Lose a golf course? Hooray!

May 20, 2022 William A. Gralnick
Head shot of writer William Gralnick
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This could be a “no wonder Brooklynites are moving to Florida article.” It is not. It could be an article about golf. It is not that either. It is an article that shows the seemingly endless connections between my seat in Boca Raton, and yours in Brooklyn or the Greater New York area. The story starts here when a local headline grabbed my attention. In the upper-middle-class suburb of Coral Springs, Broward County (west of Ft. Lauderdale, Hollywood for locators), they are working on rolling up a golf course and building a multi-use complex in a neighborhood called Heron Bay.

What Coral Springs is doing is almost unheard of in Florida. Some would say it is unthinkable. Others would call it an actionable offense. I would say great! Hopefully, this will be the final attempt to turn the golf course into badly needed housing, shops, and usable open space.

There are a lot of golf courses in Florida. No state has more. Florida boasts over 1,100 golf courses that play host to over nearly 48 million rounds annually, with 33% by out of state visitors (that’s you), 14% by non-local Florida residents, and 54% by local residents. Even  Monroe County/ Key West has four, where any errant shot seemingly would go into the Atlantic or the Gulf! The king of the golf courses is Palm Beach County. There are one hundred and sixty (160) courses in the county. Are you drooling yet?

Some of them, like PGA, are internationally renowned. Some of the courses are designed by the premier course designers in the world. One is Jack Nicklaus. The man widely acknowledged as the greatest golf course architect in the world, Pete Dye, designed courses in Florida. So has Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, and H.S. Colt who has the distinction of having designed the most top 100 courses in the world. Any of you familiar with this area ever wondered who Donald Ross was and why there’s a road named after him? If so, here’s your answer. Ross has 400 courses to his name and is eternally linked to PGA National.

Brooklyn is different. It has two, both municipal courses. The five boroughs have 13 but within 20 miles of downtown Brooklyn, there are 78. Some are open year-‘round. Many of you dedicated golfers follow the siren song of the greens and play here instead of getting up at 6 am for tee-time in December…or January…or February…or March. Down here it’s called “the season.”

But are they beauty or beast? Greenmatters.com says the environmental impact of golf courses is “outrageous.” They cite arid Utah, where the half dozen or so golf courses use—clean your glasses for this one—nine million gallons of water a day. They also remind us that golf courses are not in harmony with nature but domination of nature. In Florida, 250,000 acres of land have been beaten, molded, raised, lowered, and mauled into the beauty you see. Imagine the amount of pesticide it takes to keep that land pest free. God forbid Tiger Woods’ putt bounces off course because it bumped into a beatle. The billions of gallons of water wash that pesticide in a virtual tsunami of environmental poison, killing creatures and polluting water.

The South Florida Water Management District has drawn rules for water use. Basically, they instituted a permitting process and the mandate to reduce water consumption by 45%. Unfortunately, I was not able to find anything about penalties. What a shock. I remember reading about ten years ago that Palm Beach County had gone a billion gallons over its limit. Then too there is all manner of water sources. There are natural sources like the Aquifer, there are wells, there is reclaimed water, and there are municipal and county sources of water. Unsurprisingly, the rules shift per the source. So too there are in Greater New York. Marine Park pays through the hose for water. Trump’s course gets it for free. Figure that one out. There are also several different cost-sharing programs in place. It’s dizzying.

In its May issue, Golf Digest devoted a huge, candid article by John Barton to the subject, in which the magazine states very frankly: “Golf will face a crisis over water.” And then it outlines what must be done. It won’t be easy. Golf Digest points out, for example, that an incredible 41 percent of golfers polled believe that global warming is a myth.

But among the 59 percent of the enlightened golfers, the problem is being addressed. Perhaps as many as 1,000 courses are using recycled or reclaimed water, and the United States Golf Association has made that mandatory for some areas of the Southwest. New grasses are being developed that require less moisture to thrive. Overseeding is being frowned upon. Courses are being returned more to their natural state, so grass will often have to lose some of its sheen.

You see, at the end of the day, they say, for golf to go green and accommodate itself to the real world, it’s simply going to have to be much more brown. (Thanks to NPR for their input on this.)

Without deep research, and time, it is hard to make equal the stats for you and us. We do know that according to Golf Digest it takes ten gallons of water per square foot annually to keep the greens green. The average American golf course uses three hundred and twelve thousand (312,000) gallons of water per day. Marine Park Golf Course uses 3,000 gallons a day and pays the water authority $6,866 a day. Think skyrocketing greens fees. It takes 152.5 acre-feet of water to irrigate 80.7 acres of turf. Playing the entire course is playing 7,000 yards of golf. An acre is 43,560 square feet multiplied by 80.7 and you’ve got sort of a Sheepshead Bay of water.

Let’s finish with the blare of horns and the pounding of bass drums. Florida golf courses use 187 million gallons of water a day. That is 67% of all recreational water use. In addition to that, they use 110 million gallons of reclaimed water. That’s 297 million gallons of water a day. As Tweety Bird says, “My doodnis drayshis.”

By now, you see that I favor rolling up a golf course or two, that it is a good thing. As for rolling up a few here and there, let’s paraphrase Mark Twain who is widely credited with saying, “Golf is a nice walk in the park ruined.” Let us just say that taking a nice walk is better for you and the world than access to another golf course. 

I’ve heard it said that golf is a game for those who feel good about themselves—and want to change that. For us however, the environment is more critical than psychology.

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