Is there room for ecology and economics on the golf course?

October 7 2008 I attended Christie Lovat’s seminar, “Economic Benefits of Ecologically Managed Golf Courses.” This seminar contrasted the economic costs and environmental conditions of golf courses, providing relevant facts and figures to illustrate two varied business approaches. Traditional manicured golf courses with large greens require high cost maintenance (pesticides, irrigation, and mechanical upkeep) and seldom reflect a regions native environment. In contrast, ecologically managed golf courses preserve the native environment and habitat within the course, resulting in less disruptive and costly maintenance. The viability of both approaches was presented and discussed, showing that ecologically managed and environmentally marketed golf courses can be as or more successful than traditional course in the short and long terms. This seminar was interrelated with several environmental issues previously discussed in our seminar class; how environment factors into modern economics, value of nature, human impacts as positive or negative for environment, etc.

In addition, this seminar raised a new issue, that of environment and recreation. Outdoor recreation encourages humans to experience, enjoy, and connect with nature; a deeper appreciation and value for nature can be fostered in this way. Conversely, outdoor activities, such as golf or blazing trails through pristine rainforest, can be extremely damaging and disruptive to natural ecosystems. Furthermore, one person’s idea of ‘outdoor activity’ and ‘nature’ can greatly differ from the next person. Many urban dwellers consider golf an escape from city life where nature’s beauty and fresh air can be enjoyed. In reality, however, manicured golf courses seldom reflect a given region’s native environment, nor do they support a diversity of native wildlife. In this case, the costs and benefits of ‘enjoying nature’ must be contemplated; benefits of connecting with nature vs. damages imposed on nature by a given activity. These two factors are difficult to assign value. For example, benefits of connecting with nature may include increased awareness and environmental activism or policy-support. Costs of damaging outdoor activities may include loss of habitat and native biodiversity, decline or pollution of water tables, etc. In both cases, the costs and benefits are difficult to weigh; inherent value will be subjective while assigning monetary value is difficult and often obscure, neither are easily translatable into effective environmental policy. This limitation reflects those associated with applying cost-benefit analysis to environment and economy which we have spoken of in seminar.

The debate over environment and recreation, which is unavoidably linked with economy, raises the following question; with the amount and quality of natural, wild spaces worldwide dwindling, are outdoor activities such as golf a benevolent experience or abuse of the environment? I believe that outdoor recreation (including golf), wilderness excursions and eco-tourism are gaining popularity worldwide with largely unknown impacts on environments. I also believe, however, that when managed in a sustainable- ecosystem based manner, outdoor activities can help preserve the natural environment while promoting environmental awareness and education. In her seminar, Christie Lovat illustrated that golf can be managed ecologically, to preserve native habitat, flora and fauna (squirrels, birds, butterflies, etc.), reduce water waste and herbicide pollution, and offer a more authentic outdoor experience to ecologically minded and simply competitive minded golfers alike.

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