Golf seems like such an innocuous sport, but it can have a pretty significant environmental impact. Leaving aside the considerable quantity of pesticides, fertilizers and water used to keep greens green, consider lowly golf balls. These small spheres are practically indestructible so they can withstand the force of a powerfully swung club. They don’t crack up when they’re hit; you can imagine how long they take to decompose if they’re lost in the woods. It’s estimated that more than 100 million golf balls end up in rivers, lakes, streams, forests, and meadows each year. That’s a lot of balls for Mother Nature to contend with.
Enter the biodegradable golf ball. Dixon ($39.95 per 12-pack; pictured left) has developed a biodegradable ball that decomposes in water and leaves no residue behind. Another benefit: each Dixon pack includes a return mail pouch so you can easily recycle old balls for new ones. EcoGolfBalls are cheaper at $10 for a pack of 12, and also degrade quickly in water. Wilson Eco-core golf balls are molded around recycled rubber tires, though they don’t biodegrade. All three brands come in recyclable packaging made from recycled materials.
What about other golf gear?
Golf Tees: Biodegradable golf tees are becoming the rage for golfers concerned about their eco-impact. Dixon, Ecogolf, and Golf Tee XT all make biodegradable tees. Ask the pro shop to order them if they’re already not in stock. You can also check local sporting goods stores and Wal-Mart, as well as online.
Currently the only eco bag on the market is the Wilson Staff Eco-Carry, made from recycled plastic soda bottles. It's lightweight and durable, given the fibers are essentially respun plastic fabric.
Clothing: Pickings are slim in the eco-friendly golf wear department. All Apparel & Accessories sells a variety of reasonably priced polos for men and women made from 100% organic cotton. Spreadshirt offers men’s and women’s tees in a polyester/organic cotton blend. Dixon sells caps made from organic cotton. At least as far as we can tell, nobody’s making plaid golf pants out of recycled fibers.
What about golf courses themselves? Golf Digest does a good job here of enumerating the specific environmental challenges conventional golf courses post. Featured quote: "THE PESTICIDES THAT GOLF COURSES USE, AND THE ONES THAT PEOPLE THROW ON THEIR LAWNS, PERHAPS ARE NOT AS SAFE AS WE BLITHELY ASSUME THEM TO BE."
Meanwhile,Audubon International has created a Cooperative Sanctuary program to help golf courses conserve water, minimize chemical use, and protect wildlife.
Want to see who’s doing it right? Check out Greenopia’s list of the seven most eco-friendly golf courses.
(Research assistance by Katie Kelleher)