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It’s always struck us EarthQuakers as odd that golfers have long been allowed to portray their sport as beneficial to the environment. Golf course owners are adept, for example, at receiving tax breaks, on the grounds that they protect ‘green’ space.

For sure, the first golf courses were relatively low impact. They were carved out of temperate coastal ‘links‘ areas, most of which was left untouched, and with the turfed tee and putting-green areas watered by natural rainfall.

But as the game has spread around the world, and as the idea of what a course should look like has changed, the typical course has become a voracious consumer of water and a reliable vector for vast amounts of inorganic chemical run-off in the form of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

So we’re cheered, here, by the news that in America golf is a game in apparent decline. Or it’s at least over-extended itself. The NY Times reports this week that “Between 1990 and 2003, developers built more than 3,000 new golf courses in the United States, bringing the total to about 16,000.” Now, it turns out, many are going bankrupt as Americans lose interest in playing the game.

The report cites people’s general busyness, changing family values and a culture less interested in exercise as reasons for the change. Another factor, though, may be that more and more Americans are recognizing that to be on a golf course is to be in only a simulacrum of nature — and one that too often directly threatens nature, to boot.

Is it time, we wonder, to scale down golf’s global footprint? Let it stay, perhaps, on those sandy coastal bluffs, where it can co-exist quite nicely with the native flora and fauna. But let those thousands of other courses earn their tax breaks, finally, by reverting back into space that’s truly green.

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