Travel Tips

The Greening of Golf Courses

Locations in this article:  Austin, TX Chicago, IL Columbia, SC London, England

golf sand shotIf playing 18 holes is an integral part of your vacation, you might want to consider greening your game. Virtuous Traveler Leslie Garrett investigates …

Golf courses have long been a favorite target of environmentalists. They’ve also been an easy target—with their chemically enhanced lawns, indiscriminate use of water, mowing down of inconvenient trees and brush and filling in of natural wetlands.

But if you still think a golf vacation is a guilty pleasure not in keeping with your own eco-friendly policies, rest easy. There’s been a green revolution quietly taking place on the golf courses worldwide.

Audubon is almost synonymous with environmental education and … birds. Audubon International, which developed the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Golf Courses, is an independent Audubon Society. In keeping with the group’s formidable interest in fowl, the ACSP is all about birdies, eagles and bogies.

It all began in 1991, when Audubon International received a request for help from a golf course in Florida that had a pesky skunk problem. How, the golf course managers asked, can we remove skunks in an eco-friendly way?

Golfers moonPutting aside any skepticism about golf courses in general, Audubon International leaped at the chance to make a difference on golf courses. Collaborating with the United States Golf Association, the group developed the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf.

According to Kevin Fletcher, executive director of Audubon International in New York, it works like this: Golf courses interested in becoming certified pay a $200 fee. The intent is to ensure the price is so low that anyone can join, explains Fletcher.

Then, with the help of ACSP, the course gets an environmental assessment of its property. This includes a wildlife inventory, water quality analysis, a check of shoreline vegetation, pesticides, water conservation, and more. The process, explains Fletcher, encourages golf course managers and owners to “look at their property in a way they haven’t before,” he says, and also to “think differently and most importantly to act differently.”

By the time staff at each course has gone through the assessment, they can take away a plan and practices of how they can change their properties. But courses can’t just then rest of their green laurels—they must get re-certified and a few have even lost their certification over the years.

Jim Broughton is golf course superintendent at Tournament Player’s Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a solid supporter of the ACSP. The course managers took a bit of flack in the early days when increased wildlife inventory led to some surprised patrons. “People were nervous of wildlife,” explains Broughton. Golfers these days routinely spot snakes, rabbits, even coyotes. “Once [golfers] get over the shock, they really appreciate it,” says Broughton, noting they’ve “never had any incidents” concerning wildlife and the only shooting has been from a digital camera. The key to the course’s success as part of the program has been educating people.

Chateau Whistler Golf Resort in British Columbia was one of the country’s first to get certified under the Audubon program and its director of golf Marc-André Bordeleau notes that, as well as creating buffer zones and bird boxes, the green benefits include cost-savings.

Golfer puttingLondon, Ontario’s River Bend course was the first in the world to offer Audubon’s Green Golfer Challenge, in which golfers agree to follow some environmental guidelines while playing.

Skeptics might scoff, saying the game is about high performance and handicaps, not nesting habitat and trout ponds. But Audubon International itself doesn’t think the concept is much of a stretch.

“By their very nature,” the group says, “golf courses provide significant open spaces and opportunities to provide needed wildlife habitat in increasingly urbanized communities across North America.” Surely, as word spreads of the increased pleasure of playing a course that boasts incredible wildlife and environmental sensitivity, the ACSP will have a program that isn’t simply … for the birds.

To find an ACSP course, visit for a list of certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.

Tips for Greening Your Own Game

  • Play courses that are environmentally friendly and encourage others to do the same.
  • Keep play on the course and stay out of environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife habitats.
  • When using a cart, follow cart path rules to protect soils and grass.
  • Repair ball marks and replace divots to keep grass healthy.
  • Walk the course. Better for you, better for the environment.
  • Recycle glass, aluminum or plastic containers.
  • Respect any course’s environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Initiate and support your golf course’s conservation efforts and habitat protection plans.
  • Be willing to play on brown grass during times of low rainfall, or on courses that offer consistent “true” ball roll, rather than speed (means the course doesn’t need such a low mowing height).
  • Join the Green Golfer Challenge at

Don’t miss out on more Great Golf Spots Worldwide.

Or, get ideas for Last Minute Golf Vacations.

By Leslie Garrett for

Leslie Garrett is the author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World. Visit her at

Previously By Leslie Garrett:

Community-Based Tourism: Creating Authentic Travel Experiences

Capital Green: Washington, DC’s Eco-Tourism Cred

Austin: Texas Gold and Green

Carbon Offsets: Travel With a Clean Conscience?

Eco-Oakland: The City You Only Thought You Knew

Chicago: More Green Than Meets the Eye


The Good, The Green and the Downright Crazy Tours

Green Travel Gadgets