Travel Column: Greener Golf Is Growing—Slowly

June 25, 2004

As golf courses and golf resorts proliferate around the world, their growth provokes environmental questions about land use, habitat destruction, stunning water consumption, and runoff pollution from pesticides and fertilizers.

Is it possible to have greener golf? Conservationist and golfer Mark Wexler reports (updated from the May/June 2000 National Geographic Traveler magazine):

Michael Hurdzan had warned me. "Playing golf at Widow's Walk is like driving a 600-horsepower car on a twisty road," said the acclaimed golf-course architect. "Both reward finesse over power."

Hurdzan had created this Scituate, Massachusetts, public course especially to accommodate Mother Nature. That's why I was here.

I like both golf and nature, so when I travel, I search for courses where fungicide is used sparingly, and where wildlife habitat is protected, not mowed down. But how do you find them, and can you trust the environmental claims they make?

Built partly atop a gravel pit that became a dump, Widow's Walk was a good place to learn about eco-friendly golf. To minimize irrigation and chemical use, for instance, Hurdzan relied on native plants and drought-tolerant turf. To avoid damaging the site's wetlands and other natural features, he designed challenging narrow fairways on many of the holes.

As I approached the first tee, a red fox darted across the green. A pair of flycatchers swooped down into the marsh beside the fairway. To my left, tree swallows glided in and out of a bank of nest boxes, hung on posts by a local birding club.

Distracted, I raised my driver and hit the ball too hard, forgetting Hurdzan's advice.

Whack! The little orb veered to the right, slammed into the trunk of a red maple, and ricocheted into a clump of woods.

I took a penalty shot, pulled a new ball out of my bag, and headed across a narrow fairway pocked with tiny holes that the grounds crew had punched to aerate the turf instead of using chemical fertilizers. Did this course represent an emerging environmental ethic in golf, or was it just an aberration?

No Small Matter

Continued on Next Page >>


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