Golf—Where Wildness and Civilization Meet

July 24, 2014

The small town I live in is also home to a five-star resort. When I walk on the community trail past the rolling swaths of the hotel’s green golf course, an air of exquisite quality sometimes blows over me. It smells like its own kind of deep, respiring great outdoors. But this isn’t the untamed wilderness. Even the alligators and tigers on the polo shirts of the players don’t look terribly wild. Golf courses are cultivated earth, touched by human hands, as well as by the machinery that shapes and waters them.

A few years ago, as a newspaper reporter, I covered a Film Festival Celebrity Golf Classic, held at that inn and hosted by actor Malcolm McDowell, who I found out is an icon to a certain contingent of golfers, devotees of the 1997 book Golf in the Kingdom by Michael Murphy. McDowell played a character in the 2010 film based on the philosophical and fantastical book, considered to be a classic on the deeper mysteries of golf.

I wonder what those mysteries are. I admit I’ve never played golf and I don’t watch it on TV, but for some reason I’ve often marveled, in a childlike way, at the scope of the manicured grounds. Though I’d more likely to be found walking around a meadow or on a mountain trail, such cultivation of space for recreation is nonetheless impressive. I recall a coming of age short story by Alberto Alvaro Rios in which two middle school age boys living in the poor part of a southwestern town stumble onto a golf course and are certain for a brief time that they have found heaven.

No doubt such expanses of green grass require a lot of water, and fertilizer, too, meaning golf courses often get bad press, especially in places where water is scarce. And maybe that is justified. However, things are not as they were 10 or 15 years ago, and many golf superintendents now take water conservation seriously.

While attending ACE in June, I had a conversation with a product manager at Harco, a maker of PVC fittings and joint ductile fittings. He maintains that some of the most efficient kinds of watering were first engineered for use at golf courses, and then were adopted for other irrigation purposes. He spoke about computer control and evapotranspiration. In our conversation, we also touched on the way water reuse systems are being implemented on golf courses in places such as Palm Springs, CA.

Nonetheless, since there are a great many tees (common t-shaped fittings) under the tees, can this watering be justified during actual droughts?

This may depend on the larger location and the watershed. Public and private green spaces do allow water to go into the ground to percolate through soil and recharge aquifers, but the extent of this depends on the geography and soil type. Trees on such properties can also assist in the natural process of retaining water in the soil and purifying the air.

The reason I got thinking about golf is that our Reader Profile (page 58) in this issue is of Anthony Williams, director of grounds for the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort and Stone Mountain Golf Club, in Georgia. Winner of the prestigious President’s Environmental Stewardship Award, Williams seems to be very devoted to making sure his cultivated space is integrated with the larger ecology, and he enjoys the synergy. His words are inspiring as he celebrates this union of wild and tame.

He says, “I like the outdoors and the sights I have seen, such as fledgling owls; hawks; herons; deer; coyote; eagles; salamanders; turtles; fish of all shapes and sizes; and a rainbow of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that remind me of how my job reaches from heaven to earth and all the things within them.

“I have managed our property through the effects of severe droughts, tornados, lightning, tropical storms, blizzards, ice storms, and epic floods. I have watched Mother Nature show amazing resilience and have learned through science, research, and good old-fashioned hard work that you can craft a profitable business that lives in harmony with a world-class green space.”

However one feels about golf courses, as we live our lives in the midst of both predictable and unpredictable natural occurrences, as well as commercial needs and pressures, there are some takeaways from Williams’ words that may be useful to many who work in water resource management.

About the Author

Nancy Gross

Nancy Gross is a former editor of Business Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.

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