Thursday, November 5, 2009

Golf Resorts vs. the Water Shortage: What Can be Done?

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Surprisingly, even the flagship publication of the golfing industry, Gof Digest, recognizes their precarious position. While more and more of the population is becoming concerned about our water supply, golf courses continue to be built. Cities give out permits for golf courses to be built, apparently, because they support tourism, which brings income to municipalities. It isn't just the water use that is a problem. Unused land means little tax dollars in the coffers of starving local government accounts. But a golf course generally means there will soon be more tax-paying development nearby, as upscale neighborhoods and shopping will follow. All this is gold to our struggling economy, even as we seek solutions to our water resource problems. Seems like a LOSE-LOSE, doesn't it? 

The USGA knows they have a social problem. But between you and me, they also know they have money on their side. Golf is no cheap sport. Golfers generally have money to spare, and that means water is not as big a concern to them.

One token attempt, begun this year by Golf Digest to soothe the ruffled feathers of environmentalists, is the Green Star Award, an annual award for America's Best Environmental Resorts. As stated in their article on this first year's awards, they seek to "honor golf resorts that best demonstrate the industry's efforts to do no harm to the environment." You have to give them credit for not strictly going after water use in their effort to make light of resorts who are trying to improve their relationship with the Eco-friendly folks who disagree with their resource consumption.

I'll admit I envisioned a group of USGA board members with a short checklist of criteria on which to give this award. I was impressed to learn that the panel of judges all come with exceptional experience in and knowledge of environmental issues.

As I read about the winners and their practices which earned them this honor, I have to say I began to soften. Some of the environmentally sound efforts in motion include:
  • irrigation with effluent water
  • on-site water treatment plants to reduce transit expense
  • landscaping with natural plants, native to the area
  • purchase of wind-generated electricity
  • integrated pest management programs that include use of organic products
  • use of ozone water treatment to reduce water use
  • stepped up efforts at recycling, one that produces enough revenue to pay for itself
  • use of landscape compost as soil enhancement
  • protection of certain natural habitats and ancient live oaks
  • sea turtle sanctuaries are protected by guidelines invoked by resort management
  • drainage recapture systems that collect course drainage, not allowing chemicals to reach our waterways or wetlands
  • employment of  naturalists who educate guests on all areas of nature-preservation
  • organization of beach clean ups
  • Increased effort to use locally caught fishes
  • microfiltered excess water is expelled from one facility into nearby rivers, enhancing the water quality there, and protecting endangered species
  • banning of styrofoam use
  • a dedication to tree replacement in duplicate
  • purchase of local organic flowers, produce and wine, thereby supporting local agriculture
  • use of biodegradable personal care and cleaning products and recycled products
  • use of recycled tissues and organic sheets and towels
While most of the initiatives of these exemplary resorts are far too expensive for the average local course, it is acknowledged that these winners are four of the premier resorts in the country. I suppose it is a given that their income and their clientèle make it possible for all these actions to be funded. You may recognize some of them: Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas; Kiawah Island, South Carolina; Pebble Beach Resorts, Monterey, California; and Sunriver Resort in central Oregon.

Even these winning resorts "admit there is still much to be accomplished before their operations can be considered totally sustainable, but all are making strides." As Golf Digest put it, "At least the game of golf is somewhere on the front nine of the environmental movement. These Green Star resorts are the leadoff foursome." Cute wordplay, but as an industry, golf has a very long way to go. Let's just hope they keep finding ways to do more.

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