It is likely that even someone in your community who hasn’t played golf would still be able to describe what a golf course looks like. However, it is unlikely that someone who plays golf would be able to describe the benefits a golf course provides to the surrounding community beyond recreation. Much like a park, a golf course is part of a community’s green space and supports the public in many more ways. With support from the USGA, the Natural Capital Project team at the University of Minnesota is working to better understand the benefits golf courses provide to the community - i.e., - the value of ecosystem services provided by golf courses.
Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans receive from the environment, such as carbon sequestration, storm water nutrient retention, and pollination services. Ecosystem services have been modeled and assessed in broader spatial planning contexts in rural and agricultural landscapes. Until recently, they were largely ignored in urban landscapes where there are more variations in the supply of ecosystem services stemming from buildings, pavement, and particular management of open spaces. To date, a straightforward, replicable approach to quantifying multiple urban ecosystem services has yet to emerge. There has been an increasing interest in integrating ecosystem services into urban planning decisions, but their inclusion in urban planning remains limited.
As the world transitions to a more urban lifestyle, it is critical we understand the consequences of development decisions on urban green spaces. Development pressures and municipal policies often influence the fate of ecosystem services from urban green spaces and as an urban green space, golf courses acutely feel these pressures. With an increasing number of people moving into urban areas, this pressure is growing. Golf courses currently represent a substantial part of urban areas in the United States, with approximately 14,200 courses comprising nearly 2.3 million acres as of 2015. Examining the environmental and societal impact of changing a golf course’s land footprint to a different land cover type can help to assess the impacts of that decision on the ecosystem services provided from that land area to the surrounding region. Many golf courses are located in urban areas and the potential pressures to develop them are rising, quantifying the ecosystem services they provide in urban environments is an important area of research needed for urban planning.
Our research team quantified ecosystem services provided by each of 135 golf courses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that includes St. Paul, Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs in seven counties: Anoka, Hennepin, Carver, Scott, Ramsey, Dakota and Washington. This metropolitan area currently supports a population of more than three million people and contains a mix of land cover, ranging from rural farmland to dense urban centers. The potential for landscapes to provide ecosystem services results from a combination of land cover and land use management, with the former generating services that are altered by the latter. For example, the fertilization and mowing frequency of grass cover within urban areas will vary among golf courses, home lawns, city parks and cemeteries.