Golfing Gets Seriously Green

Golf courses find ways to embrace environmental considerations

Sunriver Resort

Golfing has been a favorite activity among groups going back to group travel's beginnings, and is an offering that continues to appeal to attendees today. But while it may be a traditional pastime, it's also seeing an evolution as a growing number of courses and destinations find ways to integrate sustainability into the teeing ground, fairway, and rough -- driven by rising concerns about environmental crises and demand from incentive and meeting groups.

"The conversation around sustainability is changing," says Tara Donaldio, director of Audubon International's Cooperative Sanctuary Programs (ACSP), an educational and certification program aimed at helping existing courses to implement sustainable practices. "People in the 1990s were embracing sustainable practices in part because they wanted to feel good about themselves and their properties, but more recently, the conversation has been driven by issues -- droughts, climate change, concerns about water quality or endangered species."

ACSP currently has almost 1,900 members, about 900 of whom have been certified and the remaining ones currently working toward certification. These include a vast range of properties, from JW Marriott Camelback Golf Club in Scottsdale, AZ, to Valderrama Golf Club in Spain.

Donaldio emphasizes that incentive and meeting planners are attracted to these eco-friendly properties and destinations not only because "it's a responsible choice," but that places "that are so innovative with sustainability are often doing amazing things in other ways as well."

Golfing is often as much about enjoying a stunning natural backdrop as playing the 18 holes, so sustainable properties send a message to visitors that the course is doing its part to maintain the larger surroundings and resources. For example, the Guacalito Golf Course at Mukul Beach Golf & Spa, in Nicaragua, was designed by David McLay Kidd to make as little impact as possible on the tropical forest and ocean bluffs on which it was built. Hundreds of native trees were moved, rather than cut down, fairways and greens were carpeted with native Paspalum grass (which demands less water).

"Clients visiting Mukul more often than not are attracted by its beauty and authenticity," says Lorrianne Mesina, international sales director for Mukul Beach Golf & Spa. "The natural environment is a primary focus of Mukul's role as a steward of the region, and this legacy continues with the employment of the local community, who are learning a new trade while helping to introduce Nicaragua to the world in the process."

Another property taking sustainability seriously is Sunriver Resort, in central Oregon, which has a golf course that uses treated water recycled from the property's treatment plant. Overflow water from the course is used to grow hay, which is sold to local farmers. The resort even includes a Nature Center where visitors can learn about local sustainability efforts, or hold a group event.

"Being a responsible environment manger is a key part of running a successful business," says Ryan Wulff, director of agronomy for the resort. "Appropriate environmental performance will differentiate us from other organizations."  


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This article appears in the January 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.