Golf Gets Back to Nature, Inviting Everyone to Play
Using natural landforms and native grasses and plants, golf course designers are creating links that are environmentally up to par
With more than 15,000 golf courses in the United States, golf's appeal just keeps growing. But is carving fairways out of a forest, moving sand dunes or planting thirsty Bermuda grass in a desert setting really an intelligent use of land? And to keep these courses free of bugs, weeds and brown spots, is it worth the liberal use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides?
Working on the principle that a well-designed course can actually put health back into the land, some golf courses are providing eye-opening answers to these questions. In Scituate, Massachusetts, what was once an abandoned quarry and illegal dumping ground is now the site of Widow's Walk, a public golf course full of vegetation and wildlife. At Desert Willow, a $10 million project in Palm Desert, California, architect Michael Hurdzan created a public course that's every bit a part of its desert environment by using plants native to the desert valley and limiting the grassy areas to a scant 75 to 80 acres.
Cloverdale Golf Club in Washington State might be the essence of public golf. Once a working dairy farm, it had a herd of well-tended holsteins roaming this land just three years ago. But with milk prices in "the pits," owners Rick and Cynthia Witscher turned to golf. Their course, with its hardy turf of six native grasses, is as environmentally light on the land as an ancient Scottish links.
Writer Jay Stuller traveled from California to St. Andrews, Scotland, to find a new ethic in golf course design that provides, in his words, "a refreshing counterpoint to criticism of a sport that once seemed beyond reproach."
For more information on this topic, see our Additional Sources page and explore the Archives of Smithsonian Magazine:
- Attack! Explode! (May 99)
- Our Love Affair With Lawns (April 99)
- The Old Ball Game (October 98)