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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Attacks on golf are relentless and they are real

Anyone who has watched professional wrestling knows the classic good vs. evil tag-team scenario: the bad guy (every story needs a villain) is on the verge of being pinned, caught in some inescapable hold with a catchy name. 

With a championship belt on the line, the villain's manager distracts the referee just long enough so his partner can enter the ring undetected and kick our good guy in the back of the head, breaking his hold. With the roles suddenly reversed, the good guy, who moments ago was “this close” to a win, is now subjected to relentless assaults, one after another from all sides as the seemingly incompetent referee remains distracted by the slick-talking manager.

It is a tactic as old as time. 

In recent years, the golf industry is not unlike the wrestler who takes beating after beating, desperate to catch his breath before the next barrage of assaults is unleashed upon him.

We all know, most of us anyway, that wrestling is theater, concocted purely for entertainment value. However, golf's foes are real, and they are powerful and they are just as relentless. And like the manager inside the squared circle, they manage to run enough interference to distract onlookers, convincing them that their intentions are based on facts and science, when in fact their message often emanates from misinformed blowhards interested in nothing more than political gain.

Golf has become that PR punching bag for a lot of municipalities and water districts as well as those who do not play the game or know how hard you work to maintain a balance between creating playing conditions your golfers demand and doing what is right by the land over which you are a steward.

They do not know how hard superintendents worked a generation ago in places like Georgia and Florida during a time of drought to carefully craft best management practices that prove you know more than elected officials about how to produce a great golf course with minimal inputs.

The attacks on golf typically are based on use of water, pesticides and fertilizers. Nearly a decade ago, a now-defunct website known then as Decoded Science blamed algae blooms in Lake Erie on fertilizer runoff from northern Ohio golf courses, not the thousands of acres of agricultural land that ring that part of the state.

Since then, golf courses have been blamed for water shortages in virtually every western state, despite efforts of superintendents to reduce the number of irrigated acres, as well as the advent of low-use pesticides and minimalist BMPs.


Golf often is blamed for a shortage of water - in a desert. USGA photo

A recent story about water use in Arizona blamed “high water use industries like golf” for declining levels in Lake Mead. The images of Lake Mead for the past several decades are indeed alarming, but water levels there are tied more to 40 million residential users across seven desert states than it is golf.

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs inherited a mess surrounding water issues in her state when she won her seat in the November election, and she ran on fixing it. Cutbacks are on the table as a solution, and golf is squarely in the crosshairs. 

Lawmakers in California last year pushed for legislation that would have allowed for municipal golf courses to be closed and used for high-density housing. The City of Las Vegas recently imposed cutbacks of about one-third on its users. Many towns in multiple states now prohibit the construction of new courses while others have banned various pesticides.

Why is golf the bad guy, while other users like agriculture or the millions of people living in a desert without blame?

One word: Interference.

It does not have to be this way.

Last year, the Southern California Golf Association fought back against the campaign to kill public golf. In the end, municipal golf in California lived to fight another day, all because the SCGA fought back publicly armed with facts about water use and the economic impact of the game in California.

Although the SCGA got a win for public golf, there are more challenges to be fought every day. The attacks are relentless, but unlike the wrestling counterparts, they are real. Those who do not fight back are at risk of being pinned.

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