Reaching the Summit: Golf is on the Climb

Have you ever thought about what sports can do for the environment? Well, if so- you're in luck! The sport industry is on the move to bringing robust programming and specialized approaches to enhancing the bottom line through sustainability. The 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit was held at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas this past June. The many brainstorming and thought-provoking conversations focused on how the sport industry can have the most impact on our society through local communities, and by leveraging the sport industry’s sizable bottom line.

 

I attended the GSA summit last year in Chicago and was impressed, so I trusted it would attract some of the best and brightest sport industry and sustainability experts, along with being a great time to see trusted friends in the industry.

Future generations are going to be key to enhancing business through sustainability, so when I saw more young professionals attending the event, and their eagerness to participate and network, I was inspired. The GSA summit is a fantastic place for industry experts to come together on ideas with the budding Millennials who are ready to fight for what's right in sports. Presentations, panel discussions and keynote speakers from all facets of the industry offered their personal experiences and why they stood behind the sport sustainability movement.

GSA’s message aligns nicely with its partners and corporate sponsors, along with communities where the summit is hosted: "Leveraging the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play."  

So my main question after attending the 2015 summit was, "Why is golf not present?

Not many people know this, but the golf industry is estimated to drive more than $70 billion in revenue into the U.S. economy. It raises more charitable donations than the National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association combined, donating close to $2 billion to charitable organizations a year. And while there are sustainability impacts from golf — its high water, chemical and pesticide use, not to mention the sometimes narrow views of the industry’s leaders, which can inhibit positive change — we have to start somewhere. The goal is not to shame the golf industry. It's to work together for the greater good through sport.

 After some lobbying, things improved this year. We spent the last year gaining the support and buy-in of some of the top leaders of golf's governing bodies to embrace a conversation around sustainability and collaboration. My business partner Gina Rizzi and I, through our firm, IMPACT360, worked with GSA and successfully lined up the first golf industry panel in the summit’s seven-year history.

This was no small feat. It involved holding many stakeholder conversations to product GSA to feature golf at its summit. I moderated the panel called "Golf's Sustainability Agenda: The Power of Partnerships," which included Seth Gregg of the Club Managers Association of America, Eddie Ainsworth of the Professional Golfers Association Colorado section, Rhett Evans, CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA); Pat Finlen of The Olympic Club; and Gina Rizzi of Arcus Marketing Group and co-founder of IMPACT360. Each discussed ways in which they are working together to meet environmental and social goals. Some examples included:

·       Development of first corporate social responsibility report, being released this month, featuring        one of America’s oldest athletic venues, The Olympic Club

·       Development of the GCSAA best management practices to address irrigation and responsible          chemical and pesticide use on golf courses

·       Military, youth and diversity inclusion programs to expand opportunities within golf through the        PGA Colorado Section's PGA Reach Foundation

·       Developing partnerships to expand the game's impact through sustainability

We’re just teeing all this up. Next year’s GSA summit will be hosted at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento and is bound to be epic. It is imperative that golf industry leaders join forces with GSA and start to develop industry allies with other sport organizations.

 

For a traditionally rooted sport like golf to change, the industry as a whole will need to step outside of its comfort zone and challenge the status quo. By exploring more diverse and unique opportunities to work together and learn what other sport industry teams, league, and organizations are doing to address sustainability, it could lead to a win-win for all.

The planet needs all hands on deck to stop climate change. Who better to support the cause than professional athletes and some of the most lucrative sports organizations in the nation? It's time to come together and fight the good fight, both on or off the field. 

Par for the course? Environmental challenges on the golf course

Par for the course? Environmental challenges on the golf course

Have you ever played golf?

Have you ever had trash thrown in your face while playing golf?

It was a beautiful sunny day on the golf course in Virginia when I decided to share my idea of becoming an environmental advocate within the golf industry. I was proud to be playing with recycled golf balls, picking up used wooden golf tees from each hole, bringing my own water bottle and educating anyone I played golf with about the benefits of being more sustainable on and off the course.

What followed next was a proverbial slap in the face — or more like the trigger I needed to start pursuing this mission full time.

A well-respected golf professional overheard me say, "I want to help green the golf industry."

He looked at me with a precarious grin and threw a piece of trash into the air, saying "Here's what I think about greening golf!"

As the trash blew towards me, I couldn't help but feel disrespected. It was the first time I had shared my idea with someone in management at a golf course. In addition, he went on for the rest of the round, making fun of my idea and recycled golf balls.

Throughout my career as a professional golfer, I have worked as an assistant golf professional, mentee to superintendents, golf instructor and operations crew member. I have combined experience that has allowed me to understand how the industry runs, and being a female in a male-dominated sport has allowed me to see the industry from a different perspective from most.

While working as an assistant golf professional, I experienced many times when being a female didn’t help me. Women were not allowed in a specific area of the dining hall, weren’t allowed to tee off with the men and were only allowed to play golf after a certain time in the day, because the men believed they would slow their rounds down.

Such behaviors and attitudes can be found throughout the golf industry, and need to be shifted. I have witnessed firsthand the prejudice that goes along with being a minority within golf, and the barriers to entry that people from diverse economic and social backgrounds face. Golf is making strides to incorporate programs that address these issues; however, much more can be done.

Being an environmental activist or advocate has nothing to do with the fact that a single golf course uses an average of 312,000 gallons of water per day, equivalent to the amount of water used by 2.8 million people per day, according to the EPA.

I spend quite a bit of time in San Francisco and the Los Angeles area, and understand far too well that the drought situation is a real problem. Recently, as I flew over California and landed in L.A., I noticed the only green space for miles was a golf course. It seems backwards that people are being fined for watering their lawns while the golf industry continues to enjoy lush greenscapes.

As an avid supporter of golf and sustainability, I am naturally conflicted about this.

Like most multi-billion-dollar industries, the sport of golf is afraid of change, as the head professional ably demonstrated.

 


As I build my sustainability consulting business that will focus on the golf industry and its impacts, I am eager to see how golf will step up its game.

 


I often wonder how an industry that drives over $70 billion into the U.S. economy, raises more charitable donations than professional baseball, basketball, football and hockey combined and employs more than 2 million people doesn't focus just as heavily on its environmental and social impact.

The golf industry itself has a reach unlike many sports and has the ability to create environmentally and socially adept ambassadors who could provide value and reach throughout their networks.

As I build a sustainability consulting business that will focus on the golf industry, I am eager to see how golf will step up its game. It’s one thing to announce that the industry is focusing on sustainability, and another to understand what that encompasses and how to truly drive long-term initiatives that take the industry from compliance to leadership.

Sustainability is by far the tool that will measure the success of golf for future generations, local communities, the environment and our global economy.