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Lackluster Sustainability Performance At 2012 Ryder Cup Begs The Question, “Is It Greener Across The Pond?”

October 15, 2012

Martin Kaymer may have made European history at the Ryder Cup, but sustainability was on the back burner at this year’s tee-off at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois.

The sport of golf continues to be an area of contention for environmentalists, a top issue being the deforestation and loss of wetland habitats often associated with the development of new golf courses. Donald Trump’s recent $150 million golf course in Scotland was a low for Trump’s PR after heavy jeering by environmentalists during the opening ceremony.

However, in an effort to integrate sustainability into the professional golf tournament, the Ryder Cup Europe pioneered Green Drive, a formal partnership between the golf tournament and the Golf Environment Organization (GEO) to bring innovative solutions to one of the world’s greatest sports. By 2002, the initiative had led to the first ever set of Environmental Guidelines for Golf Events.

“A great deal of effort was put into the environmental sustainability of this event. We wanted to bring the event greening to a new level.” – Richard Hills, Ryder Cup Director 2010 Ryder Cup, City of Newport, Wales

2010 Ryder Cup, City of Newport, Wales

According to A Review of the 2010 Ryder Cup Green Drive by GEO, the last Ryder Cup Europe tournament left a significantly lighter environmental footprint.  The aim of the tournament was to:

  • deliver a world-class event that showcased sustainability to event patrons and the local community,
  • encourage a legacy of environmental action in golf, and
  • advance the global sport and environment movement

The Action Plan set out clear objectives, supported by best practice recommendations for energy, water, waste, pollution prevention and ecological conservation.  These issues cut across a number of operational topics including venue management, transportation, catering, energy provision, and installation of fixtures and fittings.

2012 Ryder Cup, Medina, Illinois

Compare this to the 2012 Ryder Cup hosted by Team USA where American sustainability efforts were lukewarm.

Despite a triple-coalition between the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America, Audubon International, and FedEx to develop a sustainable golf-program that would facilitate eco-friendly improvements to public golf courses, few golf courses, including the Medinah Country Club, created a visible commitment on their online platforms to mitigate their environmental impact.  What limited information was made available about the 2012 Ryder Cup golf course operator’s “green” contributions revolved heavily on the change to Healthy Grow organic fertilizer.

But why does such a deviation exist from the sustainability standards set by Ryder Cup Europe?  The problem is three-fold: definition of environmentalism, centralization of authority, and level of community engagement.

Definition of Environmentalism

Under the PGA of America, environmentalism is considered a charitable endeavor whereby support of environmental causes is considered commendable, but not necessary.  This provides less incentive for tournaments to take part in creating a shift towards more sustainable operations.

Centralization of Authority

The second issue-at-hand revolves around the lack of centralization of environmental initiatives.  The PGA of America supports a “range of environmental causes” and at different levels.  Players and golf tournaments can independently donate or participate in environmental initiatives.  However, there is a lack of a central authority that ensures the necessary fulfillment of measurable environmental goals to be fulfilled.

Level of Community Engagement

The third issue centers on the lack of community engagement by the PGA about the importance of sustainability.  Unlike the 2010 Ryder Cup that implemented an immediate legacy program that included long-term outreach initiatives, the PGA of America has yet to implement visible community outreach programs to better communicate the value of sustainability.

Model of Sustainability

The PGA of America is the world’s largest working sports organization.  It has become a shining example of growing, teaching, and managing the game of golf.  At Reeve Consulting, we applaud the PGA’s partnership with the Audubon Lifestyles Sustainable Golf Facility Program and hope that they will serve as a local, regional, and national model of sustainability for golf tournaments.

* The Ryder Cup is a biennial golf competition between teams from Europe and the USA hosted at alternating venues in the USA and Europe.

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