The United States is home to an estimated 43 percent of the world’s golf courses, according to specialist online magazine Golf Monthly. With 16,752 sites, it has more than five times the number of the next country on the list, Japan, which is home to some 3,169 courses. Of European countries, England has by far the most at 2,270, followed by Germany with 1,050 and France with 804.
The sport raises serious issues in terms of land and water use. In a world battling climate change, with droughts having become more widespread in recent years, the question of whether golf – a sport enjoyed by a select few – can be justified with its extensive drain on resources is becoming more pressing.
One stat frequently cited recalls a 2006 UN report, which found that a golf course in Thailand used the equivalent of 60,000 rural villagers. Meanwhile in the U.S, an NPR report revealed that a golf course in Palm Springs uses the same amount of water in a day as a family does in four years, and if you put all of the U.S. golf courses together then it would be the size of the state of Delaware. That’s a huge amount of land, which needs a huge amount of water.
The golfing world argues, however, that the sport is trying to adapt. One recent report by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America found that 29 percent less water was being used in the U.S. in 2020 compared to 2005. This mostly comes down to applying water more efficiently and employing better practices, such as keeping turf drier, pruning tree roots and increasing no-mow acres. Experts add that the future of golf includes switching to a more drought-tolerant turfgrass that needs less moisture and is more heat resistant, even if that means they are less green, as well as carrying out less overseeding.
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