Is Tiger Woods for the Birds?

Eldrick Tont Woods, better known as Tiger, is obviously into chicks, but the golf courses he plays on aren’t great for birds. The sport is laced with birding references, from the lingo to the fowl players see in the trees (and sometimes in the grasses), yet building, landscaping, and maintaining a course can be as harmful to the environment as Woods’s infidelity has been to his marriage.

Golf’s connection to birds began at the turn of the century—the last turn, that is. “The term ’birdie’ originated in the United States in 1899,” according to the U.S. Golf Association website. “H.B. Martin’s Fifty Years of American Golf contains an account of a foursomes match played at the Atlantic City (N.J.) CC. One of the players, Ab Smith relates, ‘My ball... came to rest within six inches of the cup. I said, That was a bird of a shot... I suggest that when one of us plays a hole in one under par he receives double compensation. The other two agreed and we began right away, just as soon as the next one came, to call it a ‘birdie.’ In 19th-century American slang, ’bird’ referred to anyone or anything excellent or wonderful."

The site goes on to say that "by analogy with ‘birdie,’ the term ‘eagle’ soon thereafter became common to refer to a score one better than a ‘bird.’ Also by analogy, the term ‘albatross’ stands for double eagle—an even bigger eagle!” (That last part isn’t technically true—albatrosses aren’t eagles.)

It might seem strange then, that the sport began to bother environmentalists, but golf courses often destroy habitat and pollute the environment with the herbicides and pesticides used to keep the greens in perfect condition.

Some course managers attempt to make their 18 holes more environmentally friendly by getting certification from Audubon International, a group that “helps golf courses protect our environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf. By helping people enhance the valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats that golf courses provide, improve efficiency, and minimize potentially harmful impacts of golf course operations, the program serves as vital resource for golf courses.”

The group, however, has no affiliation with the National Audubon Society.

Even if course designers put in native plants and use fewer chemicals than most, destroying the natural landscape for one that’s not as natural is still not as good as conservation (in most cases). And the chemicals used on courses are not only damaging to the ecosystem, they’re also bad for people. According to a 2003 story in Salon titled “Poisoned fairways,” one chemical applied to a course killed an otherwise perfectly healthy 30-year-old man:

“In August 1982, after a few rounds of golf at the Army Navy Country Club outside Washington, D.C., Navy Lt. George Prior, an athletic, healthy, 30-year-old Navy flight officer, developed an odd rash on his back and began suffering flu-like symptoms. He checked himself into Bethesda Naval Hospital, where his body soon began to burn from the inside out. His internal organs started failing, blisters bubbled on his skin. After slipping into a coma, he died within days. A Navy forensic pathologist concluded that Prior had died as a result of a severe allergic reaction to Daconil 2787, a fungicide that had been sprayed on the course.”

It seems that Tiger never suffered from these effects, even though he’s only 33, but he does promote golf course construction. Maybe conservationists who want him to protect the environment should try a different method and woo him with a chick.

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