As the drought bites, golf clubs told: let the greens go brown

Global warming prompts one of sport's most traditional-minded ruling bodies to go eco-friendly
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The Independent Online

Greens are to become browner in a drive to make golf kinder to the environment. In a revolutionary move, the rulers of golf are telling courses around the world to become more environmentally friendly, in order to head off criticism and cope with global warming.

The 250-year-old Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, which governs golf outside the US and Mexico, wants courses to use much less water and drought-tolerant grasses as the climate changes. It is also urging them to cut out pesticides and to put recycled glass instead of sand in their bunkers.

The campaign - to which some 2,000 courses in 100 countries have already signed up - aims to "improve golf's image as a polluter and abuser of vast tracts of countryside" in response to charges by environmentalists that it wastes resources, poisons land and water, and destroys priceless wildlife habitats.

Golf has much the greatest impact on the land of any sport. The world's 25,000 golf courses - a tenth of them in Britain - cover an area the size of Belgium. Their critics say that they use up to seven times as much pesticide per acre as farmland, and that they can soak up enough water to supply a small town. And they add that the rapid expansion of golf, particularly in the Third World, has ruined ecosystems and thrown people off their land.

"Golf has acquired the status of a four-letter word because of the havoc it has wrought across the globe", said one Indian critic, Mario Rodrigues.

The Global Anti-Golf Movement has been pushing for 13 years to stop any more courses being built and to have existing ones "converted to public parks". And the underground Anarchist Golfing Association destroyed GM grass worth $300,000 being developed for greens.

Britain's leading golfer, Colin Montgomerie, is taking on board the St Andrews recommendations for a course he is designing at Rowallan Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland.

"It is important that a strong environmental ethos is a cornerstone of new golf projects," he says. "Our sport takes us to places of breathtaking natural beauty and we have to do all we can to preserve them."

St Andrews is promoting "sustainable golf" and telling golfers that environmentally-friendly courses make for a better game.

Its campaign is fronted by Michael Barrett, a presenter of the former BBC news magazine programme Nationwide, who himself once opposed golf. He recalls how he and fellow broadcaster Michael Parkinson were joint heads of "The Anti-Golf Society", always going on about "boring golfers and their silly little white balls".

Then one day, while walking round a course with his local publican, he was persuaded to hit the ball. "I took a swipe and the ball did what it has never done since and landed right next to the flag."

Hooked, he converted Parkinson, who also became a keen golfer.

Mr Barrett blames television for much of the overuse of water and pesticides on courses, saying that club members see lush greens in tourna- ments, and demand the same.

But watering and fertilising the six courses at St Andrews is "minimal", says Gordon Moir, the links superintendent. No pesticides have been used for years, the greens are weeded by hand, and wildlife flourishes, he says: rare brown hares abound, and sand martins have nested in spare bunker sand, deliberately left in a pile to encourage them.

The club has even put "sand" made of recycled glass in practice bunkers. Many prefer it: the ball does not dig in so deeply.