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In Lieu of Golf

Fourth of July is about to explode. Just in time for fire season. Any official with a lick of sense would ban them outright, “rights” be damned. But, who am I kidding?  Climate change is low on the totem pole of business.  Who cares about tomorrow when we can have a fossil fuel-guzzling new car with a 0% down payment today?  Priorities with Average Joe and Jane are all about “me” getting it -Now. Amazon built its entire business model around it.  Instant, cheap gratification and to hell with climatic real, long-term costs.

We are all delighted to hear that President Biden’s new infrastructure package gained bipartisan support and they struck a deal. The Wow Factor being not in the actual details, but the sad fact we feel the need to celebrate our politicians actually working together.  Obviously, this is a novel concept.

The slimmed deal slashes vital climate change measures pushing them out for further negotiation in a “possible” second bill. Months down the proverbial climatic road to Hell.  The irony being, the proposed second package focuses on programs of “human infrastructure” related to child and elder care, education, and health care, with climate action still begging for the small change.

Anybody else reminded of the old company towns?

The Northwest, (aka land of rain and fog) is sweltering under an “unprecedented” heat dome. The roads are melting and the mercury tipping in at 116F in the shade and 125F on the pavement. Biden made a presidential comment on raising firefighters’ hourly wage to a whopping $15.00 per hour.  Puts them on par with Amazon workers. Both used, abused, and tossed in the fire.  Churning people has become a national competition. Anybody else reminded of the old company towns? We own you, lock, stock, and over the barrel. One could suspect, in a conspiratorial sort of way, a dark economic balancing formula. Less resources imply a drastic need for a reduction in population…Have at it Conspiracy Peeps!

This frightening irony of the proposed “human infrastructure” bill begs the question, will there be a world left for our children to be educated or live in? How many more cemented forests and dried lakes can we survive?  Seems to me, all our government’s priorities are pretty screwed up. At least Marie Antoinette offered people cake.  We are not even being offered the icing. We get a; No water = no farms = no food = death to the masses policy. Even rich kids need food. Is that why Bill Gates just paid another 171 million to be the biggest farm landowner in Washington state? Inquiring minds want to know what the Big Plan really is? After all, several prominent governors and representatives very clearly, during the pandemic, suggested we die for the economy. Interestingly enough, they still have their jobs. Maybe being vaccinated is giving us an extra dose of 2020 amnesia.

As the golf world primped and geared up for the final stages of the US Open, it is worth pausing to consider what a truly pernicious occupation golf actually is.  Take a slow stroke and evaluate the actual cost of this sterile game. Ignoring the whole elitist BS, the ridiculous hushed crowd breathing over each ball and, the obvious history of racism we are still left with its continued direct and undeniable impact on the environment.

Biden and his buddies on the manicured Wilmington Country Club have struck an “OJ” on passing a genuine climate package leaving the rest of us to carry the penalties. I for one, object and refuse to be pressed into playing nice.

The case against golf as a nefarious game is not a new rant.  More than twenty years ago GAM, the Global Anti-Golf Movement raised some hefty issues on the effects of global golf tourism. They dryly noted in their study that; “in this age of increasing environmental awareness, there is no more room on earth to destroy nature for the sake of a mere game”. No one took much notice. Chasing little balls around was vastly more important than saving some inconvenient wildlife habitats.

In the 1990s golf organizations including the USGA and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America spent further millions investigating the environmental impacts of golf. Numerous white papers were published and deftly shelved. Several intermittent programs were initiated to educate golf course superintendents about management issues and how best to deflect them. This led to heated debates on Integrated Pest Management (IPM), underground storage tanks, surface and groundwater protection, pesticides and, wildlife habitat protection. Clever course designers resolved this by adding “natural” wildlife patches between the holes and, even bigger clubhouses. The animals were not impressed by being elevated as new versions of a bunker. The “Greens” however hit a Grand Slam, heavily supported by elite greenbacks and golf played on.

Golf has enjoyed a global boom over the past twenty years. Courses currently exist in over 208 countries around the world. Pristine grassy acres embraced by iron gates and high-priced cocktails. The US is home to not only 45% of all golf courses in the world, but also to the extensive deforested, exclusive “communities” that are built around them.

Canada is a distant second with over 2,295 facilities. Japan breaks in at 2,290. Australia and England both top 1,500 golf facilities, with Germany lagging in at 747, France at 637 coming in ahead of Scotland (The home of golf) at 540. Those are the big, posh ones. We haven’t counted in the second and third rate versions. The average 18 hole golf course is around 150 acres. Get your calculator. That is a hell of a lot of acres of grass plus all the “accessories” that go with them.

The cancerous proliferation of golf as an international pastime for both business and leisure activities has equally multiplied global environmental impacts and associated issues.  Easy approvals from governments greedy for tourism dollars accelerated the destructive development of hotel and condo constructions that are built to support the industry.

Rubber-stamped communities with miniaturized replica golf courses of urbanized, suburban lawns and landscapes. Natural habitats destroyed and replanted with water-hungry designer plants and imported grass.  With enough water, even in a desert, the grass Is greener on the other side of the fence. Golf proves it.

Even the damn little balls are bad for the environment.  As they break down, they can release a core of over 300 yards of stretched rubber. This then leaches out as they decompose and is highly toxic to natural marine life.

Golf courses in the US alone use over 2.08 billion gallons of water per day for irrigation. I repeat, 2.08 BILLION gallons of water. California has been in a continuous state of drought for over 5 years, but the golf courses are still green… Broken down, that’s about 130,000 gallons per day per golf course. These numbers are according to official golfing industry statistics. They are not the least bit shy about disclosing them.

Typically, putting greens are irrigated at night or early in the morning. However, during periods of hot weather or low humidity, (and droughts) turf may need additional water throughout the day due to soils quickly drying out. Light watering during the day helps keep the putting greens healthy for a better-played game. And, as any golfer will tell you,  the game is everything. You can bet on it.

Golf courses require watering and fertilization regularly to maintain their optimal “green”. As with other causes of excessive water extraction, this can and does result in not only localized but national water scarcity, due to “buying”  water from other sources. Further, if the water comes from wells, over-pumping causes saline intrusion into the groundwater.

Many golfing resorts are built-in or near protected habitats or areas where natural water resources are limited, amplifying the negative impacts.

Tourism Concern, a UK organisation estimates “an average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1,500kg of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers”. Sub-title that report with; Bye-bye villages and the people who live in them. Oh, but wait! I forgot a very important detail. Those golf courses create jobs.  That of course, is what makes this all ok. The creation of low-wage jobs that bear no responsibility for the immediate and future environmental destruction that created them.

I can hear the flawless rebuttal from the golfing peanuts gallery. These concerns are minor in comparison to the economic boon they bring to not only those 3rd world countries but to the good ole USA.  Where would all those poor people be without those awesome jobs? Not to mention the amazing charity events and billion-dollar clothing industry. Golf oozes with financial gains for the economy. Or, does it? How many dollars do we need to reverse the impact of climate change? Estimates range between $300 billion to $50 trillion, if we suddenly stopped messing it up right now.  Since that won’t happen (thanks again Biden and all other “golfing” politicians) keep adding not only zeros, but lives to the mounting cost.

Water. The source of, yes, life. Bluntly put, without it, there is No life. No even for golfers. Back in 2003, Las Vegas golf courses, (built in the desert, go figure), accounted for 28 of the top 100 water users. They have gambled a lot more green since then. Nevada and Arizona water (as drought-stricken as California) is subsidised by national taxpayers.  We all bear the burden of paying for this game even if we can’t play.  Not only in dollars but in a terrible vision for the future. Do you have kids? I do and it scares the shit out of me thinking about their immediate future or, lack of one.

If Antifa or other anti-fascist coalitions or, for that matter any other rebel seeks a cause beyond merely breaking Gucci windows, can someone pop in their suggestion box a quick review of Green Peace’s history? Back in the day, they were listed as a terrorist organization.  Why? Because they saved whales and fought against dirty policies that destroyed the planet. We are in dire need of eco-warriors, not window breakers. Action vs proposed Congressional Bills.  Old Tree-Huggers need young blood to take over, we tried and bluntly, failed.

Golf courses symbolise the consumerist American culture. Instant and self-gratifying.  A fearful need for homogenized, picketed living. Pave the forests and replace them with standardized communities of water-guzzling lawns and unnatural nature. A Starbucks on every corner of every replicated strip mall. A place where “weeds” are inconvenient, not to be suffered. The land of Round-Up. If it can’t be bought or we don’t like it, we kill it.

From California to Florida, developers are hell-bent on building more tracts of “affordable” housing we cannot afford.  I wonder what the worth of all those portfolio stocks will be when there is no more water for golf courses or, people?

As you head out to “play a round” or, tune in to cheer the next John Rahm, briefly ponder what we might do with 10,000 less golf courses sucking up water and creating new deserts. What if we added a few more protected Parks to our scorecard instead. Nobody ever came back from Torres del Paine or Corcovado National Park lamenting, “it would have been so much better with a golf course..”

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Karin vonKrenner
Karin vonKrennerhttps://kvkrenner.com/
Karin vonKrenner is a journalist and photographer. She has worked globally for over 20 years, in times of peace and conflict. Karin directs her pen and lens to document the contrasting narratives of the human experience. Her work invites you to engage the world from new perspectives.

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