Golf is a sport known for wealthy businessmen, manicured courses, and most recently, Donald Trump. Donald Trump himself, who owns at least 17 golf courses, and is one of the most famous contributors to the sport (Trump.com), has made comments denying climate change. The sport is not often associated with environmentalism, or conservation. But is this sport secretly an untapped resource for conservation, and is Donald Trump the next David Attenborough?
At the 2017 conservation science conference, many scientists presented their groundbreaking research on conservation hot topics. One interesting presentation that poses possible solutions to issues like biodiversity loss is the use of golf courses in conservation.
In the UK, many courses operate in a “heathland” environment. These courses tend to be more open and less manicured than traditional links courses. In fact the St. Andrews “Old Course,” where golf was played for the first time in the 15th century, is a heathland course. The shrubs that surround the course easily blend with the grass on the green, and it overlooks a body of water with its own unique ecosystem.
Golf courses in the UK, therefore, are unique in their potential for biodiversity. Golf courses serve as a niche environment for many species, create corridors for animals that need space to live, allow natural land use in areas that would otherwise be used for urban environments, and allow for a space where people can feel connected to nature.
In several studies, golf courses have proven positive for biodiversity, especially in bird species. In one study, in comparison with farmland, birds and insect taxa showed a higher species richness and abundance on golf course land, with no difference in diversity of herbaceous plant species (Tanner et al, 2004). From studies like these, it is easy to conclude that golf courses not only act as niche environments for species, but are also significantly better uses of land than other options like urban, degraded, or farm landscapes.
Further, Golf courses allow for people to experience the outdoors, often in largely urban areas. In some areas in the UK, up to 2.82% of all land is used for golf courses (Castella, 2013). This significant amount of land, paired with the popularity of the sport, allows for people who would not otherwise, to explore nature and connect with a diverse ecosystem.
Shown by the interesting research at this conference, golf courses in the UK can be a positive force for conservation. However, this solution to biodiversity may not work everywhere in the world. In the USA, for example, links courses are constantly bombarded by fertilizers, deforestation, forced removal of wildlife, and widespread irrigation. (Throssell et al, 2009). While in the US Donald Trump and his golf courses are not a hole-in-one solution, in the UK this could a key to conservation.
Bailosky , Brad. Golf Course Bird. Naples, Florida , 2011.
Castella , Tom. “How Much of the UK Is Covered in Golf Course?” BBC News Magazine, 24 Dec. 2013.
Henderson , Chip. Oxford, North Carolina , 2017.
Tanner, R A, and A C Gange. “Effects of Golf Courses on Local Biodiversity.”Landscape and Urban Planning , vol. 71, 2005, pp. 137–146.
Throssell, Clark S, et al. “Golf Course Environmental Profile Measures Water Use, Source, Cost, Quality, Management and Conservation Strategies.” American Society of Agronomy , vol. 6, no. 1, 6 Jan. 2009.
“Trump Golf.” Trump Golf | Trump Organization Golf Clubs | Trump Hotel Collection, http://www.trump.com/golf/.