effects of golf courses on the environment. In the upcoming sections of this article, we will delve into the specific details of how golf courses impact the environment.

Let’s take a look at:

  • Are Golf Courses Bad For The Environment?
  • 4 Reasons Golf Courses Can Have A Positive Effect On The Environment
  • How Can The Golf Course Environmental Impact Improve?
  • Alternatives For Environmentally Friendly Golf Courses
  • Key Takeaways: Are Golf Courses Bad For The Environment, Or Are They Good?

Let’s get into it!

Golf sprinklers water the grass on a golf course with the words are golf courses bad for the environment in the foreground.

Are Golf Courses Bad For The Environment?

Golf courses have faced scrutiny for their environmental impact.

Raising concerns about water consumption, habitat loss, chemical use, energy consumption, and the accumulation of non-biodegradable lost golf balls.

Here are 5 negative environmental impact of golf courses:

#1: Water Consumption

One of the most frequent criticisms of golf courses revolves around the significant water consumption involved in their daily operations. For instance, consider the golf courses located in Salt Lake County, Utah. 

Currently, many regions in the state face “extreme drought” conditions, yet the golf courses in Salt Lake County alone utilize approximately nine million gallons of water daily.

In a time when climate change adversely affects water availability, golf courses continue to consume excessive water. 

While there are measures that courses can implement to try and decrease their water usage, there will always be a need to irrigate extensive grass areas to maintain the quality of the greens.

Golf sprinklers water the golf course with trees in the background.

#2: Habitat Loss

When constructing a golf course, a significant amount of land must be cleared, leading to removing trees and natural habitats. 

Consequently, various animals, birds, and other creatures may lose their homes due to the presence of the golf course.

This applies to all development levels, as it disrupts existing wildlife and hampers the natural recovery of previously established habitats, despite our attempts to preserve green spaces.

#3: Chemical Use

One of the primary concerns regarding the environment on a golf course revolves around using harmful chemicals.

When it rains, these chemicals are washed into rivers and streams, leading to potential issues for wildlife and nearby human populations close to the golf courses or those engaging in golfing activities.

#4: Energy Consumption

Maintaining a golf course and operating its facilities necessitates significant amounts of energy.

The primary energy expenditure arises from operating the maintenance machinery, specifically for mowing purposes, which accounts for approximately 27% of the overall energy consumption

Additionally, the electrical needs of the clubhouse and other amenities also contribute to energy consumption.

A green basket of golf balls spills on the grass.

#5: Non-Biodegradable Lost Golf Balls

At a rate of 14 golf balls per second, courses in Europe and the United States experience the constant loss of golf balls. This astonishingly adds up to a remarkable figure of 450 million lost balls annually! 

However, the disheartening truth lies in the fact that these golf balls are not environmentally friendly as they’re not biodegradable, making them unseen foes once they disappear. 

4 Reasons Golf Courses Can Have A Positive Effect On The Environment

Now that we’ve covered “Are golf courses bad for the environment?” we can move on to the positive environmental impact of golf courses.

Golf courses, when well-managed, can have positive environmental effects. They provide green spaces with cooling benefits, support wildlife habitats, implement water management practices, and contribute to the local economy.

Here are four positive environmental impacts of golf courses:

#1: Green Spaces

A groundbreaking study funded by the United States Golf Association examined 135 golf courses in the Twin Cities area.

The research compared the environmental benefits of these courses with natural areas, city parks, suburban and urban residential zones, and industrial parks. 

Results showed that well-managed golf courses offer significant advantages, including superior cooling, support for pollinators, and effective retention of stormwater nutrients. 

The study concludes that golf courses contribute positively to communities like city parks or green spaces.

A green golf course on rolling hills with lots of types of tree.

#2: Wildlife Habitats

The areas of golf courses that are not designated for playing are typically rugged and abundant with native trees and bushes, which make them an appealing environment for various wildlife species. 

The ACSP has implemented a special program dedicated to improving and safeguarding wildlife habitats found on and near golf courses, known as the sanctuary program.

#3: Water Management

Contemporary irrigation systems can be programmed to dispense water at precise intervals and in predetermined quantities.

This guarantees that the turfgrass obtains the appropriate amount of water without exceeding its requirements

Certain golf courses are currently adopting water recycling initiatives to repurpose water for irrigation purposes. This practice contributes to the conservation of water and facilitates cost reduction.

#4: The Economic Impact of Golf

Golf’s popularity has increased significantly, attracting a wider range of people than ever before. The golf courses in the United States substantially impact the economy, contributing approximately $18 billion annually. 

Over 24.5 million individuals, including men, women, and youth, dedicated 2.4 billion hours to playing golf on the 14,500-plus courses available. The USGA strives to ensure that golf is accessible to everyone, with more than 78% of rounds on public golf courses.

An aerial shot of a green golf course with trees surrounding.

How Can The golf course environmental impact Improve?

To mitigate the negative environmental impacts and enhance the positive aspects, golf courses can adopt several practices to reduce their ecological footprint.

Here are some key strategies:

Sustainable Landscaping

Numerous contemporary architects have remodeled golf courses with a focus on environmental considerations.

In a noteworthy development, the American Society of Golf Course Architects has recently honored five golf projects with the 2022 Environmental Excellence Awards.

Among the recipients of this accolade are Dana Fry and Jason Straka, who undertook a comprehensive renovation of the Union League National Golf Club.

In this endeavor, they worked closely with conservationists and national reserves to establish wetlands and vast lakes throughout the course.

Water Conservation

To reduce the environmental effects of water consumption, numerous golf courses employ recycled water, known as “gray” wash water, to sustain their landscapes. 

This water is obtained from sources such as showers and sinks, and after appropriate treatment, it can be utilized for equipment washing and maintaining the course’s greens.

By utilizing this method, golf courses significantly minimize energy usage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a sustainable strategy to effectively control pests over a prolonged period. 

Instead of golf courses relying exclusively on chemical pesticides, IPM adopts a comprehensive approach integrating various control methods, including biological, cultural, and chemical measures. 

The objective is for golf courses to reduce pest populations while minimizing the negative impact on the environment, human health, and non-target organisms.

Solar panels sit on the grass with the sun beaming down.

Energy Efficiency

Golf courses committed to environmentally friendly incorporate solar panels in their quest for energy self-sufficiency.

Entero Energy, a solar plant development company based in Austin, has joined forces with golf course facilities to promote ecological practices and reduce energy expenses. 

In addition to placing solar panels on clubhouses and parking areas, this initiative includes a shift towards electric golf carts and landscaping machinery.

Biodegradable Golf Balls

Using biodegradable golf balls offers a hopeful answer to the environmental problems caused by regular golf balls that do not break down naturally.

These environmentally friendly options are specifically created to decompose naturally over time, significantly lessening their adverse environmental effects.

Using biodegradable materials, golfers can partake in their beloved sport while minimizing the damage inflicted upon the planet.

Orange trees line a green golf course with blue skies above.

Alternatives For Environmentally Friendly Golf Courses

As concerns about the environmental impact of traditional golf courses persist and the question, “Are Golf Courses Bad for the Environment?” is asked, there are alternative options that offer a more eco-friendly approach to the game:


Topgolf is a golf game played on driving range-style courses using electronically tracked golf balls. Compared to traditional golf courses, Topgolf courses are much smaller in size, resulting in a significantly reduced environmental impact.

Currently, there are more than 70 Topgolf facilities worldwide offering a selection of five entertaining games.

Golf Simulators

Although golf simulators have been around for some time, they continuously improve and are utilized in official tournaments. 

What’s remarkable about these simulators is that they allow you to experience playing on courses that would typically be inaccessible, like Pebble Beach Golf Links or the Old Course at St. Andrews.

You can also enjoy fictional courses created from a combination of real and imagined golf holes.

An orange sunset sits behind a golf course with a yellow flag.

Key Takeaways: Are Golf Courses Bad For The Environment, Or Are They Good?

While golf courses’ environmental impact has the potential to impact the environment negatively, they can also provide significant ecological benefits when managed responsibly.

By adopting sustainable practices, golf courses can minimize water consumption, protect wildlife habitats, reduce chemical use, and improve energy efficiency.

By implementing the suggested strategies and continually seeking innovative solutions, golf courses can play a positive role in preserving the environment while offering recreational opportunities for players. 

It’s important to promote dialogue and collaboration between environmental organizations, golf course management, and local communities to find common ground and work toward sustainable solutions.

Next Up: What Is A Links Golf Course?

Photo of author
After graduating from the Professional Golf Management program in Palm Springs, CA, I moved back to Toronto, Canada, turned pro and became a Class 'A' member of the PGA of Canada. I then began working at some of the city's most prominent country clubs. While this was exciting, it wasn't as fulfilling as teaching, and I made the change from a pro shop professional to a teaching professional. Within two years, I was the Lead Teaching Professional at one of Toronto's busiest golf instruction facilities. Since then, I've stepped back from the stress of running a successful golf academy to focus on helping golfers in a different way. Knowledge is key so improving a players golf IQ is crucial when choosing things like the right equipment or how to cure a slice. As a writer I can help a wide range of people while still having a little time to golf myself!

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