Followers of this blog know I’ve been working on a book project where my productivity has been on-and-off, depending on the demands of my day job. I’ve posted a few excerpts here in the past, all of which were pulled from the initial chapter, which sets the theme for the entire book.
It’s my assertion that golf is a wonderful game with numerous benefits, but the traditional version with clubs and balls is fraught with significant barriers (such as the cost and time required, which have been covered here in previous excerpts).
The goal of the book is to broadly publicize the sport of disc golf to the masses, and in such a way that its true properties rather than the tired stereotypes or over-simplifications are understood. I share the conviction with many others that once this happens, participation in disc golf as a recreational activity will explode. Interest in professional disc golf as a form of spectator entertainment may follow but, frankly, that is not where my passion lies.
This excerpt is a discussion about the contrast between what many consider to be the unacceptable environmental impact of ball golf course development and maintenance and the relatively invisible footprint of disc golf courses, which are nearly always adapted to existing natural surroundings or already developed suburban parks.
For a specific example, consider the resources consumed in placing a ball golf course (many believe the just water required to keep the grass green is an unconscionable waste) in the middle of a desert wasteland. A disc golf course on the same piece of land, on the other hand, would involve nothing except strategically placed targets and tees. Virtually no manipulation of the landscape whatsoever.
I hope you enjoy the read, follow the links and share your thoughts with us.
The Environmental Impact of Golf
Traditional golf attracts criticism from environmentalists for two primary reasons — water and pesticides.
Prodigious amounts of both are used each week by U.S. golf courses to keep fairways and greens lush, green, and free of weeds. The more radical line of thinking is the environmental impact on such large areas for the benefit — and recreational benefit at that — of so few is unconscionable. Even a good percentage of golf enthusiasts polled about the subject of golf and the environment tend to agree that course owners and greenskeepers need to modify maintenance practices.
As part of a comprehensive report about golf and the environment, written in 2008 by John Barton, Golf Digest magazine conducted a survey with the purpose of determining the opinions of golfers as compared to the general population.
When asked if pesticides used on a golf course creates a potential health hazard for humans, 40 percent of the golfer group responded yes (compared to 66 percent of the general population group). That says two things — two-thirds of the general population think the pesticides used on traditional golf courses are likely hazardous and even nearly half of all golfers are willing to admit it. Yet their reasons for wanting to play the game are so compelling that they don’t seem to care. They’ll take their chances!
When asked “should the amount of water used on golf courses only be enough to keep the grass alive, not make it green and lush?” 44 percent of golfers said yes. Pay attention on this one, not only to the reply (most golfers still want their course green and lush, whatever it takes), but to the specific wording of the question. “… enough to keep the grass alive... ” How much is that, exactly? And why is keeping the grass alive important if isn’t going to be aesthetically pleasing?
The answer to the first question is hard to nail down, although the difference between alive and lush and green is subjective and therefore likely to end up not being too great. But the answer to the second question is more illuminating, and goes directly to why golf will always be a concern — and therefore a barrier — to certain environmentalists.
Nice, consistent, thick, mowed (emissions from maintenance equipment are another concern of environmentalist) grass is essential to the game of golf because players hit the ball from wherever it lands. They expect to be rewarded for keeping the ball in the fairway by getting a clean shot at the ball as it lies atop the perfect grass.
And greens, where players putt, are supposed to be kept so short and uniform that the ball will roll straight and smoothly with a slight tap of the club. To get a better idea of how important this heavy manipulation of the land is to traditional golf, think of your favorite natural, open-space park. Now imagine people trying to play golf there, hitting balls from the dirt, brush, tall native grasses or bushes and clustered trees. Not to mention finding the ball after each shot.
In the Golf Digest story mentioned above, five people with different perspectives on golf and the environment were interviewed. One of them was a noted environmentalist who is also an avid golfer. According to Barton, Brent Blackwelder — who, at the time of the interview, was the president of Friends of the Earth, and, is now president emeritus — is one of America’s most prominent environmental advocates and has testified before Congress more than 100 times.
Blackwelder was asked a number of questions, but his answer to the final one was the most illuminating in the context of this book. After touching on specific issues like pesticides, energy use, and genetically engineered grasses, Barton asked “what would golf be like in a perfect world?” Blackwelder’s reply:
“You’d be playing on an organic course. The maintenance equipment would be charged by solar power. Recycled water would be used for irrigation, and used efficiently and sparingly. There’d be a great variety of wildlife habitats. This idea that you’ve got to make everything look like a miniature golf course with a green carpet is crazy. It’s the same problem that we see with these lawn fetishes — all the water and chemicals and energy that are used for a lawn that just sits there. So let’s get back to the rugged qualities of the game. People ought to read the history of golf.
“We’ve not been very good stewards of the earth as a species. We should be a blessing to the rest of life, not such a curse. The whole idea of living with and appreciating and understanding our surroundings is something we need more of. We have this incredible nature-deficit disorder worldwide. We’re sitting all day in front of a computer in an office and not getting out for a walk in the woods. Golf is a great opportunity to be outdoors. It should be a fun, interesting, great walk out there; a healthful, salubrious experience.”
The Utopian golf experience Blackwelder describes as “golf in a perfect world” is already a reality, and it’s even better from an environmentalist’s perspective than he imagines. It may not be the golf he grew up playing, with clubs and balls on 150 acres of heavily manipulated land. But it can be played on virtually every type of terrain with hardly any alteration required, and zero watering or pesticides.
As this books aims to clearly demonstrate, players get the full golf experience — the mental challenge, the constant risk vs. reward equation to solve — while in a completely natural, native, organic environment.
They may not realize it, yet, but for those like Blackwelder who see great value in the game of golf but also feel a strong obligation to minimize human impact on the planet, disc golf is the Utopian golf experience. It requires one third the land of a ball golf course, and rather than being carved out of a local natural habitat, a disc golf course can completely conform to it.
To wrap up, I’ll reiterate my invitation for readers to add comments below, about on any of the excerpts posted to date as well as suggestions for using the very active disc golf community to help promote the book once it’s published.
The goal is to get the book promoted to and read by the large majority of the overall population who don’t yet know the full story of disc golf, and we can use all the help we can get.
Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.