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Golf is a luxury the Earth can not afford

Gerry Bello

If a person believes that the basis of human knowledge, to only slightly paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson, is investigation rather than divine revelation one accepts that global climate change is real. If one is not wealthy enough for their grandchildren to live under a dome or not live at all, one sees it as a problem. If it is a problem that “they” must solve, “they” should make sacrifices. A first thing to sacrifice for them is the leisure activity of golf.

The energy and environmental costs of golf are huge. The number people that actually benefit from the game is small. Simply put, it is a rich man's game that consumes vast amounts of resources and directly causes imense ecological destruction. This expensive leisure activity for the few comes with huge public subsidies and swallows vast amounts of land. America wins at golf. We play the most golf. Re-purposing golf related resources in America alone would have a huge impact locally, nationally and internationally.


Who suffers from the loss of Golf?


Worldwide an estimated 31 million people actually play golf. While that seems like a big number, it is 0.4% of the population. Basically, not even the so-called richest 1%. Not even half of them worldwide. Of those estimated 31 million golfers, 14.4 million are American. A golfer, for the purpose of this article, is defined as somebody who has played once a month in the last year. This is how the golf trade associations define golfer, as opposed to another 7 or so million that got dragged along once in the last year.

This number shows us that a little less than 5% of America can even pretend to like golf. Each of them owns around $2000 worth of Golfing equipment (counting their sweatshop made over-price clothes) and spends an average $600 a year on the “sport” not counting lessons, driving range practice, putting practice, booze, tips (if they even tip their servants) and transportation to and from their exclusive gated and guarded playgrounds. Those playing on private courses spend more.


Who pays?


We all do. America has 15372 according to the latest available numbers. Of these, 71% are “municipal” or “public.” They are on municipally owned land and are maintained at public expense. That public subsidy of sporting facilities for 5% of the population keeps the price within the spending limits of the upper middle class as opposed the pure old fashion country club aristocracy.

Those subsidies pay for grass seeds so there is perfect grass for the wealthy to gently roll their little balls across. That special perfect grass needs to be fertilized, given pesticides, given herbicides, mowed and irrigated. Water must be heated and pumps run. Areas must be lighted for evening and night play.

The cost of all this is placed on public infrastructure. In addition to private golf courses being connected to public utilities, the costs for public golf courses are paid by the tax payers. Since they are owned at the state, county and local level, those costs come from state and local income and sales tax. We all directly pay for the maintenance of facilities where rich men spend hours playing with their tiny white balls.


What are the costs?


It is not practical to compute the use of chemical fertilizers herbicides and pesticides on golf courses, trace their supply chains, and come out with a definitive set of numbers with the resources the Mockingbird has in any realistic time frame. So those costs, although very significant from the perspective of energy consumption and environmental impact, are left out of this section.


Land use


America's 15,372 golf courses take up space. The area devoted to this rich man's sport is 3602 square miles. That is equal to the combined land mass of Connecticut and Rhodes Island combined. Those two states have a combined population 4647184. That is roughly the population of Louisiana and the state of “Golfia” would be the mostly densely populated state. If “Golfia” had the same population density as the U.S. average, it would have a population of 359623 and roughly the population density of Alabama and a little more than half the population of Wyoming. It would have two Senators, a Representative in Congress and three votes in the Electoral College.

Golfia as a country would have a land mass the size of Cyprus and the population of Iceland. These statistics are for “American Golfia” which takes up 45% of the world's green space reserved exclusively for the gentle rolling of rich men's smooth little white balls.


Water use


Keeping golf courses green takes water. It takes more water in drier parts of America like Southern California and Nevada than wetter parts like Washington and the South East. The national average is 312000 gallons of water per day or 113880000 gallons per year or the consumption of 272 people. Those numbers are per golf course not total. Golfia consumes as much water as 4181184 Americans, who lead the world in water consumption. That is as much water as the State of Oregon.

Simply converting every golf course in America to wheat production would reduce the water consumption of Golfia by over 20%. That is equal to the population of Indianapolis IN. or Columbus Ohio. The wheat produced would be enough to feed the entire population of Wisconsin.

Wheat is a very irrigation intensive crop in many climates so the above example is not even an extreme change in the actual water distribution infrastructure. Re-directing water from use on golf courses in deserts to use where rain actual falls would change the drought and water use dynamics of California and several other states.


Energy use


Mowing the lawn is required for home owners by law. Mowing a golf course is needed to keep the rich men's little white balls smoothly rolling. Golfia's vast crops of grass need to be maintained by machinery in other ways. Pumps must move water. The soil has to be aerated and treated with chemicals. Water must be kept warm to flow through various systems. Lights must be powered. All of this takes energy in large amounts.

On a yearly basis each golf course uses as much electricity as 373 average American homes. Together this is equal to the residential power consumption of the state of Michigan. That is 2% of the total residential electrical consumption of the entire country. While environmental groups browbeat the ever beleaguered American consumer into buying the latest and greatest light bulbs to save tiny amounts of money on their bills, they are silent about what we all pay for the privileged few to play golf at night. On average every American household pays roughly $13 per year so that golf can be played at night on municipal and public golf courses alone.

Trimming the perfect grass of the perfect mono cultured golf courses requires fuel. That fuel amounts to 17 million gallons of propane, 77 million gallons of gasoline, and 50.4 million gallons of diesel every year. That is 2.1% of America's non-industrial propane use, 0.54% of Americas gasoline consumption and 3.88% of America's consumption of diesel fuel. Obviously the carbon footprint of this waste on recreation for the wealthy few is enormous.

Keeping things warm takes energy too. The associated buildings, water storage and water distribution systems of America's golf courses need to be heated. This heat is provided by 17.5 Million cubic feet of natural gas and 4.4 million gallons of heating oil every year. While this represents only a tiny fraction of America's overall usage, it is still environmentally significant.


Re-purposing Luxury


If golf were abolished what could be done with the 51st State known as Golfia. Golfia's land area is not contiguous. It is distributed into centers of population and clustered around other points of luxurious distraction for the elites. Thus re-purposing the land for production of goods that could be easily consumed nearby would be the best solution. Heavily Subsidized municipal golf courses and expensive country clubs could become farms.

Turning a golf course into a wheat farm has already been discussed in the water use section of this article. That is appropriate only to certain areas where the climate favors mass wheat cultivation. That said a golf course is the size of three American family farms. For the North Eastern United States (including Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and Indiana) a different set of crops is more appropriate.

In the North East Region, I studied the potential of a combination of dwarf apple trees, pine trees, blueberries and the associated beehives need to pollinate the fruit trees. The results five years after conversion were as follows: Each converted golf course would produce 517 tons of apples, 187 tons of blueberries and 208 gallons of honey annually. Such an operation would provide full time work to 12 people. It would also sequester 149 tons of carbon and have nowhere near the cost in fuel, water or electricity.

After 15 years the first thinning of the pine would happen, producing 420 tons of pulp wood annually. After 30 years a sustainable production schedule would be reached producing an additional 165 tons of pulp wood and 75,000 board feet of lumber (enough for 6 2000 square foot homes) each year. This would require the full time labor of an additional 10 people.

All these goods would be immediately useful within 10 miles of the point of production, vastly reducing the carbon footprint from transportation.

Conversion of the land and maintenance for the first 5 years would employ 5 people per golf course. Thus there would be a short and long term creation of jobs, along with locally produced food, building materials and paper on a sustainable basis as opposed to environmental devastation, energy waste and mostly low paying jobs catering to the whims of a wealthy few ballers.


In the end


Golf is a luxury for a few, and an unnoticed but ever present burden on the many. The abolition of golf and the re-purposing of the resources locally would have tremendous benefit to both local economies and the global environment.