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Climate crisis: Golf courses in borrowed time as Earth’s weather patterns become wilder

Climate crisis: Golf courses in borrowed time as Earth’s weather patterns become wilder

It’s not only to save the planet but also to save the sport, as many courses are being transformed by the climate crisis.

Jason Straka (president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects) told this story CNN SportHow the climate crisis has affected golf in Florida flood-threatened areas, as well as in Ohio and Utah which have been hit hard by drought and warmer-than-usual temperatures.

“Clubs no longer have to close after two inches of rain. Straka also said that sunny day flooding is a possibility.

Authorities in Miami are raising public drains to a minimum 3.4 feet. However, more than half of the courses in the city are below this minimum. This alarms Straka.

He said, “If they don’t go out and literally lift up their footprint in the air they’re going to be in an ever deeper and deeper bathtub.”

“If they think they have issues now, in ten years they’ll be a swamp.”

However, change will lead to increased costs. This is where the critics of golf find their voice: courses are no longer sustainable.

Courses in the eastern US are under threat from changing rainfall patterns. However, deadly wildfires in the west have caused poor air quality and closed courses in recent years.

Rising temperatures in Ohio are less alarming, but not less concerning. They are being infested by Bermuda grass, a warmer-season grass which can be difficult to manage.

Rain, fires, floods, and ice

Similar circumstances are in Australia. Lynwood Country Club, north of Sydney, was inundated in 2020, and again earlier in the year. Parts of the course were 26 feet below the waterline at one time. Nambucca Heads on the New South Wales coast received 42.5 in rainfall in eight days.

Mallacoota Golf Club, located about 350 miles from Sydney in the State of Victoria, almost lost its life in the 2019 and 2020 bushfires. The fairways were a refuge for residents. Further up the NSW coast, Club Catalina broke the firewall that threatened the destruction of the town.

But in a country used to regular wildfires courses adapt by trying to capture rain water for course irrigation or to set fires.

“Golf course architects in Australia have a large number of irrigation storages that are very helpful for fighting fires,” Harley Kruse (SAGCA) president told CNN Sport. Kruse’s comments echo Straka’s on future forecasts.

“Last Year in Sydney, there were a 1-in 100-years flood event. We will see an increase in storm events, such as wind, rain, and cyclone, or a greater number of drought events. Golf courses should be more flexible and understandable.”

Tim Lobb, a fellow Australian, is President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects. To decrease water usage, 15-20% of the area that was previously fine turf will be replaced with a lower-maintenance species of grass.

In cooler regions, coast courses around the British Isles face an uncertain future — none more than Montrose, the fifth oldest layout in the world, just a few minutes up the coast from Carnoustie. There, the sea has intruded by almost 230ft (70m) in some places over the past 30 years, according to research released 2016.

The sea level is expected to rise by 1 meter over the next 50 years. This could make St. Andrews, Scotland, the home of golf, a swamp-like environment as soon as 2050.

Over in IcelandCNN spoke with Edwin Roald, an Icelandic architect and founder Eureka Golf, about how increasing frequency of water freezing/thawing cycles in colder Northern Hemisphere environments is a danger to courses.

“We have a lot to do with frozen water […]Flash flooding is a frequent occurrence throughout winter. It’s allowing this to happen without the land being eroded by the water.

Winter kill, which results in turf’s death from suffocation under ice, is becoming a greater danger and more common. Courses that open in spring with dead turf face financial loss.

Solar panels and robotic lawnmowers

The GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, a North Berwick-based environmentalist, showed a virtual audience how the game of golf is becoming a champion among sporting bodies for a greener planet at the COP26 summit.

Woburn, the host course of the 2019 Women’s British Open, built its own reservoir in 2013 and used rainwater to water its turf. More recently, it drilled a borehole underground to tap water. The course’s management company says that the new infrastructure will allow Woburn to be completely self-sufficient. It won’t use water that could otherwise be used for drinking or in homes.

The club cut all electricity usage, which resulted in carbon-dioxide emissions of nearly 25 tons at Remuera Golf Club.

Hirsala Golf, Finland, aims to have 40 robotic mowers that can be sourced electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This will cut down on the use of 1,000 liters per year of diesel fuel. In Switzerland, solar panels at Golf de Payerne have saved 1,080 tons CO2.

Iceland is currently measuring the carbon status for all 65 of its golf courses using the Carbon Par project. This is the first time that a golfing nation has produced such an account.

A general view of Woburn Golf Club on September 19, 2019.

“The method used to calculate this estimate is hopefully useful for others.” Roald stated that improving starts with knowing where you are at this point.

“Golf course sequestering significant amounts of carbon is something that I don’t think many people associate with golf. Golf is a large land-user and will continue to use wetlands in some areas. The emissions from drained wetlands are very high.

Peatlands, deserts, forests, and tundra all can absorb and store CO2. Data from the World Resources Institute show that grasslands hold around 34% of the carbon found in land-based ecosystems. This is not less than the 39% that’s found in forests. The management of a golf course and its destruction of more valuable land will determine if it can absorb enough carbon-dioxide.

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File photo take during B.C.'s deadly heat dome in June, 2021. Scientists warn climate change will cause more intense heat waves, forest fires, and floods.

Roald said: “It’s only the beginning that the golf industry will ask questions about what we can accomplish with those wetlands — it’s where we can make the biggest impact.”

Rory McIlroy is one of the most prominent golfers who has traveled great distances by plane because of climate change.

The Florida-based Northern Irishman said that he would not self-proclaim to be an eco-warrior but that he is someone who doesn’t want the environment to suffer.

“I live where hurricanes are very frequent and becoming more common as the years pass. I believe we can all do our part in one way or another.

“We play on large pieces of land that take up a lot water and a lot more things that could possibly be used to better.”

“The way that golf should be played”

Kruse referenced comments made in 2019 by Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, at the Presidents Cup, ahead of a trip in Australia to the world-famous Royal Melbourne.

Kruse and Kruse cut to the chase and spoke highly about the course’s natural setup. In essence, it was much like previous Open Championships. The course was dry and large areas of rough and fairways were without water. Kruse said that Mother Nature has given them the elements to play the game.

Golf courses that are well-maintained and maintained can often produce better scores and more appealing TV images. However, Els and Woods praised another approach that will be the norm as courses strive to adopt sustainable practices.

Woods and Els both spoke up the benefits of playing on a course that is dry, such as in Australia.

A general view of the Royal Melbourne Golf Course ahead of the 2019 Presidents Cup.

Kruse said that he could not believe his eyes when Kruse viewed a team of maintenance workers using petrol-driven leafblowers to dry the rough earlier this year. This is because American courses use more sprinkler heads per hole and water more area than courses in Australia or other countries.

Kruse said, “Taking California’s drought a few years back, I would hope that the haven’t gone to their old methods and they’re having an honest rethink.”

“You don’t need to run 2,000 irrigation heads from fence to fence to keep the course alive. You can let the things dry out.”

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