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More than just a game

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Chris Wilczynski, ASGCA, says identifying and communicating the valuable role a golf course plays in the community is a key component to golf's survival.

Chris Wilczynski | May 13, 2011

As we are all aware, often golf gets a bad rap. 

We have all heard the negative comments.  It’s an elitist sport, too expensive, takes too much time, too hard, bad for the environment and on and on…  What I would like to focus on are the benefits of a golf course.  Does anyone remember those sales courses where we learned about “features and benefits”?  The feature is a beautifully manicured piece of property that typically rests on anywhere from 120-180 acres of land.  But, what are the benefits of this feature?

What if everyone in the golf industry became an evangelist for the game, for the value of a golf course?  What if we all understood in simple terms what Financial, Social and Environmental benefits that a golf course provided for a community? Does this information exist? 

We have been trying to convey the benefits and tell our story for many years.  But it rarely was unified, with a common goal.  Now we have something!  In late 2010, the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) developed an initiative to outline the Value of The Golf Course.  The ASGCA, which has been supporting the game of golf since Donald Ross helped found the society, wanted to communicate in simple and clear terms the benefits of golf. 

We will focus on  the most important benefits of golf, the financial, social and health and environmental impact. 

To me, the most important benefit of golf is the Social and health impact. Yes, we all need to make money and a golf course needs to be profitable. But, the golf course wouldn’t be there if there were not people to play the course and enjoy the experience. Think about what social or health benefits you receive when you play a round of golf? Don’t these benefits allow many of us to be more happy, healthy and connected with mankind? 

Some say there is no better way to learn about people than to walk 18 holes with them. The social nature of the game lends itself well to conducting business and simply spending time with loved ones and friends. There is simply no other sport out there that allows us to interact, share stories and develop relationships while we are playing the game. 

According to “Eight Astonishing Benefits of Walking,” walking a golf course leads to better health; one researcher equated walking 18 holes to the value of 40-70 percent of an intense aerobics exercise class. Anyone looking for a moderately paced, cardiovascular workout would be hard-pressed to find something better than walking nine or 18 holes designed to work with the natural undulation of the land. Additional benefits from walking a golf course mentioned in the same article include: 1. Lowering the risk of Type II Diabetes, 2. Reducing stress, 3. Preventing heart disease, 4. Decreasing need for medication.

The course can also be used for other social activities benefiting the community, like trails for jogging and cross-country skiing or as concert space. The driving range at a golf course can be utilized for gatherings, special events or outdoor shows. Area residents visiting the course for entertainment may return for a lesson or even a round of golf.

Golf teaches essential life skills to all who play the game. Skills such as sportsmanship, respect, integrity, honesty and self control. Just as when joining any social club or organization, golf provides the opportunity to meet new people, increase social interaction and learn essential life skills. 

Another important benefit to Golf is the Environmental aspect. The game of golf is intrinsically a thing of beauty. Seldom do we refer to the “beauty” of a football field or a tennis court, yet the word is used regularly in regards to golf.

The specific benefits to the environment itself are numerous. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America surveyed more than 16,000 golf courses and learned the average course covers 150 acres.  Approximately 100 acres of the average course is maintained turfgrass. The turfgrass on a golf course serves as a filter for runoff to control flooding, it filters dust and pollen and the open green space provides a cooling effect for the surrounding property.  The remaining 50 acres of a golf course are devoted to forests, woodlands, wetlands and water bodies.  Prime habitat for an abundance of wildlife. 

The benefits of golf course landscapes and environments are delivered with minimal use of water.  According to a United States Geological Survey, golf course irrigation accounts for only 0.5 percent of the 408 billion gallons of water used per day in the U.S.

Golf courses also benefit a community by serving as breaks in the fire line during hazardous fire events.  The Black Gold golf course in Yorba Linda, Calif., was built in a location to act as a fire break.  The town of Yorba Linda and thousands of residential units sit below the golf course.  The golf course sits between the City and the Chino Hills State Park.  During recent forest fires in the China Hills Park the golf course acted as a barrier and stopped the fires from running down into the City.  There was some damage to the golf course, but the course worked as planned and prevented a catastrophic environmental event. 

The environment that a golf course rests within is also a benefit to our health.  A golf course is a healthy natural environment that can help relieve stress, clear your mind and allow you to forget your troubles and simply enjoy the moment. 

The last benefit of golf that needs to be addressed is the economic impact.  Research conducted in 2005 by SRI International found that the U.S. golf economy alone generates $76 billion of goods and services annually and employs 2 millioni people. The golf course industry is larger than the motion picture and video business; larger than performing arts and spectator sports; and larger than the newspaper industry. 

Each golf course has its own value, positively impacting its community and state through jobs, taxes, charitable fundraising, hospitality/tourism and more. The We Are Golf initiative has the economic impact of golf for over 20 individual states and the list is growing. For example, the golf industry employs 160,000 people in California alone, leading to a direct impact on the state’s economy each year of $6.9 billion.  The game’s impact on smaller states is no less impressive. The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism reported golf’s economic impact for 2009 in the state at more than $700 million, including $276 million in federal, state and local taxes, and more than 33,000 employees. A good portion of that impact was generated by tourists—people coming to South Carolina specifically to golf or including golf as part of business or other leisure activity. 

Time and time again it has been shown that the golf industry generates jobs. The building of a new course in Idaho in 2008 showed construction alone provided the equivalent of one year of employment for more than 300 people, and facility operations was worth the equivalent of 43.5 full-time jobs each year.

Another valuable area where a golf course assists a community is the property values on or near the golf course. Studies indicating the positive impact a green space and parks have on U.S. home and real estate values dates back to 1873, when it was shown homes near New York’s Central Park rose at an appreciably higher rate than those more removed from the park. Surveys show people rank “open space,” “natural beauty” and “parks” as important when making home-buying decisions. Golf course architects have worked for generations to ensure open space is preserved and the natural beauty of the land is enhanced when designing or renovating golf courses.

The information regarding the benefits or the value of a golf course is right here in front of us. As the leaders and evangelists of the game we all need to communicate why golf is so great. Spread the word, tell someone the story. Share the economic, social and environmental benefits of golf. The benefits are wonderful and available for every community and person who experiences the special game of golf on a beautiful golf course. 

About the author
Chris Wilczynski, ASGCA, is the founder of C.W. Golf Architecture and is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can reach him at chris@cwgolfarch.com


 

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