Climate Change is Endangering Golf Courses, both Pedigreed and Munis
My opinions on the reality of climate change are immaterial to the discussion, because I don’t know the details of the science. However, we don’t need to be rocket scientists to know that something is happening, and that we are in the way. Whatever sort of real estate we use for either living or playing, it can undergo severe changes in this era, and golf courses are at the top of the list.
Whether we respect nature or not, she is entirely dismissive of us, not knowing or caring about the pedigrees we give our great golf courses. Royal Devon, the oldest course in England, is a case in point. The distinguished club that advertises itself as the “St. Andrews of the South” is on the brink of yelling “blub” instead of “fore,” as the water encroaches. With some standing water around the non-ocean sides, the sea takes up much of the remaining border. High tide is not what it used to be, and Royal Devon will likely face reinventing one or two holes in the near future. After that, who knows. It may go the way of the pleisosaurus.
Climate change displays itself in so many ways. Swaths of California have flooded, then burned, then flooded again with mud. Daily temperatures have displayed prodigious swings in the space of one day. This year’s Australian Open may deal with temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with potential drought to follow.
Dr. Bruce Horton has penned an essay explaining why the golf world should care about what is occurring, and it makes sense. We play the game on changing land, surrounded by unpredictabl tides, forests, deserts, and overhead skies. He suggests that the industry, more vulnerable to climate change than many others, has been surprisingly “slow to understand the implications.” Some courses are projected to become entirely unplayable, while others will have to tinker exhaustively with their layout. Nutrients for the grass have begun to wash out to sea, and what is good for the course is not good for sea life. We have even, in some places, created fire hazards with titanium head clubs. One spark, and there goes the neighborhood, or at least the back nine.
Some countries are slower to respond than others. Canada has been discussing the possibilities for a while. In 2006, the Geology Department of the University of Waterloo submitted a report in the Journal of Leisure Research, and Canadian awareness goes far back beyond that. Scotland was into the subject in the 1990s. Most interesting of all, President Donald Trump of the U.S., notorious climate change denier, is requesting the right to build a sea wall on one of his Irish courses in County Clare, to protect against “global warming and its effects.” His Scottish course, Aberdeenshire, is experiencing much the same problem as Royal Devon. The American public is working hard to reconcile his two positions, and environmental protests are heating up. On one of Trump’s courses, vandals have etched “no more tigers, no more woods” into a green.
Physicists tell me that whatever the situation, earth may be coming out of a fairly placid period, and that we will see more fireworks as we go along. Competition for water will increase with the population, and wildlife habits and migrations will change. In considering a safe haven, no candidate for a stable golf course emerges. In the tropics, there are oceans and volcanoes. Hills and mountains can fall, catch fire, freeze or burn. The desert is…well, the desert. We certainly don’t have the where-with-all to put a halt to Mother Nature’s climate change agenda, whatever it may be, so we had best get with the program soon before she becomes impossible to live with.