Climate change is destroying golf — how will the game survive?

Written by Staff Writer

Climate change is making the world’s most beloved pastime, golf, a lot less tame.

Recent years have seen golfers enduring a generally dry summer in Europe and a brutal, wet winter in Asia — with some courses suffering seasons with more than half the numbers of days without rain.

Climate change is affecting the weather pattern of golf courses. Courtesy USGA

Climate change isn’t only sending golf patrons into showers — golf course owners are also facing a host of unexpected problems.

“As the world and the golfing industry continues to move away from fossil fuels, it’s inevitable that the golf season has a greater impact on our businesses than it ever has in the past,” said Alfonso Martin, director of operations at Golf Green Alliance.

‘Truly, unusual’

“Golf clubs have so many days where it’s drier than normal in a single year,” he said. “Last season, we had 39 days where the North American golf season was 100% dry — the first time this has happened since records began.”

Arrangements made for a growing global game requires golf clubs to make large financial outlays each year to ensure they have the long-term sustainability to create the best courses they can.

It’s no wonder some courses would prefer to go under or become non-profit institutions rather than spend money on things that won’t happen again.

“One of the issues with climate change is that it increases the risks,” Martin explained. “So if you go out and invest in a new golf course in California that isn’t irrigated, and in 20 years, it’s flooded then you could end up in bankruptcy.”

According to Martin, Australia has been hit by a particularly harsh spike in extreme weather events over the past 20 years, with its wetter winters followed by harder-than-average springs and drier-than-normal summers.

“These past 10 years have seen such an increase in the amount of extreme weather events in Sydney,” he said. “We have had so many incidents where people died and people could not rebuild their lives again as they were.”

However, Australia doesn’t have the option of beingmoored to the past. After last year’s devastating Hobart floods in Tasmania — which claimed the lives of 28 people and caused over $1 billion in damage — the government voted in an energy saving scheme to require sustainable roofs on new commercial buildings by 2025.

According to Martin, though, it’s a little too early to predict whether climate change will mean golf facilities spend their money elsewhere.

“Climate change is here and it’s real,” he said. “But if you look at how wet it is in Australia now, things are looking a little better. We still think there is more to come, and how golf will be affected is something that’s always going to be unpredictable.”

Golf’s changing appeal

If climate change is wreaking havoc with golf courses around the world, then perhaps golf’s appeal is changing — if only slightly.

Although the sport is increasingly referred to as a round of leisurely sports with more physical benefits than regular-sized basketballs, many people find it’s not as easy to take part in.

In a recent study, insurance companies found that between two and six percent of golfers admitted they would be unlikely to play again after a season with the game.

Andrew Noel, head of professional golf at JLT Sport, said this figure doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of players dropping out from their golf leagues: “It’s probably the number of people who stopped altogether,” he said.

He added that the sport has lost a significant amount of popularity around the world over the past 20 years, with particularly rapid growth in more authoritarian countries.

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