Why we should ban golf to save the planet

The Eco Experts

Golf uses as much British land as Greater Manchester

In England alone, golf courses use 16 billion litres of water per year

London’s 43 publicly owned courses could provide housing for 300,000 people

We’re in the middle of a climate catastrophe, with droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires sweeping the Earth.

And yet, with mere years left to avert the worst consequences of a phenomenon we created, we’re playing golf like Nero fiddling as Rome burns.

The sport uses an obscene amount of natural resources such as land and water, all to create a plastic version of nature for a luxurious game that has no place in these desperate times.

Here are all the reasons why golf should be banned, and a plan for what should replace golf courses.

a bird's eye view of a golf course with two golfers

Why is golf bad for the planet?

Golf is a misuse of resources, a bad hangover from colonial, exclusionary, class-based societies that needed to bend gigantic swathes of natural land to their will to feel powerful.

Here are the main reasons why this elitist, entitled sport is bad for the planet and humanity.

1. It’s a poor use of land

Golf courses cover 1,256 km² of Britain, according to the BBC, which is the same area as Greater Manchester.

The 2,200 courses in England each take up 0.5 km², on average – meaning one golf course contains enough space for 62 Premier League football pitches.

In London alone, they take up 43.31 km², which is more than most of the capital’s boroughs.

But despite their sprawling, ubiquitous presence, many of them are private clubs, inaccessible to non-members.

In each of these cases, a huge natural space has been seized, refashioned for a luxurious, wasteful game, and closed off to everyone except the richest among us.

We can put this land to much better use, as we’ll explain later on.

2. Golf uses an astounding amount of water

Golf courses in England use 16 billion litres of water per year, according to our calculations.

Despite being a conservative estimate, this would be enough water to fulfil the daily household needs of 113 million people – twice as many people as actually live in England.

And yet, in 2022, when droughts were leading water companies across the country to restrict usage, golf courses were given an exception to water their tees, fairways, and greens.

This is unsustainable. The National Audit Office has warned: “If more concerted action is not taken now, parts of the south and south-east of England will run out of water within the next 20 years.

“Reducing demand is essential to prevent water shortages.”

The government’s Environment Agency summed up the sheer scale of the problem, stating: “If no action is taken, between 2025 and 2050 around 3,435 million extra litres of water per day will be needed for public water supply.”

Water is a limited resource, and golf courses already use far too much. They must dramatically reduce their water consumption or face being shut down for the good of the country.

3. It’s not popular enough to justify itself

In terms of popularity across the UK, golf falls behind football, rugby, cricket, tennis, and possibly even horse racing.

Despite this fact, golf courses take up 67 times more space in London than tennis courts, and use 47% more land than football pitches.

In total, around 100 km² of London is given over to sport and leisure activities – of which 43% is dedicated entirely to golf.

Seven times more people play football than golf on these shores, and their sport uses space efficiently, with 22 footballers taking up – at most – a 100.6 by 64 metre space.

That means each player can have a maximum of 293 m² to themselves, or roughly a 15 by 20 metre rectangle.

In contrast, since most golf clubs only allow four players to play a hole at the same time, each course can only host 72 golfers at once – meaning 6,944 m² of space being painstakingly cultivated for each player.

a bird's-eye view of a golf course next to autumnal trees

Are there any environmental benefits to golf?

Golf courses do sequester CO2, keeping tonnes of carbon emissions under the ground for decades at a time.

Studies have also found golf courses are often home to a relatively high number of indigenous plant and animal species, and allow trees to grow for longer than they do in other urban areas.

They also provide oases of dark wildlife that are untouched by light pollution, which is crucial to let many species thrive.

Would banning golf stop these benefits?

With careful management, these benefits can all be maintained for golf courses that are transformed into natural spaces, and in many cases enhanced.

After all, the main aim for companies that run golf courses is to create the false, inauthentic version of nature that most golfers demand: smooth fairways leading to shiny, perfectly preserved greens.

Without the pressure to achieve this gaudy reality, nature can be allowed to flourish.

What would we replace golf courses with?

We should replace golf courses with community farms, forests, public parks, and a transformative amount of affordable housing.

Here’s why each one would be a better use of land than golf.

1. Community farms

Community farms offer a way for locals to connect with nature, grow food with their own hands and time, and cooperate with other people to fight climate change.

They’re good for the environment and surrounding wildlife, for participants who typically eat more fruit and vegetables as a result, and for the mental health of everyone involved.

Growing food together is also a wonderful way of building a community, which often results in more projects that make life for residents and the local environment better.

2. Forests

Forests are an invaluable weapon in the fight against climate change.

Each 1 km² of coniferous woodland can absorb 490 tonnes of CO2 per year until 2050, according to the Scottish government.

If we turned half of the golf courses in Britain into forests by 2025, we would save 7.7 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050 – an enormous reduction.

3. Public parks

Nature shouldn’t be the preserve of the ultra-wealthy.

Instead, these huge natural spaces should become public parks where nature is allowed to flourish without being attacked with damaging weed killers, insecticides, and pesticides.

People should be free to enjoy nature, and nature should be allowed to grow as intended, outside of the one-dimensional, flawless green appearance that characterises golf courses.

Rewilding these areas will combat climate change, reduce the risk of flooding, and improve local residents’ health and wellbeing. Wild flowers are better for you than pesticides, after all.

4. Affordable housing

We use a similar amount of land for housing as we do for golf in the UK, which is unacceptable considering how high rent prices are and how many people are unhoused.

The 43 publicly owned golf courses in London offer enough space to house 300,000 people, according to The Guardian.

That’s enough to provide homes to the 10,000 unhoused people in the capital, make a massive profit off the other properties, and help alleviate the housing crisis.

What would getting rid of golf courses achieve?

Getting rid of golf courses would save 16 billion litres of water per year, free up space for more housing, cut millions of tonnes of CO2 from our national carbon footprint, and democratise nature.

The benefits that forests and community farms would offer local residents far outweigh the advantages enjoyed by the relatively tiny slice of people who want to play golf and can afford the membership fees.

Natural areas should be for the good of all of us, not just a wealthy minority.

Looking forward

Golf courses are terrible for the environment.

Don’t get us wrong: there are plenty of other offenders – residential lawns, for one – which massively misuse our precious, finite resources.

But this isn’t the place for whataboutery. Other things we do are also bad – but there’s no convincing ethical reason for golf courses.

At the very least, we should significantly reduce the number of golf courses we have. The UK currently boasts a golf course for every 25,000 people, a ridiculously unnecessary ratio.

Germany, which has the second-highest number of golf courses in Europe, only has a golf course for every 79,000 people. We have to make better use of our natural resources.

Written by:
josh jackman
Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past four years. His work has been displayed on the front page of the Financial Times, he's been interviewed by BBC One's Rip-Off Britain, and he regularly features in The Telegraph and on BBC Radio.
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