Lien: It’s Time for Golf Courses to Pay Their Dues


The Nibley Park Golf Course in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (Rishi Deka | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kayla Lien, Opinion Writer


I hate golf courses. I think about seed bombing them all the time (I wouldn’t, as it’s illegal, but I often have the thought).

They’re a waste of space and water, with only a dozen or so people playing on acres of open land at a time. Historically, golf has not allowed women or people of color to play and remains unavailable to lower-income individuals. In Utah, about 282,000 people play the sport, making up only about 11% of our population. Rich, white men continue to dominate the field.

Golf courses in Utah take about 38 million gallons of water per day. For a “public amenity,” they don’t give back to the community in the ways they should.

Golf courses need to pay adequate property taxes and start opting for more sustainable methods of upkeep. Otherwise, they should be abolished altogether due to their detrimental impact on the environment and inaccessibility for the general public.

Economic Impact

Salt Lake’s golf courses have a $7.7 million budget, subsidized by the government. Initially, the golf operation was intended to be self-sufficient with only a few one-time monetary donations to specific courses. Yet that time has quite obviously passed. Every year, the city pours hundreds of thousands of dollars into improvements for courses, such as less expensive irrigation. Even with these one-time funds, the city will still need to tap into its general fund surplus to balance the budget. In the next 10 to 15 years, these courses will require around $20 million in maintenance.

The city currently subsidizes courses as a public amenity, despite them not benefiting everyone like a park would. To stop funding just one of these courses, the city would need to pay for a level of upkeep to lessen eventual reopening costs, causing a fiscal cycle of debt.

Golf has evident ties with the government, which allow it to avoid high property taxes. In the 1960s, Bob Hope — a comedian and avid golfer — started a campaign at the behest of California’s golf courses. It pushed for courses to be taxed as public amenities and open land rather than as courses. This proposition won, and for decades since then, California golf courses have paid low property taxes. Essentially, courses and clubs cheat the system by “grandfathering in” new members and changing ownership under the table.

The most recent information about golf course taxation in Utah is nearly two decades old, with nothing else available. Back in 2001, municipal courses thrived due to not needing to pay property tax. So, private courses attempted to follow in California’s stead. Now, taxation information regarding Utah’s golf courses seems nowhere to be found, raising a question of whether or not they’re taxed at all.

Water Usage

Aside from blatant tax evasion, golf courses use up valuable resources. Some courses can use a million gallons of water a day. Roughly 140 courses exist in our state alone. To put that into perspective, according to the Utah Division of Water Resources, Utahn residents use an average of 182 gallons of water per day.

In Utah’s drought, residents’ lawns suffer while the overuse of freshwater sources by golf courses suck up local supplies, leaving the general public, farmers and manufacturers with little water.

The state’s drought situation worsens exponentially by the day. Ninety-nine percent of Utah is in the second and third worst drought categories, “severe” and “extreme” drought. Wildfire season gets more intense every year, severely affecting deer survival rates.

Infuriatingly, golf courses in arid states use astronomically more water than they should. One course from the Canary Islands used “83 percent more water to irrigate its plants than was necessary.” At some point, the sport needs to use less water and return to its traditional Scottish roots of learning to play.

This has implications of equity. Why dedicate so much valuable water for a sport that benefits only a few people? If golfers want to keep the sport alive, the perception of it needs to change. Golf’s reputation doesn’t look great. Many view it as elitist, meant for those in higher tax brackets. Further, it excludes women and people of color, whether intentionally or not. Because of these perceptions, golf continues to garner low numbers of patrons.

Possible Solutions

There are viable sustainable alternatives other than just watering less. For example, golf courses can utilize recycled water. While unsuitable for human consumption, it can still maintain grass. The reclamation process also uses significantly less energy than other watering methods.

In order to fill their status as a public amenity, golf courses could add recreational opportunities. Basketball courses or running tracks could improve their public image. It would help to decrease the amount of land needing watering, as well as increase revenue. The city could also get rid of them altogether and replace the open land with more productive uses. For instance: housing to alleviate Utah’s current housing shortage.

Golfers are against most of these options, but the drought warrants more concern than a few angry Utahns. Despite my animosity for the sport, golf courses can’t go away completely. Grass helps to keep the planet cooler — doing its part for global warming — but the water waste problem needs fixing now.

Courses need to start implementing sustainable methods of keeping their lawns green.  The sport needs to change if it wants to survive. Golf’s inherent politics, inaccessibility and public image all counteract increasing revenue. They only increase the monetary strain on the government.


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