Are Golf Courses Negatively Impacting the Environment?

Summer is just around the corner, and for many people that means the beginning of a new season hitting the links! I must admit that like many others, I can’t wait to get out on the golf course and play a round or two. That being said, after last season and entering the MEnv program, I began considering the potential environmental hazards associated with the construction and maintenance of golf courses. Are these beautiful emerald green courses really as green as they appear?

Many areas in North America are becoming more and more fragmented with new golf courses every year. In 2009, Florida alone had 1144 golf courses throughout the state, spanning a total area of just over 860 square kilometers [1]. Many of these courses are located in areas on shore lines or in sensitive ecological areas such as the Florida Everglades, as shown by this map of all the courses in 2009.

Not only are many of these courses situated in sensitive areas, but many of them use fertilizers and pesticides which are not only potentially harmful to ecosystems, but are also potential carcinogens for humans [2]. A 2006 study showed that U.S. golf courses used on average 112% of nitrogen and 187% of potash per acre used to fertilize corn crops [3]. In plain English this means more fertilizer was used per acre on U.S. golf courses than to grow corn. The result of this over use of fertilizers is the potential for eutrophication, adding an unintentional greenness to water bodies around golf courses, as is evident in the following image.

Furthermore, there is significant concern over the sustainability of the approximate use of 300,000 gallons a day of water for maintenance of U.S. golf courses, especially in areas of California which have sunken by more than a foot in 9 years due to aquifer demand [4]. While these concerns are well documented, there is a lack of regulation associated with golf courses. In Canada, many pesticides are banned for cosmetic use on properties, but golf courses have been exempt from the regulations [5]. It seems about time that governments do a better job to recognize the environmental concerns related to golf courses, and consider thresholds for required EIA of golf courses. British Columbia does currently have “golf resorts” built into its EIA legislation, stating that the resort must occupy an area greater than 200 hectares and possess more than 600 commercial bed units [6]. Considering an average 18 hole golf course requires 120-200 acres, the equivalent of about 50 to 80 hectares, not many new courses will require environmental impact assessments [7].

However, many golf course owners have realized the need to promote good environmental management of their courses. Alan Morton, owner of Golf Griffon Des Sources in Mirabel, Quebec, has implemented woodland corridors throughout his course to reduce habitat fragmentation as well as the use of liquid compost treatment to reduce the need for pesticides [5]. Even the great Nick Faldo, who now designs golf courses after a successful PGA career, promotes the notion that “as the world’s natural landscapes become more endangered, our most fundamental job as course designers is to create beautiful playing venues that also preserve and protect the environment” [8]. Golf courses may have the potential to cause environmental degradation, but the golf community also has an opportunity to be a leader in terms of sustainable development. As more courses are inevitably created, they should be designed in an environmentally friendly manner, so that we can keep enjoying the sport for years to come.


[1] Florida Geographic Data Library. (2009). Florida Golf Courses in 2009. Retrieved March 25th 2015, from

[2] Knopper, L., & Lean, D. (2004). Carcinogenic And Genotoxic Potential Of Turf Pesticides Commonly Used On Golf Courses. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 7(4), 267-279.

[3] Environmental Institute for Golf (2006). Golf Course Environmental Profile. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[4] Barton, J. (2008). How Green if Golf? Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[5] Oosthoek, S., (2011). How Golf Courses Are Getting Greener. Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[6] British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act Reviewable Projects Regulation(2012) Retrieved March 26th 2015, from

[7] American Society of Golf Architects. (n.d.) FAQ: How much land do I need to build a golf course? Retrieved March 27th 2015, from

[8] Nick Faldo Design. (n.d.). Sustainability. Retrieved March 27th 2015, from