Augusta National insists it’s a lot more environmentally friendly than its reputation.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The color of Augusta National Golf Course is definitely green: as in the grass, as in the jackets, as in the cups and napkins used to make litter invisible during the televising of the Masters; as in the money produced by the annual gathering of the game’s greats; and as in the envy most golfers feel when they compare this course to the ones they play.
But there is another type of green that the club is trying to reach: the green as in environmentally friendly.
“At Augusta National, we strive to be environmentally friendly because it’s the right thing to do,” says Billy Payne, chairman of the club.
Augusta National is not among the roughly 300 golf courses that have received a stamp of approval from the environmental-activist organization Audubon International.
For one thing, this is because the famously private club declines to open up for outside inspection. But Ron Dodson, president of Audubon International, says he is pleased the club wants to be seen as green — if only because it helps remind players and course managers that golf is a game played in nature.
Indeed, critics often accuse golf courses of wasting water, overusing pesticides and fertilizers, and building green spaces that are dedicated more to humans than to nature. The National Audubon Society put Augusta National on a list of “bad” courses in a magazine article 10 years ago, about the same time that a book predicted the club’s loblolly pines would soon die, victims not just of age but also of overfertilization.
The pines, Augusta National officials are quick to point out, are still alive. The critics, a club source adds, wrongly assumed that excessive use of fertilizer was necessary to make the course so green.
Michael Hurdzan, a golf-course designer and consultant, concedes that nature and golf courses have not always gotten along; 50 years ago or so, greenkeepers routinely used products loaded with cadmium, lead, arsenic and a substance later known as Agent Orange. Greenkeepers often got sick as a result of working with these chemicals.
But, Dr. Hurdzan adds, “starting with the Rachel Carson days of the 1960s,” golf courses have made steady progress in responsible use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, as reflected in tests of water quality. “What you would have found with a test [for pesticides] 20 years ago is different than what you would have found 10 years ago, and is different than what you would find next week,” he says.
Augusta National has routinely conducted such tests for years here on its 365 acres next to the South Carolina border. The club draws its nonpotable water from three natural sources: the Savannah River, Rae’s Creek, which winds through the grounds, and the two ponds on the course. Officials say they test the water before spraying it on the course and again at a spot where it leaves the property, and say the chemical makeup is nearly identical.
The club formerly used blue and black dye in its ponds but says it stopped doing so in 2000. With television in mind, however, it still occasionally tests dyes and says it might start again at some point.
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