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Sport, globalization and the environment

Golf is a major global industry. It is played by more than 60 million people worldwide, and there are more than 32 000 courses in 140 countries across the globe. Golf is a sport that has traditionally appealed to the wealthy and powerful in particular, though it attracts players and spectators from a wide range of demographics. Golf has also received criticism regarding its impact on the environment, particularly when it comes to the appropriation of land for golf course development and the use of water and pesticides in course management. The golf industry has, over time, responded to these and other concerns by stressing its capacity for recognizing and dealing with environmental problems. Yet there are reasons to be sceptical about the golf industry's environmental leadership – and, indeed, to be sceptical about corporate environmentalism in general. This book looks at the power relationships in and around golf, examining whether the industry has demonstrated such leadership on environmental matters that it should be trusted to make weighty decisions that have implications for public and environmental health. This is the first comprehensive study of the varying responses to golf-related environmental issues. It is based on extensive empirical work, including research into historical materials and interviews with stakeholders in golf such as course superintendents, protesters, and health professionals. The authors examine golf as a sport and as a global industry, drawing on and contributing to literatures pertaining to environmental sociology, global social movements, institutional change, corporate environmentalism and the sociology of sport.

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Approaching golf and environmental issues

This chapter introduces readers to the range of environment-related problems associated with golf, to the array of responses to these problems, and to the questions that guided our exploration of these problems and responses. This includes an outline of research focused on pesticides and their impacts on human and non-human health. It also includes discussion of the need for further research on the social and political reasons that golf-related environmental problems exist, and why stakeholders in golf have responded to these problems in particular ways over time.

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How to make sense of responses to environmental problems

This chapter outlines key debates within the field of environmental sociology and discusses how these debates are pertinent to the study of golf reported in this book. The main debate we focus on involves the view, on one side, that environmental problems can be solved through business-friendly innovations and the development of new technologies, and the view, on the other side, that corporate-driven solutions are rarely stringent enough to foment substantial (and necessary) environmental changes. In this context, we also explain the theoretical concepts mobilized on each side of this debate. The former, corporatist side tends to be underpinned by the theory known as ‘ecological modernization’ (EM) – a theory that positions technological ingenuity as a viable avenue towards ‘cleaner’ forms of industrialization. This is countered by the treadmill of production concept whereby the ‘need’ for ongoing consumption and global expansion (e.g., of golf-related tourism) is problematized for putting constant and perhaps unsustainable stress on the natural environment. In this chapter we also map out the ‘PAAR continuum’ that we devised to help us organize the range of responses to golf-related environmental issues – with PAAR referring to pro-golf, alter-golf, and anti-golf responses.

in The greening of golf
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Golf comes to America

In this chapter we outline changes in golf course maintenance that emerged as golf moved across the Atlantic from the UK. We focus initially on the early 1900s, describing how the increasing use of chemicals on golf courses and the adoption of highly impactful practices for altering golf course landscapes aligned well with the modernizing practices under way beyond the golf industry at this point in time. Golf’s ‘move’ to America inspired discussion among key industry representatives on how to develop ‘modern’, predictable playing terrain, as opposed to the ‘primitive’ conditions of old. As we demonstrate, this modernist sentiment reached its apotheosis in the post-war years in the use of the highly potent synthetic chemical DDT for the purpose of eradicating unwanted ‘pests’. We argue in conclusion that golf in the post-war period was in a ‘Promethean’ phase. That is to say, and in keeping with the general Promethean environmental discourse, golf industry representatives were both adopting environmentally impactful practices and defending their natural right to do so.

in The greening of golf

This chapter describes how media depictions of ideal golf playing conditions effectively provided further rationale in the post-war years for the deployment of highly impactful course management tactics. We specifically outline the arrival of Augusta National syndrome, named after the Augusta National golf course in Augusta, Georgia – home of the annual Masters men’s golf tournament. With the televising of golf, Augusta’s seemingly unblemished course aesthetic was widely disseminated. The outcome – or at least the perceived outcome – was the expectation among golfers that Augusta’s lush fairways and greens could be easily achieved elsewhere. In this chapter we also highlight the economic growth imperative that has long sat at the golf industry’s core. Together, Chapters 3 and 4 outline an initial ‘pro-golf’ response to environmental concerns, marked in large part by denial that golf must become more environmentally responsible.

in The greening of golf

In this chapter, we take initial steps in documenting the golf industry’s move towards a ‘responsible’ and leading position on environmental issues. In other words, we begin our outline of the reformist, alter-golf approach that makes up part of our ‘PAAR’ continuum, first explained in Chapter 2. In this chapter, we are concerned mainly with ‘best practices’, and even more specifically with the adoption of technology-aided protocols for turfgrass management such as integrated pest management, or IPM. As the 1980s grew near, IPM was adopted from the wider agricultural sector as a formal system for reducing – albeit voluntarily – the application of synthetic chemicals in the treatment of turfgrass ‘pests’. At the same time, organizations such as the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America were fortifying their scientific research agendas, in part by strengthening their relationships with chemical companies who acted as funding donors. The golf industry, then, while long interested in modernization, was effectively adopting an ecological modernist position as the twentieth century neared its end.

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Professionalization and post-politics in the time of responsible golf

This chapter advances the narrative of enhanced environmental responsibility, turning to the issue of professionalization – and especially the development of formal educational and impression management campaigns around golf. As golf underwent a process of ecological modernization beginning roughly in the late 1970s, educational programming was aimed at training golf industry representatives in the environmental best practices described in Chapter 5. Impression management went towards swaying key audiences – the public and government officials in particular. In total, our argument in this chapter is not that the golf industry had never before been concerned with training its labour force or with how the game and industry were perceived by consumers and governments. Rather, the point we demonstrate is that professionalization grew ever more important as the post-war period unfolded, and in particular as the environmental movement gathered steam.

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Environmental managerialism and golf’s conspicuous exemption

This chapter looks at governments’ responses to concerns about golf’s environmental impacts. If the golf industry has indeed sought to manage impressions of its environmental record in the post-war years, the question becomes, how have those with regulatory authority responded to this? It is here where we focus especially on recent legislation in Ontario, Canada that exempted the golf industry from an otherwise stringent law on pesticide use for cosmetic reasons. In this chapter we also look beyond Ontario to understand the nature of environmental regulation at present in more general terms. We ultimately suggest that golf’s self-proclaimed leadership on environmental matters has been met by a desire among governments to find industry-friendly mechanisms for environmental regulation – one fits ‘hand in glove’ with the other. This has fomented what has been termed a ‘post-political’ situation whereby alternative, perhaps ‘radical’, ways of addressing environmental problems fall by the wayside in favour of light-green environmental strategies.

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Global and local forms of resistance to golf course development

In this chapter we discuss golf-related protest movements, focusing on both global and local forms of protest activity. Much of our attention here is given to the Global Anti-Golf Movement, a ‘new social movement’ that emerged in the 1990s from the collaborative work of a collection of environmental groups in East Asia. In the view of the Global Anti-Golf Movement, golf tourism (especially in developing countries) displaces indigenous peoples from their land, unduly impacts on local resources, disperses toxins (e.g., through chemical spraying), and, in the end, funnels profits towards transnational companies and away from local communities. And while golf course developers, designers, and managers increasingly make claims regarding their ‘friendlier’ environmental practices, the Global Anti-Golf Movement sees many light-greening practices as mere ‘greenwashing’, and thus as disingenuous. When it comes to local protests, our attention turns mainly to original research we conducted on a resistance campaign in Menie, Scotland against a golf course proposed (and eventually built) by a group led by US businessman Donald Trump. This Scottish case is compelling for a number of reasons; what it tells us in large part is that protesters can (and do) take up their own range of tactics to present a persuasive case about golf’s sometimes-negative social and environmental impacts.

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The potential and challenges of a chemical-free golf alternative

In this chapter we focus on organic golf as another alter-golf response to golf-related environmental issues, thus further exploring our PAAR continuum from Chapter 2. It is here where we discuss our site visits to organic golf courses in Canada and the UK, and describe a more transformative approach to changing golf than that led by the mainstream golf industry to date. We note how some organic golf proponents are interested not only in changing established golf industry practices, but in inspiring golfers themselves to judge the quality of golf courses differently. This might involve, for example, recognizing that pristine courses may not be ‘healthy’ courses and environments. We suggest that this sort of cultural shift is crucial if an organic, alter-golf movement is to take hold. Far from celebrating organic golf tout court, however, we close this chapter by acknowledging that organic golf is not immune to criticism (e.g., over the exclusivity of golf based on its high cost to consumers) and is not free of environmental concerns of its own. We suggest instead that organic golf is a tentative move in the right direction for the golf industry, and that organic golf should not languish ‘on the fringe’ of golf as it has to a great extent so far.

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