Going forward, golf must be stopped

From environmental effects to paywalls, golf is a drag

My parents tried to raise me to be a golfer. It didn’t work. There is no sport with which I have a greater enmity than golf.

The avid golfer reading this editorial will have paused midway through the last sentence, pensively stroking their moustache, to exclaim, “But why? Golf gets people outside!”

The incentive to leave the house is not particular to golf. I go outside to meet neighbourhood cats and talk to gardening retirees.

Furthermore, golf is expensive and time-consuming in a way that many other recreational sports are not. By comparison, a sport like soccer could theoretically be played in a dark alleyway with a tumbleweed made of crumpled receipts and a dream.

Golfers not only have the luxury of between two and five leisure hours to spend on the course. They also have the time and means to get to the course. Even the quickest bus routes to Crescent Drive — which is the nearest short course to the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus — involve a journey that is barely under half an hour with a transfer.

The steep cost of entry makes golf’s luxuriousness even more visible. Someone who doesn’t own clubs and sets aside a mere two to three hours to sneak in nine holes at Crescent Drive will be spending $24 to start. If they haven’t sunk $700 or more into owning a middling set of clubs, Crescent Drive charges $30 for club rentals along with an additional $5 for a pull cart if they just walk the course instead of lugging the clubs around. For the privilege of a motorized cart, players shell out a further $24 to rent one.

Enjoy that $78 three-hour outside time.

At this point, reader, you will pound your fist on a table, moustache quivering, and shout, “Some of us are willing to pay for sports!”

I object to the restriction of access to green space with fees, and I think endorsement of that system is obliquely applauding class divides. Like the golf course that was lauded for giving a face lift to what the New York Times dubbed a crime-ridden area of New Orleans, golf courses are often gentrifying tools. They are buffer zones between poor places and wealthier ones.

One of Winnipeg’s privately owned courses, St. Charles Country Club, does not allow even the paying public to play on its course. Instead, patrons of St. Charles must either purchase a membership or be invited by someone who has one. The course boasts its exclusivity too. Its website advertises itself as hosting “20 per cent less” rounds than most private clubs.

The vein in your forehead just pulsated a bit, reader, and I know what you want to say next. Golf courses preserve green space in a time when corporate greed devours the natural world in perpetuity. Even though all people can’t afford to access them, that must be a net positive.

In truth, the construction of golf courses is an overwhelmingly bad thing for the planet. As Kit Wheeler and John Nauright summarized in a 2006 paper, the construction of golf courses necessarily involves deforestation and changes to topography and hydrology. That is, we terraform to make those immaculate greens, and we do so to the detriment of existing ecosystems.

That’s to say nothing of the toll the upkeep of courses has on the environment. The amount of chemicals required to keep those fairways and putting greens pristine is equivalent to an astounding seven times that of industrial agriculture.

To top that all off, 78 per cent of the world’s golf courses are concentrated in just 10 countries, all in the global north. Even better, almost 17,000 of the nearly 39,000 golf courses on the planet are concentrated in the United States alone. Canada is in third place with more than 2,600 courses.

In short, the global north is accelerating total planetary collapse because some people need a place to hack at balls.

From where I sit, the whole point of preserving green space is so that everyone from current and future generations can enjoy it. That appeal fades when the space can only be accessed if you pay upwards of fifty bucks a day for the privilege of poking through ponds, looking for the ball you drove off the fairway on your third beer. The appeal explodes into dust when course upkeep is poisoning the land with chemicals.

This did not used to be the case. In 15th century Scotland — where modern golf originated — golf courses were just natural landscapes. People would try to hit pebbles over sand dunes.

Golf courses are glorified manicured lawns, except lawns are not constantly barraged by spherical nightmare pellets shot by polo-wearing accountants and alpha dads harrumphing about their business sense.

Now your moustache is bristling again, and I imagine you will say, “But what about those people who like to golf? What do you expect them to do?”

People used to flock to the Globe Theatre to watch bear baiting in London and tossing wine was once a celebrated sport in Ancient Greece. You can play golf until it doesn’t matter anymore, and Scottie Scheffler will likely be part of ancient memory before he has to learn VRChat foosball or competitive mall walking to earn a living. As for me, I’ll be hanging out with the gardeners and the cats.