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The “Rough” Environmental Reputation of Golf Courses as Corporations: Could a Complexity-Based Approach to Golf Course Sustainability Make Golf Courses Both Economically and Environmentally Cohesive?

The “Rough” Environmental Reputation of Golf Courses as Corporations: Could a Complexity-Based Approach to Golf Course Sustainability Make Golf Courses Both Economically and Environmentally Cohesive?

Colette Schmidt

Lush green grass surrounds a statuesque clubhouse. Early morning mowing hums barely, yet noticeably, in the distance. Impressive statues and perfectly placed trees line the landscape. If you listened carefully, you might hear slight laughter in the distance as a group tees off before driving their golf carts down the fairway.[1] This soothing scene thinly veils the golf industry’s historically destructive nature, as many golf courses cause environmental harm to their surrounding landscapes.[2] For example, Trump International Golf Links Scotland (“Trump International”) exemplifies this picturesque perfection and how it delicately conceals a long history of ongoing environmental wreckage.[3] The construction of this golf course depleted the presence of legally protected sand dunes in Scotland.[4] Scottish National Heritage— an agency that monitors environmentally sensitive sites in Scotland—reported that constructing Trump International depleted 168 acres of the Forevan Links.[5]

Many people perceive golf as an entitled and wealthy sport.[6] Dress code, expensive greens fees, and a previous animus towards women and people of different races have all contributed to golf’s bad reputation.[7] Throughout time, this notion that golf is an exclusive and rich white man’s sport has not significantly changed.[8] Further, golf courses are environmentally destructive, fitting into this stigma.[9] The Trump International example described above is just one circumstance showing golfers to be wealthy elitists that disregard environmental sustainability and protection.[10]

Further, fewer people are playing golf.[11] 30 million people in the entire United States played at least one round of golf in 2005.[12] However, in 2016, that number decreased to 23.8 million.[13] Even in Florida, known as the ideal golf experience for all, less people are playing golf.[14] More excruciatingly, over the past five years, Florida’s public golf courses have been unable to cover their expenses, and have lost almost $100 million during that time.[15]

This Note suggests that golf can no longer contain this tarnished reputation. The golf industry must take immediate action to save the game from extinction. Golf courses have the opportunity to not only become sustainable, but also can become leaders in promoting environmental change. Such change can come from applying the worldview of complexity theory to drafting new legislation.[16] Part I will provide a history of the types of environmental issues within golf and how the golf industry has responded in recent years.[17] Part II analyzes available regulations in Florida and Vermont.[18] Part III proposes state legislation that applies to both new and existing golf courses.[19] Part IV presents challenges to this legislation.[20] And finally, Part V applies this framework to the golf industries in Florida and Vermont.[21]

[1]“Fairway” is defined as “[t]he long stretch of neatly trimmed grass that runs between the tee box and the green.” Basic Golf Terms, Info Golf Online (2010)

[2]See, e.g., Associated Press, Documents: Donald Trump Golf Course Damaged Protected Sand Dunes, USA Today (July 29, 2018), (chronicling the destructive impact a golf course had on its environment).

[3]See id. (explaining that Trump International Golf Links Scotland destroyed 168 acres of the Forevan Links, which is a collection of famous sand dunes in Scotland).



[6]See Mark Steel, People Would Play Golf if the Sport Wasn’t so Snobbish, Independent (July 15, 2009), (explaining how people usually associate golf with exclusivity and wealth).

[7]See id. (explaining the various viewpoints on golf and why so many people regard golf to be a “snobbish” sport, due to the sport’s strict dress code and animus towards entire groups of people).

[8]See id. (writing the article less than a decade ago).

[9]See id.; Ben Adler, The Case Against Golf, Guardian (June 14, 2007) (arguing that golf is a snobby, self-centered sport with a detrimental environmental impact).

[10]See, e.g., Associated Press, supra note 2 (chronicling the horrible impact Trump International had on surrounding areas).

[11]See Lisa Broadt, Many of Florida’s Public Golf Courses Struggle with Declining Participation and Revenue (April 23, 2018), (explaining how golf in Florida has declined significantly over the past five years). 





[16]See infra Part III (using different aspects of complexity theory to draft new legislation).

[17]See infra Part I (highlighting the downfall of the golf industry in the past years, which may allow for the enactment of stricter legislation as environmental awareness increases).

[18]See infra Part II (enunciating the two different interests of Florida (water management) and Vermont (pesticide control), which calls for proposed legislation that is also flexible).

[19]See infra Part III (promoting the key aspects that this proposed legislation would have if presented to an actual committee).

[20]See infra Part IV (noting the challenges that this legislation will have, especially in as dynamic of a political climate as the one that exists today).

[21]See infra Part V (building upon the previous parts to prove that this new legislative approach may be feasible).

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