Program Helps Golf Courses “Green” Their Greens

Cozumel Country Club
Cozumel Country Club, Cozumel, Mexico: Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
Photo courtesy of Audubon International

Since 1991, a unique program has helped golf lovers around the world be even more “green.” The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses (ACSP), developed by the New York nonprofit Audubon International, certifies golf courses that meet criteria in six different areas of environmental stewardship. The program helps course managers “look at property they have every day from a more environmental standpoint,” says Joellen Zeh, ACSP program manager.

Supported by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA), the ACSP assesses each participating course’s efforts in environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management, and outreach and education. Program specialists work with local experts to help the course managers adapt their links to be more environmentally friendly. Currently, more than 2,100 golf courses in 24 countries participate in the ACSP initiative, and over 600 properties have been certified.

Golf courses are notorious for their heavy resource use. According to World Watch magazine, the world’s courses use an estimated 2.5 billion gallons (9.5 liters) of water a day for irrigation. And in the United States, some 4 million pounds (1.8 million kilograms) of an arsenic-containing pesticide, monosodium methanearsonate, is applied to golf courses and cotton fields annually to control weeds. Audubon International estimates that participating ACSP courses with improved irrigation methods save some 1.9 million gallons (7.2 liters) of water each per year. The group also notes that 82 percent of ACSP survey respondents reduced their pesticide use, and 75 percent reduced pesticide costs.

Golf courses frequently gain financial benefits from ACSP participation, according to Audubon International. Adaptations to chemical management can mean reduced liability risks and insurance premiums. Less water and energy use also translate into monetary savings, and golfers and superintendents alike have reported increased or maintained satisfaction with the courses after participating. The environmental certification also tends to improve a golf course’s reputation and standing in the community, Audubon International says.

In Eufaula, Alabama, one golf course’s quest to earn ACSP certification inspired the entire community to go green. Citizens developed a community-wide environmental plan that applies to municipal properties such as school, parks, and government buildings. It also offers guidance on how individuals can help make the town more sustainable. According to ACSP’s Zeh, the certification program is first and foremost an educational initiative, but it often snowballs as people “go even farther than we would have imagined.”

Golfers who wish to help boost the demand for eco-friendly courses and become better stewards of the links can sign the “Green Golfer Challenge,” supported jointly by the USGA, Professional Golfers’ Association, and Audubon International.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.