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Golfers are getting more winter tee times in Vancouver, but climate change concerns remain | CBC News



Golfers are getting more winter tee times in Vancouver, but climate change concerns remain | CBC News

While recent warm, dry weather has been bad for Vancouver-area skiers, a hotter February has been a boon for golfers.

The city’s three golf courses are at full capacity for this time of year, according to the Vancouver Park Board.

That’s after weeks of high temperatures that shattered records since late January — some almost a century old.

Dennis Luick, the board’s supervisor of golf operations, said the unusually balmy weather has more than made up for the 10 days city fairways had to close during January’s cold snap, which he said came at least a month later than most years.

That brought out more golfers than usual for this time of year, he said.

WATCH | Vancouver golfers enjoy warm February

Vancouver golfers enjoy warm February

While this winter’s unusually warm weather has been painful for those who love snow sports, golfers are loving the balmy conditions. As David Ball finds, Vancouver’s golf courses are at full capacity — in the middle of winter.

“This is fantastic from our perspective,” he told CBC News at Langara Golf Course, one of three operated by the city. “Not great for skiing, but really great for golf.” 

“We’re at full capacity with the daylight we have.”

Recent weeks saw some local ski hills forced to temporarily close mid-season or, in one case, make customers take off their skis and walk over part of the slopes. Last week, three sports at the B.C. Winter Games were cancelled, dashing the hopes of roughly 240 athletes.

Climate change is on the minds of some course operators as they prepare for water shortages and restrictions, and more unpredictable, extreme weather.

Golfers enjoying a sunny round of golf on Monday, some in short sleeves, said they were ecstatic to pull their clubs and caddies from winter storage.

“This used to be a swamp at this time of year, but now it’s perfectly playable,” said golfer Byron Stewart, as he climbed into a cart with his friends. “It’s magic.”

It’s not just the unusually high temperatures that have drained the swamp. Over the last several years, Vancouver has spent an estimated $3 million on a state-of-the-art drainage system to help increase the days it can open, Luick said.

He said excess water from winter storms can be quickly removed from the course. Instead of going into storm sewers, it is stored for dry months.

That will help prepare Langara’s course for a changing and more unpredictable climate, he said, and others in the city are also upgrading their water management systems. 

Climate change concerns

Many golfers are increasingly accustomed to playing on dry, yellowing turf — but being able to weather unpredictable conditions is essential.

“It’s absolutely top of mind,” Luick said. “Not only in the golf industry, but city-wide and the whole region. 

“We’re starting to be more and more proactive in our planning. Some of the technologies we have in golf really, really help with our water usage … That really helps conserve water.”

Only 10 days were lost to weather on the city’s golf courses in January, he added, significantly less than usual.

He said rounds of golf in 2023’s last quarter increased 32 per cent compared to previous years.

He acknowledged many critics have pointed out the golf industry’s environmental impacts, from high water use to the climate and ecological impacts of fertilizers, pesticides and mowing.

He said the city’s public courses are certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. One course, Fraserview, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with the conservation organization’s initiative.

Through that, the park board has converted nearly 10 hectares of its previously maintained golf areas to “no-mow” meadow grass, reducing, or even stopping, the need for water, fertilizer and chemicals in those areas and others.

A man in a Vancouver golf course jacket looks out over a golf course with a golf cart and several golfers visible.
Dennis Luick, supervisor of golf operations at the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, looks out over the Langara Golf Course on Monday. He says city-run courses are running at full capacity. (David P. Ball/CBC)

‘Work towards changing expectations’

Brian Wilson, co-author of The Greening of Golf: Sport, Globalization and the Environment, said golf courses in general can all do more to reduce their carbon footprints, even as they are impacted by climate change.

But he said that also requires changing the expectations of golfers who are nostalgic for the “super green, spotless, pristine” fairways of the past.

“Reducing the amount of mowing overall is a great way to reduce emissions, which not everyone would like because of how it might impact what people are used to,” Wilson, who directs the University of B.C.’s Centre for Sport and Sustainability, told CBC News.

“I realize that this is a tough situation for course superintendents who are required to satisfy multiple mandates for their jobs,” he said. “They need to keep golfers happy.”

“A less immediate but excellent long-term way to reduce golf’s contributions to climate change … is to work towards changing expectations for what counts as a beautiful and playable golf course.”

Erica Lee, another golfer at Langara’s course on Monday, says she is concerned about the impacts of climate change on her favourite pastime. She said she was pleased to learn about the environmental steps her local course is taking.

“We hope everything goes normally as it was without climate change,” she said, as she walked back to Langara’s clubhouse after what she said was one of her best days this season.

“We hope we don’t have drought this year.”

WATCH | Low snow levels are forcing ski hills in B.C. to get creative.

B.C. ski hills get creative to stay open amid low snow levels

Extremely low snow levels are forcing ski hills in B.C. to get creative. New data shows local mountains have 60 per cent less snow than normal. David Ball has more on some ski resorts’ efforts to serve visitors and snow sports enthusiasts.


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