Reading Roger Schiffman's November Golf Digest interview with Tom Friedman, I couldn't help but think that (A) Friedman absolutely hits a home run, and (B) how too many folks in golf will pinch their necks as his insights fly right over their heads, all because they can't understand why the model for golf they crafted is unsustainable and, as Friedman notes, will not sit with the coveted 18-34 year olds.
Golf could do a lot more. We're finally getting our arms around hybrid cars -- well, what would a hybrid golf course look like? Every course in America should strive to be Prius Country Club. There is no reason, for instance, that a new clubhouse should not aim to be a LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] building. If you have solar-powered carts, then why not a solar-powered clubhouse? A golf course should aspire to generate as much energy as it consumes -- golf should be leading the way toward energy net zero. The future is net zero. Take wind turbines. Now that states and the stimulus bill are giving tax credits for wind-driven and solar energy, wind energy makes sense for certain golf courses. Some courses would be great potential wind farms.
Finally, a use for The Classic Club. Now seriously, his point on energy is key and it should constantly be mentioned just how energy intensive irrigation systems are. And the less water used, the less energy used.
Love this too...
Courses should also strive to be carbon positive -- by measuring everything, a course could come up with its carbon footprint. Every golf course should have its carbon rating on the scorecard, alongside its Course Rating, Slope, par and yardage.
Q: How could a course manager go about doing that?
A: You can get an assessment from any number of environmental consulting firms. But here's where the USGA could help: Just as it sets the rules and equipment standards,
Well...sometimes and selectively...continue...
it should be setting environmental standards. It could create a new division, hire its own scientists, create its own metrics, and for a fee -- it could be a money-making operation -- it would conduct an environmental audit for a course on an annual basis and give it a rating. Golf courses and resorts would welcome that seal of approval, and it could start a trend. The USGA has a huge role and responsibility. It would set the standard, for the sake of preserving the game.
This is a great idea with an effective, engaged, organized, energized and healthy USGA. I'm not sure those are words that come to mind with today's version of the organization.
Q: But how would these things help the golf industry, which is at best stagnant right now?
A: Suppose you can say: "Hey, our club is energy net zero, carbon positive, and it's environmentally sustainable. The club next door is an environmental wasteland." Well, you're going to get a lot more people, especially young people, who want to join your club. Just as LEED buildings get higher rents today and attract more people, so environmentally responsible courses will have a competitive advantage.
I think he's spot on here...but just a few years ahead of his time. Golf's approach and understanding of where the world is headed typically is way behind other sectors in every way. Just look at the Internet.
Q: Golf is such a small part of the overall challenge facing Planet Earth. How much impact can golf courses really have environmentally? Are we just kidding ourselves?
A: Every little bit helps. Golf courses have great potential to be what I call "ecosystems for innovation." For example, does your golf club really need to have gas-powered carts when there are solar-powered ones available? Have you done the math? Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island did and found solar would be cheaper. Now, Sebonack by itself isn't going to affect the amount of CO² in the atmosphere, but when someone sees Sebonack's solar carts, and they order a fleet of solar carts, what happens? The price of solar carts comes down. Then maybe the public course that couldn't afford them before can afford them now. The whole game changes. The thing you have to remember is, oil and gas are commodities, and the more we use them the more the price goes up, like any commodity. Solar, wind -- they are technologies, so the more you use them, the more the price goes down.
It's time for the question I've most wanted to hear Friedman talk about, since he plays a lot of golf at a manicured Fazio course.
Q: One obstacle to golf becoming more environmentally responsible is the perception of golfers that their course needs to look like Augusta National, with wall-to-wall, uniform-green fairways and rough. Should we be trying to change that image?
A: We have to change that image. I don't fault Augusta. Every sport needs its temple, its cathedral. But if everyone copies Augusta and makes their course longer, tighter, softer and more carpeted, it will increase golf's environmental footprint. It takes more water and fertilizer and mowers.
Another unfortunate reminder that the Golf Digest panel rates it the #1 course in America.
Here's where I fear he's a bit ahead of his time, though it's never too early to start planting this thought with those who want to see golf have a future.
Many of us who grew up playing golf know that our kids aren't doing it. A great way to enhance the game, make it cool again and bring back some of the interest among younger people is to make golf the greenest sport in an environmental sense. Every course's greenkeeper should think of himself or herself as the greenkeeper: responsible for preserving the green, not just the greens.
And this is really the key takeaway that just contines to perplex me about climate change resisters...
And by the way, what if we're wrong and there is no climate change? Well, by doing everything possible to address it, we will still use less water, stimulate new energy savings and, in time, money-saving technologies, enjoy cleaner air, and preserve more forests and trees and animals.
Your golf course and its wider environment will be more sustainable and attractive. Your members will be healthier and feel better about their game's impact on the environment. Tell me what the downside is.
It's not just win, win. It's win, win, win, win, win, OK?