Golf Courses and the Environment

February 18, 2011 | Golf

Five U.S. Golf Resorts File for Chapter 11

Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa in Maui, Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami, Claremont Resort & Spa in California, La Quinta Resort & Club also in California and the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix have all filed for chapter 11.


January 01, 2010 | whereabouts

Golf Courses in Decline, according to Jacksonville Newspaper

An interesting article on declining golf courses from the Florida Times-Union.

"Orender said he remembers a time in the late 1970s and early '80s that it seemed like every new course was successful. There was enough of an untapped market that each new course increased the number of rounds being played in a community.

By the late 1990s, that ended. The number of rounds played across the country flattened, then dropped.

Yet new courses kept coming, particularly as centerpieces of housing developments. And the number of rounds kept dropping."

Read more about golf courses failing.

March 5, 2011 | Golf and the Environment

Article on Negative Environmental Impact of Golf Courses

I found this PDF on the impacts of golf courses. It is a good read.

Quote: It is now known that golf course construction often consists of some or all of the following practices that can be extremely deleterious to the surrounding environment: clearing of natural vegetation, deforestation, destruction of natural landscapes and habitats and changes in local topography and hydrology. The clearing of trees and vegetation leads to gullying and erosion, which in turn increases sediment loads in runoff to nearby bodies of water. It has been said that erosion during course construction can damage the flora and fauna of lakes and streams as much as other building projects. Deforestation also renders land more prone to the effects of erosion. Additionally, it results in an increased flux of dissolved ions and nutrients,which can lead to downstream nutrient enrichment and unwanted algal blooms. Alterations to local topography and hydrology will change the quantity and chemistry of runoff to streams, rivers and lakes.

January 01, 2010 | Golf and the Environment

Larry Olmstead, Lions, Bears, Tigers and a Poorly Thought Out Ode to Golf

Golf a Sport?

From the Facebook Page, Golf is Not a Sport

A month ago, Jane was reading a copy of Outside Magazine, and burst into laughter. When I asked her what was so funny, she told me she had just read this great letter to the editor, which, she explained, was a rebuke of an article some guy had written defending golf as a sport. I scratched my head and thought to myself - wait, why would anyone be defending golf as a sport?

When I read the letter, I laughed too. It was very funny. And, the editors of Outside included a note that the letter was the longest anti-golf-is-a-sport letter they had ever read, and so they had to edit it down to its best parts.

Now, naturally, I was curious to read the full unabridged letter, and so I contacted David Tierney to plead for the full letter. He gave me permission to publish it in full. I included it at the end of these notes.

Secondly, I wanted to know who this Larry guy was who wrote this article in Outside Magazine. As all of you know, I am a fan of golf - particularly mini-golf and the historical pre-cursor to golf, which was played without a course over fields and mountains and which required great stamina. So, while The Guana Cay blog is a blog about golf courses and megadevelopments that threaten sensitive ecosystems, I believe that good people play golf and that it is a nice hobby. So, all in good fun and humor, I thought I'd share this strange debate with you, mostly because this reiteates the position of the Guana Cay Blog that golf journalists are lazy.

Thirdly, I want to add a few of my own notes on Larry Olmstead's article.

Larry Wants to Fight

Larry Olmstead, who wrote "An Ode to Golf" for Outside Magazine, responded to David Tierney's letter to the editor in his blog: "Of course there was one a**hole who missed my point entirely and made me out to be a hater of all things, including the environment, poor people and common sense, but you will have to read it yourself and decide."

Larry Olmstead

Larry Olstead's blog features this in the header of each page of his blog.

I was taken aback by this unsportsmanlike response to a letter to the editor that had some very valid points. Letters to the editor are a vital part of magazine journalism; they allow the reader a final say; a traditional check and balance on a magazine. Some readers judge magazines for their willingness to publish unflattering letters to the editor, many consider them a vital part of the discussion created by the magazine's content.

For an author to use such a foul language towards a writer of a published letter to the editor responding to his own article in a professional magazine is absurdly unprofessional. For Olmstead to proudly announce that his blog is part of a network of '....Actual Journalists' but then lash out at a single critical review of his article actually validates a point that Tierney made in his letter - "(Olmstead's article) accurately represented the sport he defended and the clueless arrogance of many of its participants..."

While writing the Guana Cay blog, I have found repeatedly, over and over that golf journalists live by a lower standard than the rest of journalists - tied so tightly to an industry, they are taught to play caddy to developers and golfers and gadget-makers, but rarely willing to check facts or proofread, and Larry Olmstead, as you can see by the frequent misspellings and grammar errors in his blog, represents this low-quality facet of golf-writing to the tee.

Now, even if golf were a sport, it would not be the kind of sport that Outside Magazine would ever cover seriously. Outside Magazine chose Larry's article precisely because of the irony. It is like the science teacher who holds up a candle and says, is this object alive? And then provides sufficient evidence to prove it is. Outside Magazine doesn't cover chess, or basketball, or poker or football or croquet or tae kwon do, although that doesn't make any of those sports and pastimes any less. Its just a different magazine. They cover a particular brand of outdoor sports, lifestyles and news, and their audience, which is fairly sophisticated, actually get the irony. There is no debate - Outside Magazine readers would never accept golf articles in their magazine.

So what is a sport? To find out the answer, first imagine that you are in the African Savanna, and you are watching lion cubs playfully, but skillfully fighting each other - using stamina, technique, endurance and guts in games that will later help them hunt, hide and survive.

You can watch monkeys or dogs or bears do the same. And I can watch my little boy play these same games at school. It is something all of us mammals do. We are pre-wired to like play that will prepare us for the reality of the natural world.

Sport is the human approximation of this wild act. It is us taking one of our most beloved traits and civilizing it, with rules and goals, teams and champions. Chess-players sometimes like to assert that their game is sport. Chess is one of the most beautiful games ever invented, but it is not a sport, and it shouldn't have to be.

For this blog, as a traveler, a travel photographer, an amateur naturalist and birdwatcher, I have, from time to time, fallen into situations that looked much more like sport than any day on the golf course - I had to think quickly, hike a grueling hike, sweat, throw up, draw blood, even feel like I was about to die. The reality, however, is that most of the time what I am doing is safe and mundane, and rarely is it ever technical or competitive. I would never, ever embellish landscape photography or birdwatching into a sport, because they are not sports, they are, like golf, pastimes, and pleasurable at that. There is nothing wrong with that.

But an important component of sport, too, is sportsmanship, and this is one of the most vital aspects of any sport. It is the civility of sport; the part of sport that makes it more than just play - it is what separates man's sport from the savanna and the playground. It is the morality of a game, the respect for competitor and teammate and rules. One of the reasons people reject golf as a sport is that so much of its publicized half - the bigoted golf clubs who through exclusion cast judgment on race and sex, the gated community mentalities, the mean-spiritedness, the unethical golf developers - are still the public face of the game. A sport requires the public face of sportsmanship, and at this, in a year where one of the biggest international stories is the sad story of Tiger Woods' adultery, golf has a long way to go.

Golf a Sport?

From the Facebook Page, Golf is Not a Sport

Olmsted's article is a series of fallacious arguments. For example, he says that golf may be the ' the most technically demanding game in the world', but golf in no way compares to the technical requirements of gymnastics, mixed martial arts or technical rock climbing. Golf is a single swing, but imagine the complexity of a football play or an ice climber's quiver.

Larry writes, "Golf is surprisingly athletic, too. A round of 18 on most courses requires a five-mile hike." A hike and a walk in the park are two very different things. But even hiking is not a sport, it is an outdoor activity, that, if in rugged terrain, is great exercise.

Larry then talks about golf's impact on the environment. He says, " But, to be fair, many ski resorts have an even bigger impact on an ecosystem—it's just that ski marketers understand the importance of messaging and the palliative effects of a wind turbine or two." This is a disingenuous statement. While ski resorts have their share of environment impacts and issues, golf courses are literally a player in some of the most irresponsible losses of biological diversity in some of the most vital biological ecoregions in the world. Golf courses have contributed to the decline of the ecosystems of entire countries, particularly small island nations. In terms of worldwide scope, scale and damage, Olmsted's comparison is simply irresponsible. Olmsted should act responsibly as a journalist and educate himself about golf's real worldwide impact. That would set him apart from other golf journalists.

Olmsted says, "People play for the fun, for the challenge, and—most of all—because it gets them outside. What's so wrong with that?" Absolutely nothing, Larry. But that doesn't make it a sport, and the arrogance in the way you write, both at Outside Magazine and on your blog, callously calling those you disagree with 'stupid' and even 'assholes,' further shows that golf needs the public face of sportsmanship more than it needs to be called a sport.

Enjoy David Tierney's full article.

David Tierney's Letter to the Editor

To the editors of Outside Magazine,
Outside MagazineLarry Olmsted's article "Chip Shots" was offensive and, simultaneously, accurately represented the sport he defended and the clueless arrogance of many of its participants.  I truly hope that either a) there are so many letters/emails saying the same thing that you don't have time to read mine, or b) I misread and completely missed Mr. Olmsted's facetiousness.
"Golf is not a Real Sport"
That professional basketball or hockey players don't succeed in golf does not make golf a de facto technically or otherwise demanding -- or even a legitimate -- sport.  Wayne Gretzky might not be successful if he were to attempt professional soccer, and we know what happened when Jordan tried baseball.  Failing at something that is not within your primary area of expertise is hardly a failure, nor does it elevate the difficulty of that activity in which you failed.  And as far as technicality goes, I don't think that's truly at issue.  Knitting is technical, but even the most ardent practitioners aren't pushing the IOC for a future spot.  And speaking of the, they added golf.  Big whoop.  The olympics also has table tennis, rythmic gymnastics, and it used to have tug-of-war.  And they recently dumped baseball.  The olympics is hardly the most consistent measure of a sport's qualifications as a sport.  But who cares:  I hate golf and even I think it's a real sport.  This is not the point.
"Right, the environment"
I don't know what the environmental effect of a ski resort is on an ecosystem, but I don't see how comparing ski resorts to golf courses defends the environmental practices of golf.  You could say that golf is more environmentally friendly than, say, fishing with dynamite, but I don't think anyone would be deluded into believing that ergo golf is good for coral reefs.  Similarly, "But, it's not a mall!!" is not a sufficient defense.  I, too, am not a mall, but am completely capable of shitting on the planet.    It's what you do, not what the other guy does; it's not a competition to see who is marginally less destructive.  This, however, is also not the point.
Before I move on, however, I must mention the Town Car/$10,000 bicycle comment the author made.  A $10,000 bicycle is most certainly an ostentation (and one that I would neither compliment nor defend, unless the rider's Sponsor paid for it), however it does have a primary purpose other than ostentation, unlike a luxury car.  And ostentation is most certainly why a Town Car should be mocked.  The "comfort and luxury" provided by that car (or, alternately, the "performance" provided by a beemer) is -- at best -- thinly (very thinly) veiled bragging.  A $10,000 bike is bragging, too, but it is not a gas-guzzling behemoth which, in overall cost, cubic space occupied, and waste produced, proclaims to the world that the owner has money and doesn't give a fuck about anybody else.
Which brings us to the real point. 
"Golf's biggest public-relations challenge: golfers."
One single round of 18 holes at San Diego's "public" golf course in Balboa Park costs $32.  The least expensive used golf clubs on San Diego's Craig's List today sell for over fifty bucks.  Golf is -- even assuming that you avoid purchasing either spiky shoes or goofy pants-- an expensive sport.  To set up and maintain those vast expanses of alien-species, water-wasting, fertilizer-needing prime real estate, it takes money.  Fortunately golf is not played by the down-trodden.  Despite the author's ludicrous claim that golf requires "only a ball, a club, and a few small holes in the ground," you do not usually find inner-city kids enjoying a round after school at the community park.  Nor would a Saturday morning on the links be very common in Soweto, Gaza, or any number of economically depressed areas in the world.  Golf is a game of money, the old saw about business getting done on the golf course aside.  The average American golfer's income is more than 60% higher than the average American's income.  Over 40% of golfers are managers, professionals, or executives.  Arrogant, paunchy, cigar-smoking snobs?  Perhaps.  But that is hardly necessary for the sport to be obviously income-dependent.
Sport is great.  Fun is great.  Being outside is great.  Walking is great.  But don't defend golf on those terms.  There are tons of ways you can accomplish these things away from a bulwark of chainlink fence proclaiming to the world that the worth of those within is greater than those without.
That is what's wrong with that.

July 7, 2009 | whereabouts

Day 1 Privy Council: Notes on Golf Courses and Marinas

Today is the first day of court in the Privy Council for the residents of Great Guana Cay versus Discovery Land Company and the Bahamian government. I thought this would be a good time to review some of the primary concerns about the golf course and the marina. First, however, I just received this photograph which shows the construction of lots on the Sea of Abaco side of the island. Note that palms are being used between the tiny lots. The sheer amount of denuded land is incredible: silting and sedimentation are ground one for reef destruction, and the photos coming in are revealing an entire island side that has been stripped of vegetation.

Tiny lots

Bakers Bay Club Golf Course

The main environmental concerns for the golf course are stressors to coral reefs and other elements of the marine environment adjacent to the project from (1) sedimentation from construction activities during the major reworking of the landscape required to construct the golf course, and (2) runoff of pollutants into the groundwater or the adjacent sea water areas on either side of the golf course during the initial seeding of the golf course and the subsequent maintenance of the golf course if it is completed.  These pollutants include fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and nutrients from waste water treated to “irrigation” standards. The Bakers Bay Club development highlights its championship quality “Tom Fazio” brand name golf course, so one would presume that a high priority would be placed on keeping the grass on that course very green and free from weeds.

Page 90 0f the EIA acknowledges these concerns as follows:

“The location of golf courses near the coastline causes concern about nonpoint source (NPS) pollution effects on the water quality of surrounding marine and wetland environments. Of particular interest is the impact of herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers on groundwater quality. Golf courses are intensive production systems, and the frequent mowing and application of fertilizers or pesticides requires careful management to avoid damage to the surrounding environment. Nitrogen, phosphorus and many pesticides are potential pollutants of groundwater, and monitoring of their movement from turf grass areas to receiving waters is needed.”

Golf Course Area

The developer’s Frequently Asked Questions document states the following regarding the golf course concerns:

“The course will be grassed with Seashore Paspalum, a grass variety requiring little or no fertilizer and more tolerant to brackish and re-use water. The design intent is to limit the amount of irrigated turfgrass in favor of non-irrigated native plants. Further, the golf course grading plans are designed to slope into the island’s interior into lined man-made wetlands, which act as a natural water filtration system. The drainage water is then re-circulated into the irrigation system, as opposed to running off into the ocean. A secondary safeguard is an area of native vegetation between the golf course and the ocean.”

The developer has stressed the planned use of paspalum grass to minimize the need for fertilizers.Our friends at the Winding Bay golf course on mainland Abaco also reports that the salinity of the water used on that golf course minimizes or eliminates the need for herbicides. Although the developer speaks of minimal amounts of fertilizers, and pesticides, no scientist or conservationist has been able to obtain estimates from the developer of the actual amounts planned for use even during the construction phase of the project.

Nutrients, especially nitrogen, reaching coral reefs have the potential to increase the growth of algae, which in turn can smother live coral.  The fertilizers used on golf courses contain nitrogen and phosphorous, among other chemicals.  Waste water treated to “irrigation” standards also contains nitrogen. So, while it may be true that “minimal” amounts of chemical fertilizers might be applied, the waste water used for irrigation is another form of fertilizer.

The developer states that Seashore Paspalum requires “little or no fertilizer.” The EIA does not contain any quantitative statement as to the amount of fertilizer they plan to use. We have been unable so far to obtain such estimates from other sources. According to an article published by the University of Florida, however, Seashore Paspalum is described as having “minimal fertility requirements,” and “excellent tolerance to saline or recycled water,” as well as “good insect and disease resistance.”  So, we would agree that this appears to be a good choice of grass for the golf course. We are left with the question, however, as to what “minimal” amounts of fertilizers really means, and how much of a threat they pose to the marine environment, coral reefs especially, given the close proximity of the golf course to the reefs.


The use of waste water for irrigating the golf course is a key element of the developer’s proposal.  The waste water would be treated to “irrigation” standards, which the chart on Page 65 of the EIA describes as “nutrient rich water for irrigation.”  Although in many places the EIA mentions the need for detailed water quality monitoring, no parameters are provided regarding the expected water quality, nitrogen content in particular, of the waste water effluent to be applied to the golf course.


The following statement EIA on Page 137 acknowledges that pesticides can impact coral reefs:

“Therefore, coral colonies may be particularly susceptible to pesticides (Rawlins BG et al. 1998) and heavy metals (Morgan MB et al. 2001). Chemical pollutants may have negative impacts at the population level since coral reproduction and recruitment are chemically mediated processes sensitive to coastal pollution and changes in water quality (Richmond RH 1993).”

The EIA mentions the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on Page 99, along with recommendations for their use and encouragement of minimal usage. As noted previously, the statements are recommendations of actions that should be taken, but there are no listings of the expected types and quantities of the chemicals that will be applied. 

“5. Advanced technology/monitoring equipment should be used to insure minimal application of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

6. Use of the slow-release, less soluble, and least mobile chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides available is encouraged. These products should be used at the smallest rates of active ingredient to accomplish the desired result.”

The golf course will be primarily irrigated with water from a reverse osmosis desalinization plant.  The EIA on page 65 indicates that effluent from the plant would be at 10 parts per thousand saline content. This may act to reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides, as has been the experience cited for Winding Bay, but the EIA provides no quantitative basis for that assumption.

In his study Dr. Risk noted that:

“It is, however, impossible to grow grass without water, and impossible to grow golf course grass without fertilizer. No matter how well the use of these two is monitored, some will inevitably escape to the sea. The use of organic fertilizers will delay but not halt the nutrient release.”

He reached the overall conclusion that:

“Because of the extraordinarily high porosity and permeability of the carbonate sands on the island, any runoff from the golf course will be transmitted rapidly down the length of the island. At the site of the proposed golf course, there are excellent reefs a few 10's of metres from the shore-this is a situation not found in many areas.  Nutrient effects on reefs have been traced for more than 15 km. Runoff from the golf course will likely be a death sentence to the adjacent reefs, and a threat to reefs the length of the Cay”.


Dredging would take place during the construction of the marina, posing hazards to the coral reefs and bonefish flats due to siltation.  If the marina is constructed, the “second channel” will also require periodic dredging, with attendant risks to the reefs


Whether or not the Bakers Bay Club marina would ever be occupied at the ambitious levels of the current plan, there will be numerous threats to the marine environment from any yachts berthed in the marina, from the occupants of the vessels, and from the operations of the marina.  Pollutants from the vessels include toxic chemicals used as anti-fouling paint, as well as the more obvious sources of pollutants from fuels, lubricants, materials washed from the decks, and various items of trash.

Here are some observations regarding the Environmental Management Plan as described in the EIA.

  • There is no public monitoring phase of the EMP being implemented as described in the EIA.  The Great Guana Cay Foundation website supposedly established to provide “transparent” reporting, but there is no pre-construction data relating to coral reefs, fish, and related marine species. 

Regarding the REA for the marine environment, including the coral reefs, Dr. Risk commented:

  • “The EIA is strangely lacking in detail on the marine environment. There are species lists of the fish seen during surveys conducted using the Roving Diver Technique, RDT (, and a species list of corals. I was provided with no information as to sites, site selection, methods for coral ID.” 
  • “There are plans in the EIA for progressive monitoring of groundwater (this section of the EIA is quite good), and the innovative use of on-site web-cams. There seems to be no process-response model, no system of checks and balances via which construction may be halted should part of the system break down. In fact, there is a statement in the EIA to the effect that the worst environmental damage would be done if this project were not completed. This seems like a veiled threat, and carries the implication that, once begun, the process cannot be stopped. Given this situation, it is absolutely essential that research-grade baseline monitoring of the reef resources be undertaken, before the project commences.”

No research-grade baseline assessment or monitoring of the reef resources has been performed under the auspices of the EMP as of now. 

The International Year of the Reef website summarizes marinas and reefs this way; "Sensitive habitats can be destroyed or disturbed by dredging activities to make deep-water channels or marinas, and through the dumping of waste materials. Where land development alters the natural flow of water, greater amounts of fresh water, nutrients and sediment can reach the reefs causing further degradation. Within the last 20 years, once prolific mangrove forests, which absorb massive amounts of nutrients and sediment from runoff caused by farming and construction, have been destroyed. Nutrient-rich water causes fleshy algae and phytoplankton to thrive in coastal areas in suffocating amounts known as algal blooms. Coral reefs are biological assemblages adapted to waters with low nutrient content, and the addition of nutrients favours species that disrupt the balance of the reef communities."

March 15, 2009 | Golf

Travel & Leisure Golf Folds

Travel + Leisure Golf

Travel + Leisure Golf just announced it will be folding. This news comes amid a series of critically bad news for golf destination developments around the world.

Travel + Leisure Golf Folds

February 21, 2008 | Golf

Americans Giving Up Golf

This is from the New York Times today:

Abaco Grouper

Former mangroves, future marina and golf course. Photo courtesy SGCR.

"The total number of people who play has declined or remained flat each year since 2000, dropping to about 26 million from 30 million, according to the National Golf Foundation and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

More troubling to golf boosters, the number of people who play 25 times a year or more fell to 4.6 million in 2005 from 6.9 million in 2000, a loss of about a third.

The industry now counts its core players as those who golf eight or more times a year. That number, too, has fallen, but more slowly: to 15 million in 2006 from 17.7 million in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation."

I wonder how this affects golf resort developments that rely on a good U.S. economy and an expanding interest in golf?


January 23, 2008 | Golf and the Environment

National Geographic on Desert Golf

Desert Golf

The February issue of National Geographic has an amazing article on water management in the Western United States. The article includes a photograph of a golf course peculiarly placed in the Mojave Desert. The caption reads, "Golf courses in nearby Southern Nevada still use 8 percent of the region's water."

Discovery Land Company, which owns Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club in Great Guana Cay, created five desert golf resorts. All encapsulate that cookie-cutter Taco Bell mega-mansion look popular in Arizona.