Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Should we all drive golf carts and save the planet?

Spring is here and all the golf enthusiasts are excited that a new season of clobbering a small white ball with an oversize driver named Big Bertha is soon to begin. What in the world does golf have to do with being green? Actually quite a lot as we will soon have numerous small super sub compacts that resemble golf carts. First we had the GEM electric car, now the Smart car and soon we will have a host of small cars that are propelled by electric motors, small gasoline engines, or a combination of motors and engines.

The Golf car I really like is the VW Golf. This model has sold over twenty five million cars since its inception and is one of Europe’s most fuel efficient models. The 2009 Golf Euro Star turbo-diesel with a 1.6 liter engine actually achieves better fuel efficiency than a Toyota Prius hybrid. It is a great little car and certainly is like putting a Tiger Woods in your tank. Does anyone remember the Exxon advertisement starting in 1959 for putting a tiger in your tank? Wow this was a dumb advertising campaign that started in Chicago and went worldwide. If you like, check out the Exxon Mobil website under corporate history and the whole story of the Tiger is there, including Exxon Mobile’s good corporate citizenship of donating one million dollars to “save the tiger fund”. Perhaps if Exxon Mobile would not have put fifty million tigers in tanks we would not need the save the tiger fund.

Golf is actually a great way to explain to students studying physics how the laws of conservation of momentum and energy work. The momentum of the Big Bertha is transferred into momentum of the ball. Momentum is the product of mass multiplied by velocity. Hence the more mass and the more velocity the club has the more momentum that can be transferred into the golf ball. The manufacturers of drivers, the club that is used to hit the ball the greatest distance, have increased the mass of drivers to the level of the 1959 Cadillac including the large tail fins. Perhaps it would be a brilliant advertising campaign if Callaway, Taylor Made, or Ping come up with an ad that says “put a tiger in your driver”. I doubt the young advertising executive back in Chicago in 15 ever dreamed that golf would be dominated fifty years later by a person named Tiger.

Golf is a sport that of course does have a large water footprint. I am not talking of the water holes but rather about the quantity of water that is used to irrigate a golf course. It is pretty wasteful of water to build a championship golf course in Phoenix, Tucson and now Dubai. The web site lists three championship courses in this arid country. One of the courses is called the Dubai Creek Club. I have to assume the creek is manmade just like the indoor ski run in the country. My advice to golfers everywhere is to walk the course so you can huff, puff, and duff and also hopefully avoid the ruff.


  1. Increased respiration increases one's personal output of CO2, does it not? So if all golfers walk (rather than ride the clean electric carts), won't the heavy breathing walking golfers cause a substantially larger carbon footprint than riding golfers would?

    Would the increased CO2 emitted by walking golfers be offset by the CO2 saved by not producing energy to charge the electric carts?

    Break it down for us, oh great one! :-)

  2. This sounds like a question from the young thermo prince. The king says the follwing. Even if the golfer is consuming calories at a rate 50% higher than normal for the five hours of golf the golfer only adds about 2 ounces of CO2 to the atmosphere. If the golf cart holds 6 kwh of stored energy and it its charge discharge is 60% efficient we need 10 kwh of energy from the grid. Each kwh of electric power in the US emits about 1.4 pounds of CO2 so the charging of the cart requires 14 pounds of CO2 which is two orders of magnitude greater than the walking golfer. Oh prince of thermo please walk when you golf. Lindsay