Suburban Golf Course

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Do Golf Courses Have Conservation Value?

There is much debate within our society today about whether or not golf courses provide conservation value. While some articles portray golf courses as improving conservation value by creating habitat for sensitive organisms, others sources are cynical in their outlook towards the conservation value of golf courses. The naysayers suggest golf courses remove the habitat of the natural organisms, replacing it with habitat that only suits common, urbanized species.[1] Many of these differences in opinion stem from both sides understanding about what defines 'conservation value' since there are various aspects that contribute to it. Many of these aspects work independently from each other; thus, it is very difficult to come up with one definition for the term 'conservation value.' Despite this, most sources do agree that improvement on conservation value stems from improvements in management decisions.

Golf Courses Can Provide Many Different Forms of Habitat. Chris Miles, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When considering the conservation value of the ecosystem, there are many factors that must be considered:

Conservation Value of Suburban Golf Courses with Regard to Species

Some of these factors include aspects of the quality of life of the ecosystem's organisms. This quality of life can be often measured by observing various abiotic factors such as water and soil.[2] Depending on how the golf course is managed, various aspects may benefit or suffer; it is dependent on how those who oversee the golf course choose to act. However, not all of the information found states that habitats are negatively affected by the location of a golf course; some less common organisms are also able to thrive where there are golf courses when otherwise, they may not. Salamanders, for example, have a narrow suitability niche; golf courses are able to provide habitat for them.[3] The possibility of being able to provide suitable habitat for other non-native species also exists as well. Thus, if such environments are managed and used correctly, then it should be entirely possible for golf courses to have a powerful impact on conservation as we know of it today. On the other hand, in Australia, studies about the contribution of suburban golf courses to conservation almost unanimously conclude that golf courses are bad for conservation. One such study concludes that the niche of potential species created by golf courses is extremely thin, and that they are only able to support heavily urbanized species.[4] Another study concluded that only honeybees were able to settle within the proximity of the golf course, even though the researchers who conducted the study originally intended to introduce multiple species of bees into the area of the golf course.[5] This information, once again, reinforces how suburban golf courses have a tendency to favour urbanized species, while, at the same time, having a tendency to restrict natural species.

Conservation Value of Suburban Golf Courses with Regard to Plants

Golf courses serve to establish a grassland community where there would otherwise be none; this allows for the potential use of native plants, including grasses and shrubs.[6] This particular aspect of golf courses can lead to improved water conservation if native grasses are used, as well as biological conservation if natural species are utilized and provided for. Thus, if golf courses are created in natural grasslands, only little differences would exist between the natural environment and the environment created by the golf course. The landscapes of golf courses also provide an improvement in the variety of habitat, often including tall and short grasses, as well as small bodies of water. With some research and knowledge, golf courses have the potential to have an powerfully, positive influence for conservation value.

Conservation Value of Suburban Golf Courses with Regard to Water

Golf courses have a tendency to overuse water in an effort to maintain their aesthetics when compared with other comparable sports industries.[7] As a result, golf courses can have a negative effect on natural species conservation, as they can modify the natural environment. This does, however, allow for other biological species to thrive in this environment that normally would not be able to (salamanders are an example of this). Unfortunately, many of these non-native species are considered invasive to the local environment, and thus, they have a negative effect on conservation. The most likely solution is to urge for legislation that limits the water usage of commercial organizations. Many golf courses have already taken the initiative with this novel suggestion by planting specialized grasses that require less water. If this specialized grass utilization can become law, then the conservation value of golf courses can be improved exponentially. However, caution should still be used, as the grasses must be suitable to the growing conditions of the location; otherwise, the grasses will die and will need to be replaced once again.

In this section we invite contributions from scholars, students, and industry professionals that widen the scope of conservation considerations posed in this case study.

British Columbia (BC) has created guidelines that help improve the conservation value for both urban and rural golf courses. These guidelines serve to mitigate the potential harm that golf courses can cause; they also direct golf courses to provide suitable habitat where possible, including those for native birds and amphibians. They also advise for the retention of bodies of water and grassy roughs.[8] As a result of these guidelines, golf courses in British Columbia have seen improvements in their conservation value. One of the problems with these guidelines, however, is that they are vague, and they do not offer any method to measure progress and improvement.

In this section we invite contributions from scholars, students, and industry professionals that widen the scope of potential environmental guidelines posed in this case study.

While it is true that suburban golf courses do take away from the natural conservation value that the areas would otherwise have, there are more factors to consider. One such factor is the improvement of technology. Our world is changing at an incredible rate, and with it, our values, and what we are able to accomplish to achieve those said values. One such improvement is how we manage specific areas of our land. Correct management of specific land areas can not only prevent loss of conservation value, but it can also improve conservation value beyond a minimal amount. We should also consider an alternative land use for these suburban golf courses. A fully untouched, natural ecosystem would almost certainly be better, if not only for the aesthetics, but also for the natural conservation of native biological and plant species. However, in a suburban area, the most likely alternative scenario is that the land would eventually be developed into either a residential or zone or a commercial urban area. If it is a residential zone, or anything created for the survival/recreation needs and wants of humans, then it would likely have an even lower conservation value than a golf course. In terms of conservation value, golf courses are by no means perfect; moreover, in many situations, they drive species out of their natural habitat. However, they are generally better than a congregation of buildings. With correct management decisions, these golf courses can also prove to have conservation value that approaches or even exceeds protected zones.

  1. Hodgkison, S., C., (2005). The ecological value of suburban golf courses in south-east Queensland, Chapter 2, The Conservation Value of Suburban Golf Courses. Retrieved from /1/02Main.pdf
  2. Colding, J., & Folke, C. (2008). The Role of Golf Courses in Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management. Ecosystems, 191-206.
  3. Goldman, J., G. (2014), University of Washington Conservation, Could golf courses actually boost conservation. Retrieved from
  4. Hodgkison, S. C., Hero, J. M., & Warnken, J. (2006). The conservation value of suburban golf courses in a rapidly urbanising region of Australia. Landscape and Urban Planning, 79, 323-337. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2006.03.009
  5. Threlfell, C. G., Walker, K., Williams, N. S. G., Hahs, A. K., Mata, L., Stork, N., & Liversely, S. J. (2015). The conservation value of urban green space habitats for Australian native bee communities. Biological Conservation, 187, 240-248. doi:
  6. Nelson, M. (1997). Establishing natural areas on the golf course. Retrieved from ASGG:
  7. Deford, F. (2008), NPR, Water-Thirsty Golf Courses Need to Go Green. Retrieved from
  8. Government of British Columbia. (2014, March). Develop with Care 2014. Retrieved from Government of British Columbia:

Post image: Golf Course, CC BY-SA 2.0,  via Wikimedia Commons