Interdisciplinary Minor in Global Sustainability
Senior Seminar
University of California, Irvine June 1997 

Golf and the Environment   By Chris Syrengelas

Golf tourism is spreading rapidly all over the world in places like Asia and Mexico. Although most people who play the sport of golf play because of its interaction with nature, what most golfers do not realize or consider is the damaging environmental impact on the sport. The booming golf trade throughout the world creates a haven for golfers and a nightmare for environmentalists. According to members of the Malaysia-Based Asia-Pacific People’s Environment Network, golf development is becoming one of the most unsustainable and damaging activities to people and the environment (TED Case Studies, 1997).

Asia has gone from just 45 golf courses in 1970 to over 500 today (TED Case Studies, 1997). The rapid increase in development also brings a rapid increase in ecological problems. In Southwest Asia ecological apathy includes greens carved out of paddy fields and virgin forests. Development of golf courses also entails clearing vegetation, cutting forests and creating artificial landscapes. These activities lead to land erosion and block the soils ability to retain water (Klein, 1996). Golf courses also need large quantities of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, which cause health problems among golfers, workers, and nearby residents. Unfortunately, these numerous problems are overlooked by developers who are often supported by the Asian governments due to the economic rewards from the sport. The low green fees in Asia have increased tourism to these courses as well as increasing the temptation for further golf course development.

The most notorious debate among golf course development in recent years has been the plan to create a $311 million project consisting of 592 luxury homes, hotels, restaurants, and a 7,276-yard golf course in Tepoztlan Mexico. Opponents of the golf course claim that golf-course projects use dangerous chemicals and too much water as well as induce higher property taxes and disrupt culturally intact communities. The site of development in Tepoztlan will be located on 462 acres of communal land within a national park and a biological corridor that harbors Aztec ruins and 28 endemic species of animals (Planet ENN, 1996). The high amount of water necessary for the project is estimated by developers to be approximately 800,000 gallons a day for peak irrigation (which is nearly five times that pumped daily by Tepoztlan). This brings about much debate because of the town’s ongoing problems with water shortage.

Those who support the Tepoztlan golf plan (mainly developers) believe that it will create 13,000 construction jobs over seven years, and 2900 permanent jobs (Selcraig, 1996). Although Francisco Sobrino, the main developer for the golf course, is disliked among the Tepoztlan community, Sobrino believes that the golf plan will only benefit the community and tries to ignore those who disagree with his plan. Sobrino also claims that the problems with golf course pesticides are mislabeled. He states that the average hectare of tomatoes in Mexico will use 300 times the amount of chemicals that the golf course will on the same amount of land (Selcraig, 1996).

Jack Nicklaus, the architect for the site, was recently asked a few questions by Golf Digest magazine about his thoughts on the negative aspects of the plan. When asked about his feelings on the ecological disruption of Tepoztlan from the development of the golf course, he stated that in every project he does, he proceeds as though he were in the United States with United Sates environmental regulations. He made evident in the interview that the "last thing we want to do is destroy the environment." Although Nicklaus feels this way, he still won’t withdraw from the project despite the towns political and ecological opposition.

In the United States, solutions to the negative aspects of golf course development have begun (Achenbach, 1996). In Nebraska City, Nebraska a new golf course project is under way that is designed to allow the existence of golf and habitat simultaneously. The project is being conducted by the University of Nebraska and includes a three-step process that has never been attempted in golf course development. Step one is to take readings and measures to determine the extent and quality of the soil, water, microorganisms, grasses, plants, and wildlife on the site once a year prior to the development. Step two is to continue the monitoring during construction. Step three is to continue to test for five years after the course is opened. These steps will provide a "living classroom" situation in which data is available from all phases of golf course development. The significance of this project is that nobody has ever taken a piece of land and intensely studied it before, during, and after golf course construction (Achenbach, 1996).

The economic advantages and the continuing popularity of golf will keep the sport around for a long time. Future development of golf courses is virtually guaranteed, as is the continuing debate among developers and ecologists about golf’s environmental impacts. However, constant arguing and debate will not solve environmental problems. It is time to stop fighting over the environment and time to start developing solutions on how golf courses can be created in concert with the environment.



Achenbach 1996.

B.S. Klein. Nov, 1996. The Responsibility Challenge. Golf Week.

B.Selcraig. June 1996. Mexican Golf War. Golf Digest.

Planet ENN. 1996.

TED Case Studies. 1997.

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