Why low carbon thinking in golf developments is here to stay

06 Oct 2022

Why low carbon thinking in golf developments is here to stay


“Let’s build a golf course to be climate neutral,” someone said to me casually a few months back. Smiling, I said: “Sure, that should be possible…” That’s when the can of (helpful) worms was really opened. 

We have, at GEO Foundation, spent the last few years looking (through a lens of healthy scepticism it is fair to say) and researching on the science, university papers and other leading organisations behind the notions of ‘net carbon zero’, ‘carbon offsetting’ and the broader ‘climate neutral’ status – including more than just carbon emissions.

One thing we could say in this first exchange was that the external pressure and expectation to demonstrate low carbon thinking in your development project is here to stay. Governments, NGOs and pressure groups almost everywhere are turning their attention to the carbon being emitted by the built environment either during operations or in construction.

Constructing a golf course is a carbon intensive process, almost wholly due to the quantities of diesel being burned by the large plant machinery required to move dirt. That means our focus is best centred on designs, logistics and site arrangements that will allow the most efficient use, movement and work of these large plant machines – how we can move less dirt, drive shorter distances, require fewer truck loads.

To help projects navigate these choppy waters, we’ve identified the ‘key emitters’ that are, more often than not, the areas at the heart of creating a low carbon development hinge. These emitters are earthworks volumes, bulk material sourcing, site arrangement, drainage and irrigation designs, and overall energy water demand.

On average, the embodied carbon to build an 18-hole course could range between 9,400 and 14,800 tonnes, the equivalent of 42,000 hours on a plane. However, it is important to note that 88% of this is made up of water, diesel and sand, and these calculations have been done in the context of little concerted effort so far in the industry to reduce those numbers. 

In summary, we believe we can do better, and we can hammer down the cardon debt being racked up in the construction of the next generation of the world’s golf courses – and we can do this by employing low-carbon thinking from the start.

It’s a feeling that’s shared across the industry. “Carbon related issues are something we are likely to hear about in future project, stakeholder and investor meetings,” says Jason Straka, ASGCA, Principal at Straka / Fry Global Golf Course Design and Immediate Past President of American Society of Golf Course Architects.

“I am excited that our industry is collectively working to innovate and create designs to help golf become the leading sport in this realm, and can lead this conversation as it grows." 

Tim Lobb, EIGCA, Principal at Lobb + Partners and President of European Institute of Golf Course Architects, agrees. "Thanks to the concerted effort of our members of the past few years, ignited by the climate event held in Iceland in June, the issue of carbon is now at the forefront of our members' minds as they are developing their designs.” 

Low-carbon decision-making is simply an awareness of this impact as a layer in the decision-making process. By firstly looking to reduce resource input and reduce the impacts of the key emitters throughout the development process, the volume of carbon can be reduced vastly. Importantly, it will also reduce the Carbon Emission Rate (CER) of the golf course once it is open and operational. 

Once this carbon reduction/engineering has taken place, credible carbon offsetting could be explored to deliver that climate neutral status to the project. We are partnering now with The Gold Standard to ensure golf development taking offset measures do this in the most credible way possible. 

  • Reduce resource demand as far as possible
  • Maximise efficiencies of resource use
  • Choose low embodied energy materials
  • Balanced land use plans – land capacity

By helping golf developments to follow these simple principles, we are looking forward to seeing more low carbon and climate neutral venues become realised – further promoting the idea that golf (above all other sports) can be a climate leader and even a carbon sink for the future. 

To find out more about Sustainable Golf Week and GEO Foundation and how to get involved, visit sustainable.golf/sustainablegolfweek or follow @sustainablegolf on social media.


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