Golf in the Era of Mega-Drought

June 18, 2021

Below – the contradiction between climate change, heat waves, and golf courses in the southwest.

Above, George Carlin addresses his beef with golf, starting at 2:34 if you’re in a hurry.

AZCentral.com:

Managers of some Arizona golf courses are fighting a plan that would cut water use at a time when the state is being forced to confront shrinking water supplies.

A group representing golf courses has been pushing back against a proposal by state officials that would reduce overall water use on courses, instead offering a plan that would entail less conservation. 

Opposition to the state’s proposal for golf courses has emerged over the past several months, aired in sometimes-tense virtual meetings where representatives of courses have said they understand the need to conserve but are concerned the proposed reductions in water allotments would damage their businesses.

The latest proposal by the Arizona Department of Water Resources would require Phoenix-area golf courses that use groundwater to reduce their total combined water use by 3.1% compared to current allotments under a previous plan.

Representatives of a newly formed group called the Arizona Alliance for Golf opposed those reductions and offered a counterproposal that, based on the state’s analysis, would decrease water use on courses that pump groundwater by 1.8%.

The group’s attempts to assert its position have included repeated meetings with state officials, the launch of a new website urging people to “speak up for Arizona golf,” and emails seeking to recruit more members to “have a united voice” and “protect our game.” The group also welcomed Gov. Doug Ducey as their featured speaker at a kick-off event in April.

The resistance from the golf industry has surfaced as Arizona’s water outlook has grown increasingly complicated, with a shortage looming on the Colorado Riverand groundwater declining in many areas beneath growing cities and suburbs.

The disagreement shows that even a modest plan for using less water can generate considerable opposition from some in the golf business, and it also indicates state water regulators may continue to grapple with resistance — even in the face of severe drought and the effects of climate change — as they seek to implement requirements of the 1980 law that regulates groundwater in parts of Arizona.

“I’m astounded that we are 40 years into the Groundwater Management Act and we are still arguing about whether the department can, in fact, impose minor conservation requirements on golf courses,” said Kathleen Ferris, a water researcher and lawyer who previously headed the state Department of Water Resources.

Ferris said she understands that a number of golf courses aren’t fighting the water-saving proposal and are “really trying to figure out what it is DWR needs them to do and how they can comply with reductions in their water use.” 

“I’m astounded that we are 40 years into the Groundwater Management Act and we are still arguing about whether the department can, in fact, impose minor conservation requirements on golf courses,” said Kathleen Ferris, a water researcher and lawyer who previously headed the state Department of Water Resources.

Ferris said she understands that a number of golf courses aren’t fighting the water-saving proposal and are “really trying to figure out what it is DWR needs them to do and how they can comply with reductions in their water use.” 

Fortunately, there is hope.

NPD:

What happened to create this reversal of fortune? The golf Industry failed to attract Millennials to the game. The National Golf Foundation reported that there were 400,000 fewer golfers in 2013, with 200,000 of the decline coming from Millennials.  Since Millennials represent 25 percent of the nation’s population, this decline is devastating to the sport.

So, why don’t Millennials play golf?

Millennials value ease, speed, and efficiency in their endeavors. Raised on the internet, “instant gratification” is the expectation. Over four hours of essentially doing the same thing over and over is against the idea of speed and efficiency.

They are also the most inclusive generation. Millennials want to share their experiences with as many friends as possible. Golf says, “all of you can play, as long as it no more than four. Boomers, on the other hand, value exclusiveness. The idea of paying to have the privilege of exclusive membership to play golf is counter to Millennial values.

Millennials are the most diverse generation ever, and they have embraced diversity like no other generation. The lack of diversity at Augusta National, the crown jewel of the sport, is just one example of how golf does not qualify as diverse. Mark King, former President of Taylor Made/Adidas Golf cited the lack of “minorities playing, women coming into the game” as reasons for golf’s decline.

Millennials’ most important crusade is the environment. Golf is not green. Many courses smell like a chemical factory. Courses require tremendous amounts of water to stay in shape.

29 Responses to “Golf in the Era of Mega-Drought”

  1. Keith McClary Says:

    How many Millennials can afford golf?

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Excellent post—-informative and thought-provoking. Some thoughts:

    George Carlin at his best.

    The land use map is a terrific display of the data.

    Golf is just another example of what’s wrong with the country—and I’m starting to actually get angry when I find it taking up hours of TV time and displacing more valuable programs—who watches golf on TV anyway?

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    “who watches golf on TV anyway?”

    People who play golf, a population that I predict does not include you.

    Interesting that you claim it takes up too much time on TV, because I would argue that it is TV, not golf, which is the greater problem in America. Turn off the tube and voila – tons of time to play golf.

    And exactly what is wrong with golf? It preserves habitat from development, it is a good healthy physical and social activity that can be enjoyed by all ages, all around the world. And it is challenging as hell – by far the most difficult popular sport. Teaches the benefits of diligence and the value of humility.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      And exactly what is wrong with golf? It preserves habitat from development, it is a good healthy physical and social activity that can be enjoyed by all ages, all around the world.

      Habitat? Really?

      My brother witnessed course workers throwing very toxic amounts of copper chlorate into water hazards to kill off algae. A lot of the effort to maintain golf courses is to keep the wildlife that digs or poops away from fairways and keep the grass trimmed to an unnatural level. Golf courses (and suburban lawns) also use a disproportionate amount of the fertilizers that run off and create dead zones in lakes and seas.

      Yes, there are places where the land and climate are friendly for golf courses, but they consume a lot of resources per capita served (compared to, say, city parks), especially places where water needs to be conserved.

      Personally, I think competitive miniature golf (at well-designed and maintained facilities) would be more interesting and more widely available to lower-income people. Plenty of diligence and humility to be had there.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        When you see a golf course fail, and become instead a housing development, the value of the course as habitat becomes pretty evident. What you never see is a golf course failing and then left to become wilded or a farm.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          A golf course that is turned into housing becomes HUMAN habitat, and it’s even better if it is used for low-income housing.

          What’s evident is that a golf course has about as much value as “habitat” as a desert. What animals live there? The times I golfed, I never saw more than a few birds and a rare squirrel.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          “When you see a golf course fail, and become instead a housing development, the value of the course as habitat becomes pretty evident.”

          No, the value (and political protection) of the course as a golf course dropped below the value of the course for housing. It’s a real estate decision. Failed golf courses have owners/investors who want to get as much money out of the land as possible on their way out.

          “What you never see is a golf course failing and then left to become wilded or a farm.”

          Have you looked? A minimal amount of googling found failed golf courses due to a variety of reasons. A lot depends on where the GC is, of course, and why it failed. Those near rising real estate prices get gobbled up pretty quickly. One (Kayak Point) is trying to make it as a Disc Golf resort. Another (Salt Creek, Chula Vista) looks like it might be returned as hiking trails, but it looks like the developers might give it a shot. An old muni golf course in Houston is likely to become a botanical garden. Cahoon Plantation GC closed and local golf activists are trying to get the city to keep it as a golf course (why they bought homes in the area) rather than having a developer buy it for big bucks.

          I don’t see a lot of pressure to turn old GC properties into wilderness when the owners get more money selling them for other purposes. Also, golf courses are deliberately sculpted in a way that makes them less useful as farmland (without resculpting).

          BTW, after Katrina, New Orleans’ City Park golf course was pretty much neglected for years, at which points the ibises, alligators and other wildlife took over. I remember how pretty it looked.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          BTW, I think you’re conflating “habitat” with green space. I think golf courses generally look prettier than the developments that replace them, but I don’t see how they can be called habitat.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            There is a lot of pressure on farmers to leave verges of trees, shrubs around their fields, as is common in, say, Yorkshire. These small areas of untouched wildness are important homes for LOTS of animals. Golf courses are full of them.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Golf courses are “full of” what? Animals? Verges? Sorry, but the groomed areas on golf courses do not equate with farm field verges. You are deluding yourself with your insistence on “habitat”.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Obviously the groomed areas are not for wildlife. But every golf club I have played, with the exception of one in the desert, had plenty of overgrowth and trees in the ungroomed portion. I can’t believe you would argue this point.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            By definition, a golf course is long strips of grass (fairways) separated by a very thin row of trees. Minimal “habitat” by any measure. Give it up, FGS!

          • Keith McClary Says:

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    I have grave doubts about the accuracy of that map. IIRC, it came from Forbes magazine.

    Why do I doubt it? It has an area marked “Food that we eat”. There is no simple demarcation along those lines. 90% of the biomass of human food agriculture is not the fruit or grain – and much of that goes into making livestock feed. And since when is cattle rangeland not properly classified as “Food we eat”?

    And much of what is labeled “Livestock feed” may well be also making other products that wind up being consumed by humans or industry. Soybeans, for example, may be first pressed for oil, and the resulting paste used for making industrial food products (stuff like lecithin for example) as well as livestock feed. (That is not to say that some ag area is not devoted solely to livestock feed, like feed corn which is used for poultry as well as cattle, horses and sheep).

    There is simply no proper way to diagram the complex interactions of our ag systems and wind up with that graphic. It is a graphic designed to malign the livestock sector used in an article that was expressly that topic.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Do you think there’d be more or less maligning of the livestock sector if employees secret videos were not specifically forbidden by law in the facilities?

    • jimbills Says:

      It’s from a Bloomberg report on land use using USDA data:
      https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-us-land-use/

      Anything that even slightly questions your belief that there is nothing wrong with current livestock practices is automatically taken by you as part of a vast conspiracy against meat. I guess we should add an anti-golf conspiracy to the list now, too.

      Here’s the USDA source:
      https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/major-land-uses.aspx

      There is no chart that will be 100% accurate, especially not one by a journalist instead of a scientist. But that map is a close approximation using respectable data.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        1) You actually believe that there is NOT a conspiracy against meat? LOL.

        It should be clear as a bell to you. The sheer amount of anti-meat articles, the sheer amount of anti-meat mis- and dys-information is staggering. And this is not science – it is propaganda – as nearly every agrarian and food scientist will testify.

        And we actually know who is behind it – huge multinational oil and cereal processors, who stand to make billions by manipulating public sentiment and government dietary policy.

        2) Your claim that I have no qualms with current livestock practices. That’s false, and you should know it’s false because I have made recommendations for improved practices on this blog multiple times. My issue is about the accuracy of anti-meat claims. Period.

        • jimbills Says:

          #2: So, for my own knowledge, what do you think is wrong with current livestock practices? Your rush to defend meat at every mere mention here has overwhelmed that for me. I do remember once that you thought growing corn in the desert was a bad thing, but otherwise, you’ve rejected any other issues with the industry I or others have raised, as far as I’ve seen.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            I think there should be new laws forbidding the use of aqueous manure lagoons on feedlots. Manure should be collected as solids, composted in soils, incorporated into crop agriculture.

            The use of seaweeds to reduce methane production by ruminants should be mandated if safe.

            I think there should be laws encouraging the grazing by livestock on fallowed pastures, rangelands. Grasses can be more productive at fixing carbon than forests if they are not left to go dormant, but are instead grazed upon.

            Brazilian grass-fed beef products should not be imported into the US until the practice of clear-cutting forests to make pastures is completely halted. Currently, Brazilian beef can be imported into the US and sold as “Made in America”.

            I think there should be laws which actually work to stop certain types of inhumane livestock practices. Mammals should never be allowed to be raised in cages or always indoors. Free-range outdoor conditions must meet new minimum standards for all livestock. How that is going to work for egg production I have no idea, but chickens always in cages is disgusting.

          • jimbills Says:

            All good points, and thanks for the reply – kudos on it, because seriously, all I’ve seen in the past from you is how wonderful the meat industry is.

            I’d be happy to see those things happen (excepting para #3), but I take seaweed part as the only one that is likely to happen. You’ve mentioned ‘efficiency’ in the livestock and agricultural practices in the U.S. before – but they aren’t efficient in terms of lessening environmental impact, but efficient in terms of lessening production costs for themselves. Cages, wholesale manure gathering, and so on are all about lower costs, more profit.

            And that, as well as many other reasons than those you listed, are why some people (a minority, still, of the population) are anti-meat. They see the excesses of the meat industry, they see zero action to curb it, and their solution is a blanket ‘cut out meat’.

            Personally, I do think meat can be a part of our diet, but we’ve gone way overboard on the excesses of the industry, and while you see a conspiracy of cereal producers against meat (the same cereal producers that supply livestock feed), I see an unbelievably massive agricultural industry (which includes livestock) that blocks our government from enacting any meaningful change to protect their own profits.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Get rid of inhumane conditions, use of antibiotics that humans rely on, large manure lagoons, ag displacement for feed crops and overgrazing and I think a lot of what you call “anti-meat articles” would disappear.

          Also, undo the laws that made it illegal for activists to get evidence for inhumane practices at factory farms and processing plants.

          Also, while not at all limited to meat production, improve the treatment and safety of workers at meat processing plants run by greedy bigots. (Ag workers in general get the worst treatment.)

        • J4Zonian Says:

          WHAT are you talking about???? The “huge multinational oil and cereal processors” already ARE making billions—from feed grown FOR MEAT! And from the higher prices of all grains, pulses and other food caused by the HUGE amounts of land, ag inputs, and government subsidies that could be more efficiently used for human food, which would allow immense areas to be dedicated to wilderness but instead are taken up by meat production. (Cargill? Seriously?)

          As far as your recommendations, you sound a bit like the people and corporations who, in the face of water levels up to 90% lower than normal, are fighting suggestions they reduce their phenomenally extravagant water use by 3 goddamned percent! Sure, let’s make one of the most unfair, regressive, polluting, climate-destroying, conflict- and oppression-causing activities on Earth insignificantly “better”. Thanks for your noble efforts.

          The fact that you don’t like information revealing meat-eating’s horrors doesn’t make it propaganda. It’s more often a good indication it’s true. And it certainly doesn’t make it part of a vast conspiracy organized by those in fact mostly on your side, whether directly or through subsidiaries, interlocking boards, or industrial ag sympathies. The fact that many people are against the horrors of meat production—including, bizarrely, exactly the same practices you disagree with—has nothing to do with your equally bizarre claims of a conspiracy. (As if vegans, vegetarians, religious vegetarians, pescatarians, Meatless Mondayers, fruitarians, anti-GMOists, guilty meat eaters, and other environmental activists and ecologically aware people could ever coordinate anything, even a takeout order.) You offer not one piece of evidence about any conspiracy or the funding you claim. Maybe you should read up on conspiracy psychology. And then consult someone over your indulgence in it.

  5. Gingerbaker Says:

    ” You’ve mentioned ‘efficiency’ in the livestock and agricultural practices in the U.S. before – but they aren’t efficient in terms of lessening environmental impact, but efficient in terms of lessening production costs for themselves.”

    I don’t think that is true. There are far less beef cows in existence now in the US than there were in the ’60’s, yet more food product is produced from them. Result – substantially less carbon footprint. Same goes for the number of dairy cows and milk output.

    The very grain/feed finishing that people love to complain about actually reduces the methane output pretty significantly compared to all grass-fed beef.

    Advances have also been made in feed production, with a higher amount of previously-wasted products now being used.

    “…but we’ve gone way overboard on the excesses of the industry, and while you see a conspiracy of cereal producers against meat (the same cereal producers that supply livestock feed),”

    What “excesses” of the industry? It’s more efficient than ever and an example to the world on how livestock should be raised.

    And, no the people funding the anti-meat hysteria are NOT the people growing ag crops. They are food processors, not producers. They are multinational corporations making oils, including palm oil, and vegetable shortenings, ultra-processed food components as well as ultra-processed final food products and junk foods. In other words, they are pressing an agenda to push foods that are far far away from the native plant and animal. They don’t make corn or broccoli, they make corn syrup and components of stuff like fruit rolls, breakfast cereals, veggie corn snacks. The stuff that has twenty ingredients in it before the foodstuff actually grown in a field.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Companies like:

      DuPont, PepsiCo, Dannon, Nestlé, Cargill, Kellogg’s.

      • jimbills Says:

        Saw this after posting my comment below.

        DuPont produces additives for livestock feed, Nestle owns Purina, which produces livestock feed, Cargill is one of the largest livestock feed corporations in the world. That leaves Pepsi, Dannon, and Kelloggs. As far as I can tell, Pepsi and Dannon aren’t involved in faux meat – why would they be a part of it?

        That leaves Kelloggs, which does produce MorningStar and Gardenburger, which are major vegatarian burger brands. They have a longstanding tradition of aiming for plant-based foods. So, I’ll give you that one.

        Some of the above companies, namely DuPont and Nestle, could in theory make more money from faux meat than their livestock feed revenue. Do you have any reliable sources for how these companies are funding anti-meat propaganda?

    • jimbills Says:

      Part 1: And yet:
      Oceans suffocating as huge dead zones quadruple since 1950, scientists warn
      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/04/oceans-suffocating-dead-zones-oxygen-starved

      ‘”Lucia von Reusner, campaign director of the campaign group, Mighty Earth, which recently exposed a link between the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and large scale meat production, said: “These dead zones will continue to expand unless the major meat companies that dominate our global agricultural system start cleaning up their supply chains to keep pollution out of our waters.’

      And agricultural emissions have increased in the U.S. since 1990 despite all those gains in efficiency:
      https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions

      On part 2, we’ve gone over the excesses before. You listed some of them above. Rhymes listed some, importantly, antibiotic use. Ocean dead zones (above), natural gas use for fertilizer (most agriculture doesn’t go towards feeding humans directly, but towards feeding livestock first), water use in arid regions, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and on and on. It’s crazy we have to keep arguing about it.

      You don’t agree and find any reason to excuse the industry, fine.

      It doesn’t matter if the land is directly farmed by the oil/grain processors themselves. Those same companies you say are in a conspiracy to kill the meat industry make a bunch of their profits from feeding livestock (the feed itself which is also a highly processed, and includes such things as candy). Name one of your anti-meat conspiracy companies that doesn’t also produce/process livestock feed.

      Besides which, the leaders in meat substitutes right now aren’t these oil/grain corporations, but Silicon Valley companies like Beyond and Impossible. Companies like Cargill are playing catch up with their own faux meat, and doing poorly at it. The future of meat might not be highly-processed substitutes like Impossible, but lab grown meat. In other words, these conspiracy companies you go on about are doing a horrible job at replacing meat themselves at the expense of their own profits.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        I suggest you take a deep dive into the major EPA reports and see for yourself that the EPA attributes the correct percentage of pollution from N2O from fertilizer onto livestock, because they do. N20 and CH4 are the emissions from livestock. And yet human crop ag is still a larger emissions source than the entire livestock industry, of which food products are the minority of products produced.

        The fact of the matter is that 70 – 80% of global GHG emissions of livestock are from developing countries, where people’s lives depend upon their livestock; most of the land-use GHG emissions attributed to livestock are from places like Brazil. So your continued and frantic attacks on the US livestock industry are truly off-base.

        You need to see the food sectors as interconnected and interdependent, and you need to appreciate how the articles you quote will deliberately use global statistics to denigrate regional systems incorrectly.

        And finally – its all fucking food. It’s all a tiny percentage of total global pollution, the vast majority of which is fossil fuel derived and replaceable, while are food systems definitely are NOT.

        And this is all in the context of the carbon cycle – which has had zero difficulty handling all the flora and fauna on the planet without causing GW for – literally – billions of years. Our food systems are not the emissions that have overwhelmed the carbon and methane cycles – that is all due to fossil fuels.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Your post, above, is a perfect example of crap cut and paste science.

        You spend half of it quoting a Guardian article as if it is a valuable proof source. And then you requote the article’s actual source – some person named Lucia von Reusner – who is not a scientist but is a spokesperson for an anti-meat climate group who blames – who else – the meat industry for crop ag fertilizer pollution.

        This is not science. It is a hatchet job and you are the happy hatchetman. You actually claim that ag emissions are up as ammunition against the meat industry!

        What you have concocted here is pathetic.


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