by Alex Palmer | December 01, 2016
While golfing may be a traditional incentive pastime, it's also seeing an evolution as a growing number of courses and destinations find ways to integrate sustainability into the teeing ground, fairway, rough, and greens. In part, this is being driven by rising concerns about environmental crises and demand from incentive and meeting groups.

"People in the 1990s were embracing sustainable practices in part because they wanted to feel good about themselves and their properties, but more recently, the conversation has been driven by issues -- droughts, climate change, concerns about water quality or endangered species," says Tara Donadio, director of Audubon International's Cooperative Sanctuary Programs (ACSP), an educational and certification program aimed at helping existing courses implement sustainable practices.

ACSP currently has 1,882 member courses, about 900 of which have been certified and the remaining ones currently working toward certification. Audubon also operates Signature and Classic programs, which work with new courses, providing guidance throughout the build process. The program is not limited to private courses -- in recent years, the city of Denver and the county of Palm Beach have worked with Audubon to certify all of their public courses.

Golfing is often as much about enjoying a stunning natural backdrop as 18 holes, so sustainable properties send a message to visitors that the course is doing its part to maintain the larger surroundings and resources. For example, the Guacalito Golf Course at Mukul Beach Golf & Spa, in Nicaragua, was designed by David McLay Kidd to make as little impact as possible on the tropical forest and ocean bluffs on which it was built. Hundreds of native trees were moved, rather than cut down, fairways and greens were carpeted with native Paspalum grass (which demands less water), along with other initiatives.

"Clients visiting Mukul are attracted to its beauty and authenticity," says Lorrianne Mesina, international sales director for Mukul Beach Golf & Spa.

Another property taking sustainability seriously is Sunriver Resort, in central Oregon, which has a golf course that uses water treated and recycled from the property's treatment plant. Overflow water from the course is used to grow hay, which is sold to local farmers. The resort even includes a Nature Center where visitors can learn about local sustainability efforts, or hold a group event.

"Being a responsible environmental manager is a key part of running a successful business," says Ryan Wulff, director of agronomy for the resort. "Appropriate environmental performance will differentiate us from other organizations. I believe it will add value by improving our image and enrich our customers' experience."  

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This article appears in the November/December 2016 issue of Incentive.