Nobody likes to be considered the black sheep of the family.
That was my feeling as I talked with two PGA Tour agronomists. Both had a forlorn look as they shared their disappointment about the perception that golfers, and the public in general, felt tour events did not adhere to sound environmental practices. Heck, they even heard and read that some superintendents felt the same way.
Too green, they were hearing. They were told tour events were like an enemy invasion where the grounds were pummeled and left in ruins after the troops had left town.
Those were not easy things to hear for these professionals – both certified golf course superintendents – whose careers were built on being good stewards of the land. The programs they helped to develop with host superintendents were based on sound principles. Even the tour’s own TPC properties were members of the Audubon Sanctuary program and were winners of the GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards program.
That conversation was had nearly a decade ago.
As we fast-forward to today, I’m happy to see that the communication about land stewardship and sustainability has picked up some steam. When National Golf Day was conceived, the environment was not positioned on as high a platform as tax relief or business development concerns. In recent years, the subject has gained equal footing. The environmental discussion used to be thought of as only the domain of architect and superintendent groups, but now almost every organization in the alphabet soup of golf has a healthy focus and is well-versed on the topic.
But is it enough? If I had the conversation with those two tour agronomists today, would they feel the same?
I turned to my good friend John Miller, the certified golf course superintendent who was recently named LPGA Tour agronomist (his second such stint). Miller has hosted professional events as a superintendent, overseen them as a consulting agronomist and interacted with thousands of superintendents as a GCSAA field staff representative.
“I really think the golf industry as a whole is focused on environmental stewardship and understanding of how important it is to the long-term health of the game,” Miller said. “I think there have been better communications within the industry because everyone sees the importance and we have examples and issues to share: new grasses, better irrigation, reclaimed water, drought in the West, cost of water, etc.”
Miller also believes the message is taking hold with serious golfers – those who play regularly. While it is natural to assume those who play golf would have a positive view toward golf’s relationship with the environment, Miller thinks those avid golfers are starting to get it. He bases that on the viewpoint of superintendents with whom he has talked in recent years.
But is winning over the avid golfer enough, especially when their numbers are falling? Is it enough when there are other non-golf groups and individuals that influence how the game is perceived and how it is governed by policymakers?
The fact remains we are still not shouting from the highest mountain top, namely televised golf events. There is no more influential vehicle to state golf’s case. This is not to say there has been no progress in this area. In the last 10 years we have seen concepts of the environment, course management and superintendent expertise discussed with greater frequency.
My belief is the message isn’t loud or frequent enough. The various tours and organizations are business partners with the networks. While not in total control of broadcasts, the hosts have tremendous influence. There are enough creative and intelligent people to make it work for the broadcast. Over the course of a telecast we regularly hear about architecture, equipment and ball technology, charitable contributions from tournaments, caddies, sponsors, fitness trailers and more.
Why can’t we work in something about the environment and golf’s efforts of sustainability?
The actions regarding stewardship of the golf course have been impressive. Superintendents have led the charge in demonstrating golf’s compatibility with the environment. Now we need the words to match those actions.
PHOTO BY IMBARNEY22/SIGNATURE/ISTOCK