IS GOLF BAD FOR NATURE?
Golf's environmental iımpact has been much debated. Is it a good thing that golf courses now cover an area of the United States more than twice the size of Rhode Island? Opponents -- including groups like the Global Anti-Golf Movement -- underline the dangers. They note the use of insectides and herbicides; the gas and other in-puts for upkeep; the loss of open space; the displacement of older existing communities like African-American ones along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina.
Golf boosters counter that courses benefit nature. They point to the water filtering and atmospheric cooling benefits of turf grass in the age of global warmıng; the role of golf courses as bird and wildlife sanctuaries; and the fact that land used for golf courses might otherwise be used for more environmentally-unfriendly development, like strip malls and housing developments. Although it has plenty of critics, the new concept of "reconciliation ecology" premises that environmentalists must work within the realities of development and change even as they try to protect what we have left of more unspoiled nature. Cooperation between local environmentalists, government, and golf course owners to restore wetlands would be an example of such work.
A good recent case of golf-style "reconciliation ecology" is the collaboration of the Ellerbee Creek Watershed Association and the North Carolina Department of Transportation with the Hillandale Golf Club (a public course just down the street from where I live). This project freed the small Ellerbee Creek from an ugly drainage ditch; this restored its meander, and allowed for the planting of swamp grass and wildflowers, while creating a bird friendly wetland holding pond. The course looks far better, and the creek is healthy again. The wetlands also serve as a natural filter of oily run-off from nearby Interstate 85. Everyone has benefited in this particular case.
SETTING A COURSE FOR A SHASTA SERENGETI
By Orin Starn
What's the single most beautiful place in
My personal favorite place lies in
This Shangri-La of the Siskiyous is not a park or wilderness area. As unlikely as it may sound, it's a little golf course tucked just off Interstate 5. Golf, I know, conjures the image of rich white men in tacky plaid pants, and environmentalists like to bash golf courses for contributing to gated community sprawl, not to mention the tons of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used to manufacture that velvety green carpet look.
The Weed Golf Club, however, doesn't fit the stereotypes. Anyone can play this public track. It costs just $12 for a full round. You'll pay more than that for a souvenir key chain at the ritzy, blue-ribbon courses in
The town of
Weed will never be a Californian St. Moritz. It has a gritty, working-class feel with the same sad, half-dead old business district as in so many American small towns in the age of Wal-Mart and the other big-box retailers.
You'll see the locals, young and old, at the course. They include firefighters, schoolteachers, retired loggers and cashiers from the McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King along the highway in their free hours. The Weed Golf Club exemplifies the world of the municipal, or "muni" course, a far cry from the proverbial exclusive country club. It's golf democracy in action at these modestly priced, sometimes scruffy tracks nationwide where you'll find people of every age, ethnicity, occupation and skill or lack of it.
But what, really, does golf have to do with the outdoors? We see courses everywhere. Put together, they cover an area of the
The Weed Golf Club looks like Teletubbieland, my young daughter says. Perfect, she means. It's a panorama from the palette of Heidi in Technicolor with the alpine meadow green of the fairways, purple lupine and golden poppies along the shining brook, and picture postcard vistas to
I like to play alone in the soft evening twilight. The course can feel at that hour like some mountain wildlife park, a Shasta Serengeti. You'll see deer, quail and rabbits with a glimpse now and then of a weasel or fox slipping fast away into the brush. Once while searching for my ball in the tall, dry grass behind one green, I almost stepped on a big, ropy rattlesnake.
A bobcat was spotted several times last winter, reports Dixie Nehring, the friendly, no-nonsense woman who collects green fees, runs the grill and sells balls and hats at the little clubhouse.
I don't mean to suggest that playing golf at Weed or anywhere else is somehow a "natural" or "unspoiled" outdoors experience. Unlike more upscale private clubs, true enough, the Weed course has no glitzy fake waterfalls, high-tech turf grass or even sand traps. But the two maintenance men work hard mowing, watering and spraying the occasional dose of nitrogen fertilizer and weed-killer. A golf course is neither city nor wilderness. It's nature under tight control by human hands, a hybrid at once artificial and natural.
Golf, I think, reveals a certain ambivalence about the outdoors. Those of us who play want to get out in the fresh air away from the cramped office and the factory floor. But, very often, we don't want to venture too far from a cold beer, hot shower and life's other creature comforts. Golf lets you get away without really leaving civilization in the first place.
Those more rugged seekers among us, of course, want a pristine wilderness experience. In a way, however, the very idea of being away from it all may be an illusion at this point in human history.
I backpack sometimes in the Marble Mountains Wilderness area, 100 miles west of
Nature is a matter of degree in our shrinking world. A golf course and a wilderness area mark points along a continuum of relative remoteness in these new times where no place is truly wild anymore.
Don't get me wrong. That we've done so much violence to nature makes protecting what we have left of it all the more urgent. We need more protected national forest and not shopping malls, strip mines or, for that matter, golf courses. And if you belong to that big band of people who find golf boring, stupid or worse, fair enough. It's true that the game has very often been linked to snobbery, exclusion and some very bad fashion decisions.
If you do happen to be one of
I couldn't agree more.