Reclaim the Golf Courses

The world after golfing is a greener, more accessible one.

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Feb 28 2018, 3:30pm

Image: Flickr/Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

Golf is a sport that mostly serves as a way for the economic elite to network as a class, and should probably be banned. But even without a moratorium, golf is doing a pretty good job of going away all on its own. A 2015 report by Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada noted that 158 course closures took place in the country in the preceding decade; 29 had opened in the same period. An update to that report in 2017 added 51 closures and four openings.

With the favored pastime of blue-bloods apparently slowly fading away, we should be asking what we can do with all of those courses—acres and acres of gently sloping green space, sometimes in the city and sometimes not, just waiting around for somebody to do something useful with them.

Clear Lake City in Texas, for its part, is turning one former golf course in the city into a reservoir to deal with heavy rainfall that will double as a wetland park. This is a great idea. Why not take a patch of land that was once used for recreation by the upper crust of society and give it back to the people? But urban resiliency—which even millionaires can probably agree is a good thing—is just one way to use these huge swaths of lush land heretofore kept out of reach from large portions of the citizenry. (Sometimes this is a concerted campaign by the moneyed class; in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro a billionaire developer successfully lobbied the government to build a course on protected land.)

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Why not take a former country club and develop it as social housing? Canadian urban design writer Charles Montgomery has already proposed exactly this as one way to alleviate Vancouver’s housing crisis. The land is already there, ready to be built upon, and could also be used for things like gardening or farming.

This is not a far-out idea: In 2014 local farmer Ken Singh began transforming a former golf course in Tempe, Arizona into a gardening and farming area that in 2017 local media called an “organic oasis.” Golf courses have historically used a lot of pesticides and water—both of which aren’t great for the environment—but the simple fact that they are big, open, green spaces also makes them something of a conservation opportunity for groups like Audubon International. Why not keep that part but get rid of the golf?

Transforming the future means transforming the world around us, and golf courses present a way to do that without destroying anything else in the process, except a hobby for people who scrape profits from the work that the rest of us do. Beautiful, accessible public spaces are there for us to grab if we want—one putting green at a time.

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