The Green Golf Club: A Recipe for the Future
Got 18 more in ya’, Slugger?” Stone asked me, rotating around from the passenger seat, noting that I had dozed off after two days of 36 holes per in the desert heat.
“We’re here, boys,” Nick announced before I could coordinate a response. “Get ready for something different.”
‘Here,’ according to the property’s entry signage, was The Green Golf Club. I’d never heard of it.
Pulling into the lot, we were one of few cars. Not that we were amid few people. Rather, as we removed our clubs from the hatch, one rideshare shuttle arrived, then another, joined shortly thereafter by players arriving on retrofitted bikes, their sleek Sunday bags affixed near the respective rear tires.
Inside the clubhouse, attempting to shake free of my cloud, I felt around for my wallet before Nick pointed out the lack of a register. He then showed me his phone, explaining that every transaction here was automated. No cash, no coin, no cards.
Walking outdoors, I looked for the practice green, as my flatstick no doubt needed some tuning. The fellas went to get the clubs and my brief survey revealed what looked like the surface for prep putting, except, in lieu of little flags, the space had a circle of squishy mats. I went to explore a bit further.
“Not yet, Juddie,” Nick returned. “We’ll check that out after the round.”
With nary a golf cart in sight, our clubs were placed on the same bikes I’d seen assembled in the lot, and as we apparently had the first tee time, a few quick swings on the range led immediately to the opening hole. As we walked to the box, Ryan asked if I was feeling any better, and I told him I wasn’t quite awake before asking, “Do you hear that buzzing, dude?”
He smiled and said, “Have some breakfast,” and placed a few glistening crackers in one hand and a cold canister in the other — actually my own canister, as I realized the boys all had their own drink vessels, brought from the car. Tasting, the contents surprised me. The power drink I’d anticipated was instead a juice smoothie: sweet, viscous, earthy.
Not fully aware of my extremities, I stepped to the box, driver in hand, addressed my ball and then stepped back as the buzzing ensued.
“You guys hear that?”
“S’all right, don’t mind that,” said Stone, as he gestured behind me toward an undeveloped plot beyond the clubhouse and opening tee. “Those guys just helped make your breakfast.”
Peering into the desertscape, I followed the direction of Stone’s gesture to the source of the buzz, as a pair of hooded apiarists worked the frames of their trade, bees encircling their suits.
My opening ball bounded from the green fairway of the dogleg par-4, hooking slightly into the dormant brown of the periphery. I hopped on my bike, finding my ball resting atop the brown, which felt deserved. Kept turf, I told myself, is reserved for the good shots.
A bogey later and the hole ensuing, I again played my second from the browned left side, but stepped back from my approach as a work cart neared. I noticed, in the driver’s flatbed, a few rolls of green-colored tarping.
The superintendent stopped and nodded.
“Don’t sweat that lie,” he said. “We got all of 60 acres of playable turf here; not always easy to find the short stuff. Saves a helluva lotta water, though, and you can play from that lie just fine.”
“What’s that in your bed?” I asked. We both paused as I punched a low 5 back into the fairway.
“Good ball,” he said as I hopped on my bike. “This stuff,” he touched the tarping, “it’s a film, ultra-thin, called ‘thermoelectrics.’ Generates energy from heat. Renewables, bud. Take a look.”
From our fairway perch I watched his staff roll a similar tarp off the par-3 green on the hole ahead. “We put ‘em on at night, tee boxes and greens; they suck up heat from the ground and put energy back into the turf to help it grow. Saves all manner of pumping, agua, fertilizer. Cuts down the energy bills, too.”
What a trip. I didn’t even know what I was scoring, my opaque head working to take in this almost alien place.
A few holes down the card, nearing the turn, my case of the lefts continued with the big stick, eliciting a “Garden ball!” collective cry from the fellas.
Riding across the dormant Bermuda, I found my ball, having bumped from one brown into another, with the periphery beyond the rough presenting the “D.G.,” a decomposed granite outlining mixed with plantings all native to the desert surrounds. Still in play, the bounce of my 6-iron connected crisply with the surface, with the D.G. more accepting than I’d thought as my approach reached the front of the green.
As I rode forward, a small clap arose. I looked up to see a sign reading “Plant Yourself Here” atop a snack shop between nine green and 10 tee, set adjacent to the “garden” the boys had referenced.
“Make that putt and come on back,” said the woman at the counter, before she walked outside to work a compost bin.
FROM OUR FAIRWAY PERCH I WATCHED HIS STAFF ROLL A SIMILAR TARP OFF THE PAR-3 GREEN ON THE HOLE AHEAD. “WE PUT ‘EM ON AT NIGHT, TEE BOXES AND GREENS; THEY SUCK UP HEAT FROM THE GROUND AND PUT ENERGY BACK INTO THE TURF TO HELP IT GROW. SAVES ALL MANNER OF PUMPING, AGUA, FERTILIZER. CUTS DOWN THE ENERGY BILLS, TOO.”
Tapping in for par, I felt my appetite arise. I needed a couple of dogs in my belly. But the traditional fare I didn’t find. Instead, everything was plant-based, either grown on-site, or, as the woman’s T-shirt noted, “Sustain Your Game — The 100-Mile Rule,” a reference, she’d soon explain, that every food or drink item was grown within 100 miles of the course.
“And made from scratch … but you don’t need to be a scratch golfer to enjoy,” she smiled.
I opted for the vegan BLT wrap. Nick went with the chick pea-based chicken salad, while Ryan and Stone each had a Beyond Burger paired with an organic beer.
“Lemme try that,” I said to Ryan. He gave me a bite; impressed, my taste buds couldn’t much discern a difference between these and the thousands of burgers I’d consumed over the years.
Bellies sated, come the latter side, the course played on par with a sanctuary. Hummingbirds found their feeders; we saw a family of coyotes; a refuge for Monarch butterflies seemed to flutter in celebration when I striped one on 11; migratory birds flocked through corridors routed through the grounds.
Attached to yardage placards on each box, Audubon signage narrated the hole ahead, detailing the benefits of on-course pollinators, describing on-site species and, for the tough, lake-laded finishing holes, explaining stormwater runoff and how the hazards dually worked as filters for the community well beyond the golf grounds.
Come the home hole, a small gallery had assembled near Audubon’s tee signage (not that my play warranted any onlookers). But they weren’t there for us. Rather, the kids and the speakers, nary a club in hand, were finishing up their Sunday class material, a chat encompassing all we’d seen and tasted and experienced over the course of the curious morning.
Following the final tap-in bogey of the day and closure of the weekend challenge tally, I had no idea what I shot, though Nick was fast to report that I needed to Venmo $28 to Ryan. Riding our bikes back to the clubhouse in unison, I affixed the kickstand and started walking to the car when I saw the boys instead heading toward what I thought was the practice green.
“A chance to win my money back,” I said to no one in particular.
But the boys had neither putters nor golf shoes.
They assumed their places on the squishy mats I’d seen from the morning, and after finding a mat for myself, we followed the poses of a yoga instructor for the next 10 minutes, focusing on spines and shoulders and necks. Bodies loosened, the teacher then had us collectively close our eyes. She spoke softly, warmly asking us to think about our rounds, our shots — good and bad — and what flora and fauna we’d seen over the course of the morn.
Without pause, my lids grew heavy and my exhaustion washed through me, then away from me, and I felt better.
Upon opening my eyes, we were all back in the car. Was The Green Golf Club real, I wondered? Or had I just daydreamed the future?
Many thanks to those who donated their time and expert insights to this piece, including: Kat Findlay, Director of Signature and Classic Sanctuary programs for Audubon International; Dr. Sridhar Kasichainula, CEO, Nimbus Materials; Melody McKague, vegan expert and Ashtanga yoga instructor; and several superintendents based in the Coachella Valley.