Environmental concerns over the use of land for golf courses have grown over the past fifty years. Specific concerns include the amount of water and chemical pesticides and fertilizers used for maintenance, as well as the destruction of wetlands and other environmentally important areas during construction. The UN estimates that golf courses use 2.5 billion gallons of clean water daily, enough to provide fresh drinking water for 4.7 billion people. Diazinon is a toxic chemical used on golf courses. In 1988, the US Environmental Protection Agency prohibited the use of Diazinon on golf courses and sod farms because of decimation of bird flocks.
These, along with health and cost concerns, have led to research into more environmentally sound practices and turf grasses. The golf course superintendent is often trained in the uses of these practices and grasses. This has led to some reduction in the amount of chemicals and water used on courses. The turf on golf courses is an excellent filter for water and has been used in communities to cleanse grey water, such as incorporation of bioswales. People continue to oppose golf courses for environmental and human survival reasons, as they impede corridors for migrating animals and sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife. It is claimed that the effective non-native monoculture of golf courses systematically destroys biodiversity.
A result of modern equipment is that today’s players can hit the ball much further than previously. As a result, out of a concern for safety, golf course architects have had to lengthen and widen golf courses. This has led to a ten percent increase in the amount of area that is required to build those. At the same time, water restrictions placed by communities have forced courses to limit the amount of maintained turf grass. While most modern 18-hole golf courses occupy as much as 60 square hectometers (150 acres) of land, the average course has 30 hm² (75 acres) of maintained turf. (Sources include the National Golf Foundation and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America GCSAA.)
Golf courses can be built on sandy areas along coasts, abandoned farms, strip mines and quarries, deserts and forests. Many Western countries have instituted environmental restrictions on where and how courses can be built.
In some parts of the world, attempts to build courses and resorts have led to protests along with vandalism and violence by both sides. Golf has symbolic importance as it is a sport normally associated with the wealthier Westernized population, and the culture of colonization and globalisation of non-native land ethics. Resisting golf tourism and golf’s expansion has become an objective of some land-reform movements, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia.
In the Bahamas, opposition to golf developments has become a national issue. Residents of Great Guana Cay and Bimini, for example, are engaged in legal and political opposition to golf developments on their islands, for fear the golf courses will destroy the nutrient-poor balance on which their coral reef and mangrove systems depend.
In Saudi Arabia, golf courses have been constructed on nothing more than oil-covered sand. However, in some cities such as Dhahran, modern, grass golf courses have been built. In Coober Pedy, Australia, there is a golf course that consists of nine holes dug into mounds of sand, diesel and oil, with no grass anywhere on the course. Players carry a small piece of astroturf from which they tee the ball. In New Zealand it is not uncommon for rural courses to have greens fenced off and sheep graze the fairways. At the 125-year-old Royal Colombo Golf Club in Sri Lanka steam trains, from the Kelani Valley railway, run through the course at the 6th hole.
Extreme golf is played on environmentally sustainable alternatives to traditional courses. A cross between hiking and golf, the course layout exposes players to a wide range of natural obstacles and challenging terrains.
Based on the growing popularity of the U.X. Open Alternative Golf Tournament the extreme golf course features un-mowed meadows and forest instead of fairways, with “goals” scored on temporary greens (a circle 6 metres (20 ft) in diameter).