My friend Liam - who is interested in ‘sports economics’ – sent me this paper which is worth a look. Golf courses sometimes have a bad environmental reputation – for using fertilisers that contaminate water supplies, for destroying wildlife and for simply using too much water. This need not be the case. In urban areas, particularly, environmentally sensitive golf courses can enhance environmental quality and increase the property values of land and housing that surrounds them. These are, of course, external benefits, so free-markets are likely to under-supply them. For this reason I support zoning regulations that restrict their conversion into developed property – private owners will get the wrong price signals to carry out such redevelopments and subsidy programs (the ‘first-best’ optimum) seem impractical.
According to the paper referred to pursuing good environmental characteristics also enhances the value of golf courses themselves so that in this case self-interest should help drive good outcomes. Apparently ‘environmental certification’ of golf courses (guaranteeing they meet good environmental standards) in the US increases the willingness-to-pay of people to play on them. People will pay 10-18% per round more for an environmentally sound course. This covers the (fairly hefty) cost of meeting certification requirements in terms of not polluting the environment with chemicals, conserving water and wildlife protection.
The group that certifies courses is called Audubon International.
Iassume that no such organisations exist in Australia but they seem to be useful. The idea rings a bell for me because one of the things I like about my own golf club are the numerous native trees and the reasonable quality birdlife it encourages. There’s a peregrine falcon that resides in the 15th hole area – when it makes its scouting missions the honeyeaters sound a chorus of alarm calls. Indeed exotic tree species are being removed and being replaced by an interesting range of natives. As I am interested in nature this is a pleasant place to relax – I’d certainly pay something additional to enjoy this environment rather than play on a stripped-down lawn with a few elms and other European trees. (196)