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Golf's Green movement mostly about getting your money

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Who's going to be golf's Al Gore?

Augusta National
Golfers love green, but eco busy bodies say golf needs to reduce its carbon footprint.
Augusta National

Who in golf will parlay the plant puffers' global-warming crusade into big appearance fees, self-important speeches and fawning doe-eyed looks from college co-eds? There are certainly a horde of eager candidates, all trying to cash in on what's arguably the greatest money-making scheme in golf since the invention of the celebrity golf course architect: The Greening Of Golf.

The non PC-brainwashed among us - and thankfully many golfers can be counted in this group - will recognize the absurdity of the title alone. After all, last time I checked, golf is pretty green. Unless you're playing at some burnt-out, mud-pile muni. More accurately, this environmentalist drive should be proclaimed as The Browning Of Golf in all those fawning glossy magazine covers.

That's what much of this make-golf-greener campaign centers around - actually making our courses browner. The argument goes something like this: Course-condition expectations need to be changed; too much water is wasted on this frivolous game; pesticides are mutating your children.

Augusta National is actually being held up by these loonies as an example of what a golf course should not look like. Because all golfers see those azaleas off those pristine greens every April and think, Damn, what a waste. Glad I'm not playing there.

It's the equivalent of declaring that Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral gives churches a bad name. Of course, it surely makes Martha Burk happy - and, really, it's all about making sure absolutely no one could possibly be offended these days.

Including the grass.

That's part of what makes this Green Golf drive so attractive to golf course owners, operators and superintendents. It gives them a ready-made excuse for lackluster course conditions.

Hey man, we're just looking out for the environment!

That's not crappy grass, it's earth friendly.

The other, even greater, driving force in golf's embracing environmental mantras is the economy. There's no easier way to get an insanely cheerleader-upbeat story written on your golf course - not to mention some very nice tax breaks, in many cases - than to tout your green initiatives.

You can have the most middling, uninteresting, lazily maintained golf course in the world and if someone channeling Greenpeace gives it a thumbs up, it's now guaranteed to be the toast of the golf magazines.

Which just illustrates again how incredibly out of touch most of golf's powers that be are with the average golfer.

When Golf Digest came out with a 30-page package on "How Green Is Golf?" in its latest issue, Editor-in-Chief Jerry Tarde breathlessly dubbed it "The Most Important Article We've Ever Published" in an intro. Tarde might as well have just screamed out, "We're not the magazine that put the noose on the cover!" and called it a day. Alas, he went on and talked about his joy in golfing with a pair of environmentalists who talked about golf's need to reduce America's "carbon footprint."

Then everyone at Golf Digest acted all shocked and indignant that so many of its readers wrote in criticizing the package for being one-sided and almost political in bent, while threatening to drop their subscriptions.

Makes you wonder if anyone has any idea who plays golf in this country.

Golfers don't tend to be sheep who drop in lock step behind whatever they've been told. There aren't many Sean Penns on the fairways. This is a hard game that takes dedication and a large share of good humor.

Survey after survey shows that golfers also care about course conditions most, much more than the architect's name on the scorecard, more than even the price it costs to play.

And everyone's surprised that the guy who pops awake at 5 a.m. on a Saturday after a long week of work just to get in a round before his kids wake up and his wife starts nagging isn't down with a drive that threatens to reduce his golf enjoyment?

Going green a great marketers' gimmick

Whole Foods built a grocery empire convincing people that they were doing something great by buying a cloth grocery bag (from Whole Foods, of course) and bringing it back to the store again and again to load up on higher priced "natural" foods. Hey, it's a great sales concept. I shop there too.

Now golf tries to do the same, convincing a bunch of golfers that "earth-friendly courses" with worse conditions and higher green fees are the noble, righteous play. Do you really think Green Golf is going to be cheap? It's quickly becoming as marketed as Michelle Wie, with catch phrases to match.

Newsflash: Catch phrases don't come cheap.

"We have to reeducate golfers on what constitutes good and bad course conditions and everything that factors into it," Steve Mona, the influential past president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, told me.

Mona certainly has good intentions and deserves tremendous credit for bringing recognition to the often-overlooked lifeline caretakers of the game. No one appreciates a golf course that's more nature than housing community more than myself, either. And who hasn't grimaced a little when reaching into the cup first thing in the morning and finding it heavily splattered in that green goo pesticide?

It's when others try to dictate what everyone should or shouldn't appreciate that galls so many golfers. We don't need Audubon International to tell us if a course is Green enough. I recently played a great Audubon Silver Signature course, The Bridges Golf Club on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

It provided some interesting scenery, but no more than some other un-Audubon-graced courses in the region like Grand Bear Golf Club.

Personally, I'm not a fan of parkland courses in the middle of the desert that make you try to forget you're actually in the desert. But I can see how someone who grew up in Arizona and hasn't seen a lot of green and trees would want to play them over true desert tracks.

They don't need some self-righteous busy body telling them that's wrong.

"Golf is our escape," golfer Jim Walker said. "At least, it's supposed to be. I don't want to feel like I'm getting a lecture while looking for places to play. I think about recycling on trash day."

Is that really so hard to understand?

Golf's Al Gores are coming. Unfortunately, the game's only getting more cash grabs and less fun.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Chris Baldwin's "Green movement" column

    Chuck wrote on: May 1, 2008

    "Al Gore," "plant puffers." "PC-brainwashed," "loonies," "someone channeling Greenpeace," "Sean Penn" and "self-righteous busy body."
    Sure sounds like this columnist has traded in his "critical, objective eye" for a set of blinders.
    I'll read and thoughtfully consider any columnist's opinion, whether from the left, right or middle, as long as his or her views are presented in a manner that respects the reader as well as the opposing side.
    I'd like to continue subscribing to TravelGolf.com's newsletter, but there is far too much quality content available out there to waste time on columns like this.


  • Green is not trivial but it is marketable

    Windy Gordon wrote on: Apr 29, 2008

    Like many readers I am pretty offended by the cavalier tone and intentionally one sided approach of this article. Of course, it wasn't placed as a "news" piece and therefore the writer can take whatever stance he wants. However, there is a simple truth that will settle this matter. Over time will consumers choose green?
    Some golfers, including me, want to enjoy the game without contributing to environmental degradation. We will look for green courses.
    Further, even those who could care less about "greening" the game will tire of paying astronomical fees to cover the cost of ever more expensive water and agri-chemicals.
    Let the market answer the question. Not very long ago no one thought America could break its addiction to the SUV...yet the big auto companies sure moved over to match a new consumer preference and SUV lanquish on dealer's lots everywhere while hybrids are backordered.
    Is Augusta magnificient...absolutely! Do we need thousands of Augustas...absolutely not!
    I don't need Wimbleton for tennis or Churchill Downs for a horseback ride. I sure don't need Pebble Beach for a weekly round of golf.
    Nice enough, environmentally neutral and affordable will be just fine.


  • Perhaps Greg Norman would have informed this article a wee' bit better...

    Brit wrote on: Apr 29, 2008

    Chris, you are sorely misinformed about your subject matter. Most aggregiously about the condition of the Audubon Certified courses that you speak of. Perhaps if you had researched your article you would know that one of the (and no doubt on of your) golf heroes, Greg Norman, has taken his name and attached it to over 60 (with 60 more on the way) "green" courses that are well maintained, beautiful and sustainable. I am a golfer and a person who cares about the sustainability of the sport. Mr. Norman has proven that there is room for both good conditions and good stewardship and you have chosen to overlook that for your loose and selfish argument that you don't want to be preached to.
    And just so you know, a lot of what makes golf green in color is what makes it an environmental catastrophe to the land that it occupies. Pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, oil and gas for the daily mowing of greens, excessive watering and loss of water due to poorly designed irrigation systems, non-native introduction of grasses and plants are not only bad for the earth but they are probably poisoning you too.
    Maybe you should research your article bit more next time. You would have found out that you are not only ignorant to what the "green" movement is (not just thinking about "recycling on trash day"), means, and how it could benefit you, but ignorant to the future of the sport you so love. Golf (and our way of life for that matter) are not sustainable. Your article would have been much more intelligent if you realized that your "escape" could be the maker of it's own demise.


    • RE: Perhaps Greg Norman would have informed this article a wee' bit better...

      Chris Baldwin wrote on: Apr 29, 2008

      I have interviewed Greg Norman, earlier this year in fact, and played one of his newest courses in the Bahamas, Blue Shark Golf Club. I stand by my premise that much of what Norman is doing with the "green movement" as well can be chalked up to smart marketing.
      Interesting that you would bring up Norman too who's one of the most brilliant marketers sports has ever seen. Try one of his steaks or one of his restaurants or one of his wines or one of his ...


      • RE: RE: Perhaps Greg Norman would have informed this article a wee' bit better...

        Gary wrote on: Apr 29, 2008

        Chris, your reply to the first comment was most disappointing in that you have attacked Greg Norman while ignoring the veracity of your reader's statements. You should take your reader's comments and criticisms far more seriously as your article does not appear to have even a semblance of journalistic balance or professionalism. Most disappointing!


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