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No. Cycling isn’t the new golf. Golf wishes.

You might think of golf as a lynchpin of tourism. But is it responsible tourism?

The trouble with golf

Ben Adler pointed out in his 2007 article for The Guardian, The case against golf, that the problem isn’t “the game’s elitism, its sexism, how frustrating it is to play, boring it is to watch, or how silly its outfits and traditions are.”

Rather, he says, the more measurable problem is that golf courses have a massive and undeniable impact on the environment.

Kit Wheeler and John Nauright of the Hospitality, Tourism and Family and Consumer Sciences department of the USA’s Georgia Southern University go further, though.

In their 2006 article, A Global Perspective on the Environmental Impact of Golf in Sport in Society, they add depth to Mr. Adler’s argument on the environment, too: besides the negative impacts that building courses has on wildlife, and besides the amount of chemicals golf courses consume (which has negative effects both on natural systems downstream, and on players and employees), “The Worldwatch Institute makes an interesting and startling comparison: 9.5 million m3 is the amount of water used, per day, to irrigate the world’s golf courses; it is also the amount of water it would take, per day, to support 4.7 billion people at the United Nations daily minimum requirement.”

But they also point out that “Local communities are routinely excluded from the decision-making processes regarding course development….After losing their battle against developers, local residents often lose their land next. They end up either working as labourers on the course or moving to big cities, as there are no other employment opportunities available. These types of changes can wreak havoc on rural communities while also exacerbating urban problems of slums, pollution and congestion.”

“The benefits of the global growth of golf as a commercial sports, leisure and tourism activity, though provided at large costs to many, are enjoyed by a small minority.”

Given the many and damaging reports and articles that turn up when you search the subject on Google, you’d be forgiven for thinking that every second person with even a few pennies in their entertainment budget must play the game. But golf isn’t that big at all, in fact: in a world of 7 billion people: “Everything depends on how you define a golfer, but broad estimates of ‘regular’ golfers (those who play at least one round on a recognised golf course per year or use a practice facility such as a driving range) put the worldwide figure at about 60 million.” (

Cycling, on the other hand…

Cycling, which isn’t confined to manicured parks and gated estates, and which can be both – or either – a sport and a practical, environmentally-friendly method of transport, attracts a much larger audience.

It seems that no one really knows how many people ride their bikes every day, but a November 2015 report from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, and the University of California, Davis (A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario  – pdf, 1.6 mb) puts it this way:

“Although there appears to be reasonably good data for e-bike sales worldwide, data on sales of regular (nonmotorized) bicycles is poor for much of the world. Figure 3 presents available data, amounting to about thirty four million bicycles in the countries shown, although we roughly estimate that, given our data on cycling mode share, total world sales probably amount to more than a hundred million per year. E-bike sales in 2015 are estimated to reach forty million in all world regions, with China the dominant country but also with significant sales in Japan and Europe.”

In 2010, the Outdoor Foundation estimated that 60 million adults rode regularly in the United States (there’s that magic figure again!) – and that mountain biking alone contributed $133 billion a year to the country’s economy, and created nearly 1.1 million jobs.

But by 2012, the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s World Summit heard that “mountain bike tourism has enhanced local economies.” (Economic Benefits of Mountain Bike Tourism)

Speaking at the event, David Weinstein, Outreach and Advocacy Manager of the Outdoor Industry Association of Colorado, reported that mountain biking had created, “6.1 million American jobs”, and generated “$646 billion in outdoor recreation spending each year.”

While Harry Dalgaard of the Oregon Tourism Commission said that, of 17.4 million visitors to the state, “4.5 m visitors rode a bike while visiting; 1.5 m planned on riding before they came; Overnight cycling visitors spend 8 times more than day travelers.”

And if that isn’t enough to convince you that cycling is huh-youge, we read in the European Cyclist Union’s 2013 report, Calculating the economic benefits of cycling in EU (pdf, 277 kb), that, “The study found that around 655,000 people work in theccycling related sectors already as of today in the EU, most of them in cycle tourism. If cycling’s modal share were to be doubled, more than 400,000 additional jobs could be created, reaching a total of more than 1 million jobs in the cycling economy. The study also came to the conclusion that cycling has a higher employment intensity per million of turnover than other transport sectors, thus offering a higher job creation potential. Furthermore, cycling jobs are more geographically stable than other sectors, they benefit local economies, and they offer access to the labour market to lowly qualified workers.

“We calculate an annual economic benefit of cycling in the EU-27 of at least € 205 bn.”

None of this is to say that cycling has no negative impacts on the environment. Of course it would – and, given that off-road riding is most likely to occur in wilderness areas and rural areas, you could be forgiven for thinking that mountain biking would be the biggest culprit.

But, according to Jeff Marion and Jeremy Wimpey writing on The International Mountain Bicycling Association site, (Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking: Science Review and Best Practices)  “The existing body of research does not support the prohibition or restriction of mountain biking from a resource or environmental protection perspective. Existing impacts, which may be in evidence on many trails used by mountain bikers, are likely associated for the most part with poor trail designs or insufficient maintenance.”

… And we haven’t even touched on the social benefits of cycling. Or its massive (and far more wide-reaching) potential for upliftment.

World Bicycle Relief, for example (which has delivered more than 250,000 specially designed, locally assembled bikes to people in need), or its South African programme, Qhubeka, which has distributed more than 54,000 bikes since 2005, and which notes on its site that:

  • A child’s commute time to school is reduced by up to 75% with a bicycle
  • A bicycle increases a person’s carrying capacity by five times
  • Healthcare workers can visit more than double the amount of patients per day with a bicycle
  • Marks improve by an average of 25% for children who ride a bicycle to school
  • Schools where children ride bicycles see attendance rates rise by 18% on average

…So no. For all these reasons and more, cycling is definitely not the new golf.

The two don’t even spin in the same orbit.

Resources: Cycle Tours Global

Billing itself as “the world’s most comprehensive and powerful search engine and portal” for more than 7,500 bike tours in 130 countries, Cycle Tours Global is designed “For cyclists who tour, and tourists who cycle.”

It’s worth having a look…

Video: Discover the joy of cycling in the Western Cape



Header image supplied by Wesgro – the official destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape Province of South Africa.