Rewilding golf courses has become a global phenomenon as communities and organizations recognize the potential to restore nature, enhance biodiversity, and address environmental challenges. In past years of growing environmental awareness, the ecological footprint of golf courses has come under scrutiny. These sprawling patches of green have long relied on clearing land, copious water usage, regular mowing, and chemical fertilizers – all activities detrimental to biodiversity and ecosystems.
Rethinking Golf Courses
Golf courses, once flourishing, have seen a decline, with closures surpassing new openings. This has prompted a reconsideration of how these extensive areas can serve a greater environmental purpose. Abandoned golf courses are being rescued from disuse by conservation nonprofits and local authorities, reimagining these lands as havens for biodiversity and as natural defenses against climate change. Here are a few examples of rewilded golf courses from around the world.
Located in Amsterdam, golf course De Sloten underwent rewilding efforts to enhance its ecological value. Native plants and wetland areas were restored, attracting various bird species and improving water quality. The area now combines recreational use with biodiversity conservation.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is one organization spearheading this initiative to rewild former golf courses in California. Guillermo Rodriguez, California state director of TPL, envisions a brighter, greener future for these spaces. His vision includes increasing public access, returning water to rivers and streams, and creating better habitats for California’s endangered species.
In California’s Marin County, the San Geronimo golf course, constructed in 1965, was diverting significant water from the San Geronimo and Larsen Creek to maintain the course, which negatively impacted fish populations. TPL took action in 2018, acquiring the 157-acre site and embarking on the process of restoring it to its natural state. They ceased irrigation, removed culverts and dams, and initiated habitat restoration by planting native species. Though the rewilding process could take up to a decade, signs of wildlife resurgence, such as bobcats returning to the area, have already become evident.
In the midwestern United States, in Ohio, Summit Metro Parks acquired the 195-acre Valley View Golf Course in 2016 and rejuvenated it into a thriving natural habitat. Mike Johnson, chief of conservation at the nonprofit, noted that golf courses are harsh environments, primarily using non-native vegetation. These modifications had little value for local fish and wildlife. Transforming the golf course involved removing levees, allowing rivers and streams to flow freely, and establishing native vegetation. This remarkable transformation witnessed the return of an impressive number of species, with over 900 species of fish and wildlife documented in the area.
The UK has also embraced this green revolution. Frodsham golf course in Cheshire, UK, was purchased by the UK’s Woodland Trust, with plans to plant 40,000 native trees on the site. This transformation benefits local flora and fauna, and contributes to The Northern Forest scheme, an ambitious effort to plant 50 million trees across the UK. Meanwhile, local councils in various parts of the world are repurposing unprofitable municipal golf courses, returning them to nature and fostering biodiversity.
Across the United Kingdom, local governing bodies are embracing a trend of repurposing financially unsustainable municipal golf courses into ecologically enriched spaces. Erewash Borough Council, in collaboration with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, is in the process of transforming the Pewit golf course into a dedicated nature reserve. Similarly, Brighton and Hove City Council is leading the charge in rewilding the expansive 220-acre Waterhall golf course, with a particular focus on revitalizing the area’s chalk grasslands.
Porthkerry Country Park, nestled in the stunning landscape of Vale of Glamorgan, underwent a transformation when a 12-hole golf course, closed in 2019 due to flooding and maintenance costs, made way for rewilding. The initial step allowed nature to reclaim the area, and thoughtful planning ensued. Flood alleviation measures, the creation of ponds, wildlife corridors, educational zones, and recycled plastic boardwalks were introduced, enhancing the site’s ecological resilience. This project serves as an educational platform and exemplifies the collaborative potential of the LNP Project, fostering biodiversity protection and environmental learning for future generations.
In the Melbourne suburb of Elwood, Elsternwick Park golf course underwent a remarkable transformation, evolving into a serene natural haven that offers solace from the city’s hustle and bustle, benefiting both the local community and the area’s wildlife. Their innovative plan encompassed the creation of diverse habitats, ranging from open water and swamp scrub to wetlands and woodlands, fostering a rich array of species. Despite commencing in 2018 and projected to span at least a decade for completion, the council has already cataloged over 100 distinct indigenous plant species thriving within the site. In 2022, the site was officially renamed Yalukit Willam Nature Reserve, paying homage to the Yalukit Willam clan of the Boon Wurrung people, the traditional landowners.
In a world where the consequences of climate change loom large, these initiatives showcase how the transformation of golf courses into vibrant natural habitats benefits the environment, local communities, and the world at large. As former golf courses evolve into ecological havens, they stand as inspiring examples of what can be achieved when nature is allowed to take its course.
Photo by 不爱玩 先生/Unsplash