A Call To Action: What Can You Do?

By John Barton Illustrations by Christoph Niemann
June 12, 2008

Sometimes the enormity of environmental problems can induce a feeling of helplessness. We shrug and sigh and say, What possible difference can I make? Well, there are plenty of things that can be done. Even one small step in the right direction can lead to other steps that can start a stampede that can indeed change the world. "Individuals make a difference," says Friends of the Earth's Brent Blackwelder. Here's how:

Get involved at the golf course where you play."It starts with asking questions," says the EPA's Robert Wood. Ask the owners or managers of the course if they have an environmental plan or an environmental committee. If they don't, create one. Be an activist. Find out how much pesticide and water are being used, and whether steps can be taken to reduce them. Insist that signs be posted when chemical spraying is taking place. Be a voice for protecting and extending wildlife habitats. Look into the economics of more efficient energy use and alternate sources such as solar power. "Get a little committee together at your golf course," says the USGA's James Snow. "When someone takes charge it's amazing what can happen. It affects the whole club."

Support your golf course superintendent, who too often is treated as a second-class citizen, sequestered somewhere out of sight in "the shed." These people are experts. Get to know them. Not only can they help you to understand better the environmental challenges that your golf course presents, but you can learn lessons from them that you can then apply to your own lawn, home or business.

Get online and do your homework. A good starting point is the first set of principles agreed upon by the Golf & the Environment Initiative, a booklet titled Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United States. They are fairly bland and generic but serve as a decent primer to the subject. The booklet can be downloaded from the USGA or Golf Course Superintendents of America websites (usga.org or gcsaa.org). Also check out the USGA's Green Section (usga.org/turf); the GCSAA's Environmental Institute for Golf (eifg.org); and Audubon International's "Green Golfer" pledge program (golfandenvironment.org).

Look after the golf course. Fix ball marks and replace divots. Don't litter. Keep out of environmentally sensitive areas. Use biodegradable tees.

__Walk, don't ride, when you play golf -- unless you have to.__Says Blackwelder: "Walking is so much better for you. And if you're using a cart that is gas-powered, it's probably a two-stroke engine which is significantly polluting. We know this from other vehicles, such as a jet ski -- an afternoon's jet skiing with a two-stroke engine produces the same amount of pollution as a car driven 100,000 miles."

Change your mind about what good conditioning really means. Cosmetic conditioning is largely unnecessary. Overconditioning is not the same as good conditioning. Maximum is not the same as optimum. Greens that are so fast that putts roll off them into bunkers or lakes aren't clever or cool, they're stupid. Nobody likes a bad lie, but that doesn't mean the entire property has to be intensively groomed, treated, overwatered and sprayed with toxic chemicals. Courses should be natural, not sanitized, uniform, shorn of character. If you want uniformity, go play tennis. "Conditioning is not about the color green," says course superintendent Jeff Carlson. "It's about playing surfaces."

Do the right things in your own life, beyond the golf course. "Do you have a low-maintenance lawn, for instance, with large areas for bushes and shrubs that are native?" asks Blackwelder. Adds Beyond Pesticides' Jay Feldman: "Get involved in decisions in your community, too, its schools, public parks, public buildings. Identify the local decision-making bodies and go talk to them." Put pressure on politicians. Consider your contribution to global warming: Try some of the carbon calculators online (go to a search engine and type in "carbon calculator"). Recycle. Eat locally grown food. Walk, don't drive. Video conference, don't fly. Buy energy-efficient appliances and eco-friendly consumer products. Biodegradable diapers for the kids. Insulate your home. Turn off the lights. Plant a tree. Consume less.