China’s Green Leap Forward

A confession: I don’t play golf, partly because I’m unable to reconcile my conservation work with a sport also known for habitat destruction, massive water consumption, and heavy use of herbicides and pesticides.

And yet, until the 1950s, the sport of golf as played in the pastures of Scotland existed in harmony with nature. Can the pastime reconnect with its greener roots?

Some groups are trying: Europe’s Golf Environment Organization launched a sustainability program, and Audubon International has eco-certified 988 courses.

Now golf may be about to take a big step, in a surprising place.

“I want to introduce sustainable golf on a scale never done before,” says Ken Chu, the chairman of China’s Mission Hills—the largest golf club in the world. We are riding in a solar-powered golf cart looking at a few of the 12 courses he irrigates using only recycled gray water.

On my trip, I also meet scientists monitoring air quality in a high-tech field station that Chu established. Shark-fin soup has been banned from resort menus, and no retailer doing business with Mission Hills is allowed to sell ivory.

The verdict isn’t in yet, but I’m encouraged enough to start practicing my swing.

This piece was written by Costas Christ and appeared in the February/March 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler. Follow Costas’s travels on Twitter @CostasChrist.


  1. Mr. Ed
    United States
    March 12, 2014, 7:10 pm

    BrieCheese’s myopic statements about “Audubon” are the same-old, overused, and absolutely incorrect statements that commonly come from the short-sighted minority of know-it-alls. There are over 500 “Audubon” groups around the world, National Audubon being but one of many of us that do some truly amazing things to promote birds and conservation. From the outside looking in Audubon Intentional seems to be making positive strives by proactively working with land managers. I tip my hat to those involved in the program. I have no affiliation to Audubon International, but am a member of the oldest Audubon Society in the world (Mass Audubon) which isn’t associated with the National Audubon Society in any way. I guess the question I would pose to BrieCheese is who hijacked who’s name? Mass Audubon was founded back in the 1800’s long before your “well-respected National Audubon Society”. I have nothing against National Audubon, and think they do terrific work… just trying to make a point that if your only “beef” with an organization is what their name is, and haven’t even taken the time to look at what the group is doing or what their mission is then your opinion is rubbish.

  2. Matt Ceplo
    Sparkill, New York
    February 28, 2014, 7:10 am

    With all due respect, Brie should do some homework. Golf Course management has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Golf Courses provide habitat for wild life. Conserve water by using state of the art computers and soil moisture meters and act as filters for water during heavy rain events. The list goes on… Audubon International is a great program that has given turf professionals the information and ability to manage their properties in a way that enhances the environment not to its detriment.

  3. Matt ceplo
    Sparkill, NY
    February 27, 2014, 4:59 pm

    Golf course management has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Golf courses provide habitat for all sorts of wild life. Filter water from heavy rains, conserve water by using state of the art computerized irrigation systems. The list goes on. I urge Brie to do some home work and take a look at how far our industry has come.

  4. BrieCheese
    Dayton, OH
    February 26, 2014, 7:42 pm

    I was disheartened to read author Costas Christ referring to the “Audubon International” “eco-certified 988 courses.” Even some cursory research would indicate that AI is nothing more than a corporate front group piggybacking on the respected name of the National Audubon Society. AI’s largest donor is none other than the the United States Golf Association, with other sponsors including DuPont and LaFarge, far from environmentally friendly groups. Please, greenwashing has no place in any material baring the National Geographic name.