I must be honest when I say that discussing the pros and cons of golf is not something I ever imagined I would do. In fact I am almost hoping that nobody I know reads this because they will think something peculiar has happened. For you see, I have always been a little anti-golf. Being smashingly bad at most sports; and particularly dreadful at hand-eye-ball coordination sports I have never even attempted to get into golf. I know absolutely nothing about the game itself, except for that you smack a very expensive little white ball around this huge green space riddled with lakes and mounds of sand known as ‘the rough’ I think. This is the place where you loose the expensive white ball and then curse the fact that you didn’t improve your handicap. You do this, apparently, with a menagerie of over-priced sticks that have knobbles on the end of them. These are usually imported from places like America, and I have been told are covered in minerals like Titanium, which is why they are so pricey. Somebody did explain to me once that it’s an interesting game because you play against yourself as well as others others, but I have no idea how you score it and it all begins to sound like a bit of a riddle to me.

I knew absolutely nothing about the aesthetics and other aspects of golf courses before yesterday; and truthfully had only considered the negative aspects of this game and its impact on the world, probably because no-one in my family is a golfer. I was convinced that these large expanses of green known as ‘golf courses’ were somehow an affliction on the natural beauty that could otherwise exist in historically magnificent places all over the world.

All I know about golf fashion is that most of the time those who wear it look rather gauche, especially people who choose pastel colours and chequered prints; and surely the shoes must hurt your feet after the 18th hole? I know so little about golf etiquette that I simply cannot comment here, except to say that in my limited experience of golfers they appear to be very liberal with the gin back at the clubhouse. I had a French teacher at school who, in my 16-year old mind, looked about 100. He would often stare out of his classroom window that looked out to the school’s hockey pitch and contemplate what sheep must have thought of the bizarre behaviour that is intelligent adults running around after a small ball. Well, that’s rather what I think (or thought) about golf. So all told, this does seem like a very strange thing for someone like me to write about.

But for whatever reason conversations around golf have popped up in my life with alarming regularity lately. Somebody then sent me an article about younger generations’ attitudes towards golf and the impact the recession has had on golf profits world-wide. And then, I was innocently driving home today when on Radio 702 there was an entire hour dedicated to discussing the merits and challenges golf as an industry faces, so I thought it must be time to explore it.

One of the more interesting conversations I have had of late about golf was with a friend of mine around the virtues of actual golf courses. His argument was that golf courses are a blessing from an aesthetic and environmental standpoint. My view was that golf courses (especially one like at the Elephant Hills Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe), are an environmental anomaly. On one level I can see how having revenue-generating and job-creating greens (especially on prime real-estate) prevents developers from building over every inch of space, but on another level golf courses have to look immaculate. In order to do that, South African golf courses, for example, use on average two million liters of water a day, much of which gets contaminated by the biocides used to keep the ‘green’ green, to control insects and to prevent weeds from growing. These biocides ultimately can cause harm to people and livestock down-stream of the course. I cannot imagine that South African golf-courses use up more water than those in other parts of the world (except for maybe the course in Swakopmund in the desert in Namibia). So, if you consider the fact that world-wide there are over 35 000 golf courses (incidentally 18 000 of which are in the United Sates), you start to appreciate, just from a water perspective, the impact this game has on the environment. In a country short of water; like South Africa; and where much of our population don’t even have access to running water, this poses an interesting ethical question. Not only do golf courses use up a lot of water, but historically their use of pesticides and harmful chemicals poses a huge threat to biodiversity (both flora and fauna) as well.

But on the up-side, we all know that golf is a luxury sport, like speed boating or horse-riding and is a privilege that the fortunate few get to engage with. Despite the financial knock golf has taken during our recent global recession, golf and golf courses generate huge revenue and create vast numbers of much-needed jobs. However, they also produce profits for their shareholders and investors and I question how much local communities directly benefit from having a golf course in their midst.

Another interesting dynamic to consider within the games of golf is the social impact. Particularly in a country like South Africa, which is a ‘transitional society’ when it comes to building ‘who you know’ networks for work. From this perspective golf is similar to skiing. One learns to ski because one’s parents took you on skiing holidays; and all skiers have memories of sore ankles, snow and red wine in the evenings in common. It is the ‘commonality’ that is the important bit when ‘fitting in’ to certain social and work settings. For the first time in social history South Africa is transitioning rapidly. For example, apparently the number of Black South Africans who have received a degree has risen by over 300% since 1999. The number of white South Africans who have received a degree in the same period has risen just 14%. But the degree doesn’t equip you to build relationships with people who come from a completely different socio-economic background. The ‘Golf Generation’ AKA Baby Boomers still run the economic world, so for the rest of us, we have to find innovative ways to connect with our Boomer boss, if we know nothing about golf. There is also more diversity in the workplace than ever before, which translates into increasingly there are ‘less of us’ who play golf within the organisation.

Golf, golfers and golfing aren’t going anywhere and that is a good thing for millions of people who genuinely and passionately love golf and all the other stuff with it. I’m pro choice and all that. I have come to realise that there are many positive things about the game and the industry. It’s healthy, it’s sociable, it generates GDP, it provides beautiful landscapes (especially in the city); it provides an environment for some flora and fauna to flourish albeit homogenously and it prevents developers from destroying the aesthetics of places. However, like everything in life one should consider the flip side just so one can form an objective perspective and be more balanced.

TomorrowToday Global