Whether for a competitive match, a networking outing with colleagues or just to catch up with friends, Americans love the game of golf. In 2017, over 24 million Americans took to vast, green stretches of land to drive around in a cart and hit a ball with a club. While golf courses may look pretty on the outside, a deeper look at them tells a completely different story. 

Between the valuable fertile land that they currently occupy, the billions of gallons of water used every day and the drastically high use of pesticides, golf courses are ecological and health disasters. Golf has surpassed its expiration date and should go the way of the dinosaurs. Americans must put environmental and human health before pleasure and leisure.

To build a golf course, companies must obtain the rights to a large chunk of land. In the United States, the average size of golf courses ranges between 110 and 190 acres. For reference, this is larger than the world’s smallest country, Vatican City, which takes up just over 100 acres. According to ESPN, there are more than 15,000 golf courses in the U.S. This brings the grand total of acreage of American golf courses to over two million acres larger than the state of Delaware.

The land used for golf courses is sometimes located in valuable areas situated near oceans or lakes. Building golf courses in these places takes away from the agricultural opportunities that could be used to feed local communities. Besides occupying potentially fruitful land, development of golf courses ravishes native ecosystems. Following the allocation of the land, all of the natural vegetation is cleared to allow for the course to be built. All of the trees, plants and habitats for the animals that lived there are wiped out — forcing them to migrate into other ecosystems, creating a hazardous cycle.

Golf courses also use an incredibly large amount of water. According to the United States Golf Association, water usage from daily golf course irrigation totaled 2,312,701 acre-feet per year, which equates to an average of 2.08 billion gallons of water per day between 2003 and 2005. 

In comparison, an Olympic swimming pool holds just over 660,000 gallons of water — this comes out to over 3,000 Olympic swimming pools of water per day. This immense amount of water could be used for farming or treated and provided for households that do not have access to clean running water. 

This issue became increasingly relevant during California’s drought in 2015. California is home to over 1,000 golf courses, so when there was a lack of water and public officials had to decide where to allocate the water, the choice should have been obvious. California should have shut down the golf courses and made sure that every resident had access to clean drinking water. 

However, this was not the case. As many as two-thirds of Californian golf courses stayed open and the average 18-hole course continued to use 90 million gallons of water each day. While Californians all over the state were struggling to find clean water to drink, cook or clean with, golf courses were using enough water to fill 136 Olympic-sized swimming pools daily. 

Another major health risk posed by golf courses comes in the form of pesticides. Researchers surveyed former golf superintendents and found that four types of cancer — brain, lymphoma, prostate and large intestine — were more common in golf superintendents than people working elsewhere. Whether it’s from working closely with maintaining the plant life on the course or just inhaling the fumes, golf course workers are constantly being exposed to toxic chemicals that, over time, develop into dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases.

So how could the roughly two million acres of golf courses be better used? To begin with, they can be turned into farmland. The types of crops that will be grown depend vastly on the climate of the land, but more farmland means more food security. Many suburbs are surrounded by golf courses and replacing them with farms would place less pressure on the community to travel to purchase food. Another option is to turn them into green space.

Either by planting more native trees or by letting them be, the land can become a common area that everyone in each community could benefit from. The former clubhouses can be renovated and turned into housing. There are over half a million homeless people in the U.S. — each and every one of them would benefit from being provided a place to live. 

A better world is possible, and that better world is one without golf. 

Alexander Nobel can be reached at anobel@umich.edu.

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