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Golf clubs as Frontrunners for Sustainable Development in Local Landscapes

Golf clubs as frontrunners for sustainable development in local landscapes

By Maria Strandberg, Scandinavian Turfgrass and Environment Research Foundation and Anders Esselin, Man & Nature


Although we are living in fantastic times of wealth and prosperity in the global north, there is a growing concern that our modern lifestyle is unsustainable. Research has shown that we’ve already crossed several planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. In an effort to deal with this dilemma, the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was adopted in 2015. Now, models and methods for implementing the Agenda locally and regionally are required.

The golf sector has had an image problem with a history as a sport for an exclusive elite. Still, some people view golf courses as isolated islands, inaccessible for non-players and biological “deserts”. Many Nordic golf clubs have also experienced profitability problems due to increasing costs, shrinking member numbers, fewer green-fee guests, and little support from authorities.

Of course, the game of golf is and should be the foremost priority for all golf clubs. However, Nordic golf clubs also have a fantastic opportunity to make substantial contributions to the 2030 Agenda by developing the concept of multi-functional golf facilities, applying a landscape perspective and establishing partnerships with other landscape actors. Potentially, this will rise the acceptance and legitimacy for the game of golf and golf facilities, and, in this way, help to break the golf clubs’ isolation from the rest of society. Developing other values beside golf can also create favourable conditions for attracting a broader target group, new members, alternative income and shared costs.

This study was carried out on three Nordic golf clubs in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It concludes that golf clubs which are managed responsibly and correctly, especially golf clubs with multifunctional ambitions, contribute significantly in a landscape perspective to the Sustainable Development Goals, e.g., SDG 3 (Good health and well-being), SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation), SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities), SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production), SDG 15 (Life on Land), and also to SDG 17 (Partnership for the goals).

Even if multifunctional activities and projects are undertaken on the golf facilities, the contribution to a sustainable development in a landscape perspective can be profound as there is a constant flow of people with their knowledge and ideas, as well as animals, insects, plants and water from the golf facilities to the surroundings and vice versa. 

This study has also identified two fundamental functions of golf facilities: golf facilities as arenas for collaboration, and golf clubs as landscape players meaning that they can take the lead and be front-runners for the 2030 Agenda implementation process locally and regionally in the Nordic countries. To help golf clubs to develop these functions, a step-by-step workbook, tailor-made for golf clubs, has been created. The workbook focuses on how to map values, functions and activities on and beyond golf facilities, and also on how to find key partners and engage them in multifunctional projects that contribute to sustainable development (the 2030 Agenda). 

Information about the project, the final report and the step-by-step handbook can be found at: