Golf sustainability: How long can golf last if nothing changes?

3 minute read

What will golf look like in 30 years if no courses make efforts to meet sustainability goals?

It’s a question we are often asked. And, in lieu of a time machine, we spoke with Owen James, Sustainability Manager at England Golf, who believes the sport will always exist in some form – but that it could change significantly.

From collecting, storing and re-using rainwater to green energy and improving biodiversity through ‘rewilding’, golf clubs have lots of options to help secure their future. But in a hypothetical worst-case scenario, James believes the sport would become more elitist than ever due to the majority of golfers being priced out of the market.

“Golf will always exist in England,” he said.

“I do not like to be negative, but my long-term worry is that [if no action is taken] the mid-range golf club will disappear and your municipal golf clubs will not be able to exist anymore either because they won’t be financially viable.

“I think the cost of seed, fertiliser – the cost of everything – has gone up to the point where, when land developers come to golf clubs with offers, they will be much more positively received than in the past.

“I think what might happen is your top-level golf clubs could all of a sudden be forced to charge £1,000 or more per round. And golf becomes ultra-exclusive again. Maintenance costs alone could cause that.

“It might be doom and gloom, but it is my ultimate fear – regardless of whether or not mains water gets restricted within the next five years. Though that potential restriction poses a massive problem to a lot of golf clubs.

“A lot of chemicals will be removed from the market and some clubs won’t be able to react quickly enough to those changes and will ultimately find themselves at the wrong end of the balance sheet.

“It is awful to say, but the market is only going one way at the moment.

“I think a lot of courses would end up going back down to nine holes. And selling off some land or diversifying into a nine-hole course with a booming driving range.

“Golf will always exist in some capacity and golf should always exist in some capacity. But if I had my really negative hat on I’d say it’s going to become based purely on cost.”

There is a lot that golf clubs and golfers can do to secure the sport’s future, and this is a worst-case scenario. Click here for some advice from Owen on what club golfers can do to make a difference.

We would also urge golf clubs to contact England Golf or their home union to discuss ways they can make their course more sustainable. Small changes can offer significant improvements in the future. Let’s work together to make sure the sport is accessible to the next generation.

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