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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

Ethics of the Environment: Country clubs, golf and the climate crisis

Country clubs have long been criticized for their elitism and exclusivity; in light of our planet’s environmental crisis, I would argue that they are also damningly wasteful, both in terms of resources consumed and environmental impact.

While they are green, golf courses are not environmentally friendly, requiring intense amounts of manicuring at a great ecological cost to surrounding land. They use large amounts of water, depleting our most valuable resource at a time when water is already becoming scarcer by the day. The 30 golf courses around Salt Lake City use around nine million gallons of water daily despite the state’s water crisis. A typical golf course in Thailand is estimated to use as much water as 60,000 villagers, an unconscionable waste just for the relaxation of the elite.

Water overuse is not their only sin: their overuse of pesticides leads to contamination of water supplies, wreaking havoc on environmental systems. Even golf balls themselves are damaging, sometimes leaking toxic chemicals when submerged in water. One California teen retrieved around 50,000 golf balls from the ocean, a result of five nearby golf courses.

In addition, country clubs occupy vast amounts of land; it is estimated that golf courses — which are often housed at country clubs — occupy well over two million acres in the U.S. alone. These spaces could, instead, be used for more productive purposes like nature preserves, low-income housing or public-use green spaces.

Other environmentally polluting activities like agricultural use of fertilizer and pesticides, carbon emissions to fuel the power grid and salting the roads in winter are all damaging to the ecosystem, yet the argument can be made that they benefit the public good in ways that country clubs do not. This is the crux of the immorality of country clubs: they create too much of an environmental impact to be hoarded by a select few. Pollution is something that is felt by all, regardless of whether or not one participated in its emission. It is in the best interest, of both humanity and of the environment, to limit pollution to instances where other factors of public well-being demand the use of damaging strategies rather than flagrantly wasting resources for the entertainment of an elite few.

This raises the question of where the problem lies: country clubs or golf itself? While it is indisputable that golf has a negative impact on the environment, it is also the unfortunate reality that we may not be able to expect a decline in the continuation of this recreational practice. However, the environmental impacts can be more realistically mitigated by reducing the number of courses and forcing those that remain to be open to the public to significantly change how country clubs are run. Golf is too environmentally damaging for its existence to be justified by restricting its benefits to only be enjoyed by the elite. If we are all going to pay the price for golf’s wastefulness (as is the nature of the climate crisis), then we must all be able to enjoy it.