Every year new golf courses and golf clubs are opened to the public offering shiny greens and peaceful ambience. However, what is the impact of golf courses on the environment, water sources and local communities?
PROFESSIONAL Golf Tourism: GeTTinG on The Green Every year new golf courses and golf clubs are opened to the public offering shiny greens and peaceful ambience. How- ever, what is the impact of golf courses on the environment, water sources and local com- munities? PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n Golf Tourism: eConomiC BenefiTs vs. environmenTAl impACTs “In this age of increasing environmental awareness, there is no more room on Earth to destroy nature for the sake of a mere game.” The Global Anti-Golf Movement (GAM) Tourism Concern first took issues with golf nearly twenty years ago – an unwinnable cam- paign–one we could not ignore. The phenom- enal growth of golf tourism had even the driest countries competing for tourists by prioritising golf course development. The situation still shocks: Cyprus, seriously short of water, is developing 14 new courses to save its troubled tourism industry. Any move- ment towards more environmentally-friendly course management is undermined by more traditional thinking. There are now 32,000 courses around the world: up from 25,000 in the mid-1990s – which at that time would have covered an area of the size of Belgium. The uk has the highest density in the world: about 0.6% of the land is covered by 2,600 courses, a 40% increase in the past thirty years. In Japan there are over 20 million players. And they pay a high price to travel the world for their golfing holidays. The analysis of golf tourism requires an exam- ination of its environmental, social, economic aspects plus human rights issues – particularly those of land ownership. march, 2011 — 17 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n wATer Golf courses are no longer developed as adjuncts to luxury hotels, but rather as a necessity – as they are for villa developments. In Spain the coastline from Murcia to Almeria is nicknamed the `Costa del Golf’. Estimates vary but in 2005 El Pais reported that 130 golf courses were in devel- opment within the Valencia and Murcia regions alone, adding to the dozens there already. uNESCo estimates that tourists visiting Granada in Spain use seven times more water than local people, with daily usage as high as 440 litres. Golf courses in the area need between 10,000 and 15,000 cubic metres of water per hectare a year, which is the same as a rice paddy. Thus the annual ChemiCAls water consumption of a course could reach one La’oc in the Philippines, the year 2000 saw two million cubic metres – the same as a town with a farmers resist a course planned for their lands, Water and chemicals are prerequisites for population of 12,000 inhabitants. It is even more mutilated and shot dead. any golf course. The chemical run-off from a worrying in Thailand where a course typically uses golf course in Japan destroyed crops and cre- as much water as 60,000 rural villagers (uNESCo poverTy vs. weAlTh ated not only deformed fish but also GAM and Water Portal Weekly, 2006). its World No Golf Day. It is unlikely that this Resorts, hotels and golf courses often divert stopped anyone playing golf, but it was con- lAnd ABuse land, water, energy and access to biodiversity sciousness raising and leading uk media in the away from poor communities, and so make it uk devoted considerable attention. Local and foreign business people, politi- harder for rural women and young girls to obtain The pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and cians and military leaders tend to form power- water and fuel for household use. Fulfilling such artificial colouring agents poison not only the ful alliances to support lucrative development basic needs competes with schooling in many soil and fauna but also human health. George projects. The worldwide construction of golf poor communities. In theory, the construction Monbiot, an environmental activist, reveals: courses is married to dispossession and envi- of tourism infrastructure should benefit local ‘An 18-hole course requires, on average, 22 ronmental destruction. residents by way of new and expanded services. tonnes of chemical treatments, mostly pes- The problem is particularly acute in south- Such benefits are often beyond the reach of the ticides, every year: seven times the rate per east and east Asia, where golf is big busi- very poor, who may actually be worse off if tour- hectare for industrial farming. A study shows ness, and land rights and the environment are ism and its train of golf courses deny them access higher rates of some cancers, such as non- often ignored by governments. Tourism Con- to productive land, water, biodiversity and other Hodgkin's lymphoma (which has been asso- cern knows of very many accounts of battles resources upon which their livelihoods depend. ciated with certain pesticides), among golf between peasant farmers or indigenous people By Tricia Barnett (Tourism Concern) course superintendents’. and golf course developers, e.g. in Hacienda http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk march, 2011 — 18 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n JApAn: polluTed By Golf Even though 67 percent of Japan’s total land area is covered by forest, its forest products self-sufficiency rate has fallen 30 percent. Courses Japan now must import much of the timber used in construction and the wood chips used for making pulp. Japan’s economic success is causing many seri- Forests serve as a kind of natural dam, stor- ous environmental problems, but one stems ing rainwater in the leaves and soil. Natural not from its factories but from too many golf- water circulating from forests feeds rivers and ers. In the late 1980s, several groups actively streams. In contrast, golf courses have only opposing golf course throughout Japan met in one-fourth the water retention capacity of an kobe for their third annual national conven- equivalent forest area. Most rainwater simply tion. runs off the greens and fairways. This produces Here is powerful testimony to the serious- flooding downstream. ness with which communities consider the on the contrary, the water flow to rivers and adverse effects of golf courses. According to creeks downstream from golf courses drops a report by the oECD, Japan’s early success in to a dribble during periods of drought. During combating pollution is threatened by increas- golf course construction, rainfall sends mud ingly wasteful patterns of consumption. pouring from the barren ground into streams. Japan’s total land area is about the same as This often makes the water inappropriate for the state of California. over 100 million people agricultural or residential use. live in this land space. An 18-hole golf course requires three to four Before World War II, there were only 23 golf tons of various germicides, herbicides, and courses in all of Japan and only 72 in 1956. pesticides every year to keep the green and Now, there are a total of 1,700 golf courses in fairways healthy, to combat weeds, and kill operation, with another 330 under construc- insects. tion and roughly 1,000 in various stage of plan- ning. Top five Golf Countries Japan consists of islands covered by many Currently it is estimated that there are around mountains, and it is fairly easy to develop 35,000 golf courses in the world, of which the golf courses rather than developing agricul- top five countries (USA, UK, Japan, Canada ture and housing. Developers clear-cut the and Australia) account for 76%. These golf forests and use bulldozers to level hilltops courses cover an area of approximately 17,238 and fill in valleys. As a result, golf course km2, an area equivalent to the size of Kuwait. construction is identical to the destruction Nzsses.auckland.ac.nz of environment. march, 2011 — 19 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic, A research group in Canada also identified while others are known to cause deformities the problematical factors of golf courses. Soil and nerve damage. There have been reports samples were taken from greens and fairways, of massive fish kills in fish hatcheries polluted and sediment samples were taken from water- by toxins in the water from golf courses. The ways and analyzed for the presence of mercury. nitrogen and phosphorus in the fertiliz- Greens had the highest mean mercury ers will mix with rainwater and concentration, and the majority eventually flow into a res- of greens exceeded Cana- ervoir. The high nutrient dian environmental lev- content of water will els set for mercury in stimulate the growth soil. of algae. Conse- Sediment from quently, this requires a golf course lake the water treatment had higher mercury plant to use higher levels than a lake volumes of chlorine to located 5 km from the cleanse the water. course. Mussels from Golf courses use pesticides both lakes were analyzed, containing organic phosphorus. and those from the golf course After application, the pesticides evaporate lake near the greens had methylmercury in the air and are absorbed by the human body and total mercury levels an order of magni- via the skin and lungs. Caddies and greenkeep- tude greater than those from the reference ers often experience health problems because lake. of the air pollution. Golfers themselves breathe Fish in both lakes contained methylmercury, in the toxins as they walk the course before the but the level was higher in fish collected near newly sprayed pesticides have settled down. the golf course greens. The construction of Winds sometimes carry the chemical agents golf courses in scenic natural sites, such as for- to surrounding neighborhoods, and people liv- est areas and coral islands, also results in the ing near golf courses worry that their health destruction of biodiversity. may also be affected. Golf has an image as a healthy sport, but it may be quite different in reality. http://www.greenfudge.org march, 2011 — 20 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n QueBeC: environmenTAlly friendly Golf Courses? improved spill containment for pesticide mix- ing and loading areas, decreased managed turf grass area to increase wildlife habitat, land- scaping with native plants to increase wild- life habitats, removed exotic invasive plants, vegetation planted in and around waterways, installed of contained equipment in wash-off area. Where such environmental actions have been implemented, golf course managers have generally also reported a positive business value or cost savings, according to Audubon International assessments. eCo–friendly Golf Courses Currently, there is no information that systematically documents environmental As far as environmental responsibility is con- to reduce golf’s environmental impact, but improvements implemented by Québec golf cerned, golf is neither ahead, nor behind other one of the most popular remains the Audu- courses. However, numerous golf courses are sectors, and it may take some time before it bon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. In 2009, actively working towards reducing their nega- is considered as ‘responsible recreation’. Golf 783 golf courses were certified by this program tive environmental impact, while several are courses have a long history of being environ- worldwide, including 82 in Canada and 11 in also in process of certification by Audubon mentally unfriendly, due to their high water Québec. International. and chemical use, impact on local topography, Golf courses that have implemented initia- The most prevalent positive environmen- hydrology and wildlife. tives to reduce their environmental impact can tal action presently in Québec remains the Nonetheless, golf remains an important be recognized by a variety of actions, includ- reduction of pesticide use, owing to legislation activity across Québec’s 362 golf clubs, while ing: decreased water use, improved irrigation implemented back in 2003 by the Provincial worldwide an estimated 25,000 golf courses systems and water application, water quality Government. According to baseline assess- cater to some 50 million players. Internation- monitoring, reduced or eliminated pesticide ments for the period 2003-2005, Québec’s golf ally, various organizations and initiatives exist use, increased natural organic fertilizer use, sector used 39,382 kg of active ingredients per march, 2011 — 21 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n year (according to sales figures) and 75.9%, or degradable balls and tees. Increasingly, some hensive environmental management require- 29,885 kg, in the form of fungicides. In com- golf courses supply their restaurants with local ments covering a range of issues, including parison with total pesticide use in the Prov- and regional foods, as in the case of the Raw- waste and water management (composting, ince, pesticide use by golf represented about don Golf Club, which also received Le Phénix recycling), hazardous substance use, vegeta- 1.1% of the total. The continuous reductions de l’Environnement Award in 2009 for having tion around waterways and others. A number in pesticide use remains important to maintain implemented a variety of initiatives to improve of other organizations, such as the Coalition watershed ecosystem health, but especially its environmental management. for Responsible Golf, are also working to help since their application by golf courses in Qué- While there aren’t clearly any 100% eco- golf courses improve their environmental man- bec occurs almost entirely on permeable soils. friendly golf courses, work is under way to agement practices in Québec. Since 2003, the Québec Pesticides Man- improve management at some places. There agement Code and its associated regulations is currently a move in Québec to implement whAT ABouT Green Golfers? require all Québec golf courses to submit a a variety of voluntary initiatives. For example, the Association des Terrains de Golf du Qué- Few studies have assessed golfers’ attitudes pesticide reduction plan prepared by a certi- towards the environment, and none have been fied agronomist to the Ministère du Dével- bec is drafting a sustainable development policy and green reported from Québec. However, in 2008, Golf oppement Durable, de l’Environnement et des Digest published a survey that illustrated how Parcs every three years. program, which will address compre- perceptions of 650 avid golfers compared with For the period 2006-2009, the objective was the general American population regarding to achieve average reductions of 12.9% in the golf and its relationship with the environment. use of fungicides, 9.4% in herbicides, 8.2% in According to this study, golfers were typi- insecticides, 7.4% in rodenticides and 2.8% in cally male, affluent and older than the general growth regulators. The results are currently population surveyed and some similarities being analyzed and the objectives for the next and differences were noted amongst the two three years will be revised. groups concerning environmental attitudes. Though golf courses in Québec have taken For example, both groups appeared environ- numerous other actions to improve their envi- mentally conscious and participated in activi- ronmental management, the overall impact of ties like recycling and agreed that government these is not documented, with the exception regulation is a necessary approach for address- of the Laurentides, where water use is moni- ing environmental issues. tored by public sector organizations. A few golf However, while golfers also appeared to sup- courses have also installed industrial equip- port the idea that golf is an environmentally ment to filter, treat and reuse wastewater. friendly/compatible sport, they were less likely However, such initiatives are limited to only a than the general population to participate in few places, since they cost up to CAD 200,000. initiatives such as carpooling. Elsewhere, golf courses have exchanged The findings suggest that fewer golfers their carts for electric versions, implemented believe the game’s water and pesticide use has recycling programs, and use recyclable or bio- a negative impact on the environment than march, 2011 — 22 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n the general population. The Golf Digest study also suggests that, while golfers agree with the need to improve the envi- ronmental management of golf courses, such improvement does not necessarily represent a big plus for increased partici- pation in the game. Some golf courses are also focusing on player education to raise environmental awareness and several try to get players involved by hav- ing them volunteer to carry out restoration and environmental works, while others encour- age the provision of financial support towards environment initiatives. Golf clearly has the potential to be more environmentally responsible and the numer- ous initiatives in place by some golf courses currently leave no room for inaction by the great majority. http://tourismintelligence.ca march, 2011 — 23 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n The impACT of Golf esTATes in souTh AfriCA however has other negative environmental discourages indigenous vegetation, which in impacts. the Western Cape is adapted to nutrient poor soil. Eutrophication of water bodies may also pesTiCides And ferTilizers occur. This is associated with a proliferation of plant life, especially algae, which reduces the The addition of any nutrients to the system, dissolved oxygen content and often causes the for example through using fertilizers, impacts local extinction of other organisms. While the upon surrounding ecosystems. Increased nutri- use of sewage water for irrigation may solve ents may encourage alien species to invade and the water problem, it adds even more nutri- pros and Cons of Golf Courses Advantages Disadvantages Employment and income benefits, both Loss of biodiversity direct and indirect The amount of water golf courses use varies Eutrophication or river or seawater through Tax benefits to local, regional and national greatly depending on the region, but on aver- governments use of fertilizers age they use about 10 800 000 liters of water Attracts new firms to the region Heavy user of water for irrigation per year (according to the Golf Course Super- Biocides use to maintain the greenness of Health and social benefits. Careers can intendents Association, uS golf courses use, on benefit through 'networking'. the 'greens', control insects, fungicides and average, 414 500 000 liters a year). In essence weeds, contaminate both the air and water each golf course uses enough water to provide Golf clubs often portray an elitist and exclu- Attracts the higher-spending social groups at least 1200 people with their basic water sive lifestyle needs for a year. South Africa is a dry country Helps conserve valuable fragments of and many people still do not have access to coastal habitat from encroaching urban- Leads to an increase in road traffic running water. ization and agriculture However, using water-saving measures can Increases local property values Raises property prices beyond the reach of cut the water use by a third, and some golf local young people course estates are using recycled sewage efflu- Geographyfieldwork.com ent to water their greens and fairways. This march, 2011 — 24 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n Golf course estates are essentially upmar- ket, residential areas located within their own private park. They are generally not located within urban areas. They usually cover large tracts of land and are frequently proposed within pristine areas, where they reduce biodi- versity and destroy conservation-worthy habi- tats. A worrying trend in the Western Cape is that golf course estates sometimes occur on prime agricultural land. In the short-term the overall monetary value of golf course estates may be greater than that of farming. However, in the long term, these short-term monetary gains, which benefit only a few individuals, may be eclipsed by a shortage of food-produc- ing areas, affecting all South Africans. urBAn sprAwl Many golf estate developments are on the urban edge or in semi-rural areas. This results in urban sprawl and can create unplanned-for development nodes where infrastructure does not exist. This places an added burden on local municipalities and the community at large, for ents to the system, compounding the negative may have serious long-term implications for example, through increased traffic congestion environmental impacts of using fertilizers. habitat viability. and demand for services. Pesticides and herbicides kill off insects and In general these developments consist of weeds within the confines of the golf course Alien veGeTATion clusters of 500 housing units, or more. In effect estate. However these can spread into nearby they are creating small towns. This has enor- ground water or river systems. The use of pes- Golf courses may facilitate the spread of inva- mous impacts on water demand and sewage ticides may affect species higher up the food sive alien plants through increased disturbance services, especially where such large-scale chain by either reducing the amount of food and nutrient levels. Furthermore, gardens are growth has not been planned for. As these available, or through the accumulation of per- recognized as an important source of invasive are housing developments for the upper end sistent poisons in their bodies. Insects also pro- species. The introduction of kikuyu grass, for of the market, where are the resources to be vide important ecosystem functions such as example, may have devastating effects on sur- found for the lower end, disadvantaged com- pollination and seed dispersal. Their removal rounding natural habitats. munities development? march, 2011 — 25 — PROFESSIONAL G o l f To u r i s m : G e t t i n g o n t h e G r e e n At its most benign, this takes the form of fencing and closing off residential areas to the public, limiting access to public open space. At its most extreme, it means guards, razor wire and electric fences. For society, this cannot be healthy, creating divides between the elite and the surrounding communities, and fostering resentment and tension between the haves and the have nots. By limiting access to natu- ral resources such as arable land, fuel, water, food and medicinal plants, golf estates further impoverish poor communities, both economi- cally and psychologically. Increasingly, attempts are being made to compensate communities for these losses by soCio–poliTiCAl issues, eQuiTy making substantial financial contributions, or And ACCess by offering to build facilities for the affected community. This is probably the most serious weakness of In summary, it would appear that golfing golf courses. Golf course estates are frequently estates are less about golf and more about www.caucasusexplorer.com elitist enclaves, isolated from surrounding the widening and increasingly prevalent gap communities. They have thrived on people's between the rich and the poor. Golfing estates fear and insecurities in the face of increasing are an aggressive, and environmentally and levels of crime and violence. They are popu- socially destructive method used by the rich to lated by people who have accumulated suf- insulate themselves from what they regard as ficient wealth to do something about this, but uncomfortable realities. rather than use their considerable resources to assist in addressing the problem, they attempt to block themselves off from the rest of society. http://www.environment.co.za march, 2011 — 26 —
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