News - Golf

Golf courses: a drain on resources or an unrivalled economic boon?

This is an extract from an article in El País - English Edition with the International Herald Tribune - June 9th 2008

…… The spread of golf courses has, in large part, been fuelled by the property boom of the last decade, prompting protests in regions such as Andalusia, Valencia and Murcia, which are facing severe water shortages. The average golf course requires up to half a million cubic meters of water a year, which environmentalists point out is the same amount used by a community of 10,000 people. But supporters of the sport say that courses use a fraction of the total water we consume, and point to the use of new technology to improve efficient watering, along with drought-resistant grass, and recycled and desalinated water.

“The problem with golf courses is not so much the course itself, but the thousands of properties built around them,” says Carlos Arribas, spokesman for the Alicante division of environmentalist group Ecologistas en Acción.

A report carried out by the University of Alicante for the environment ministry shows that properties around golf courses use up to 40 cubic meters a month during the summer months, compared to the nine cubic meters an apartment in a town or city uses. What’s more, while an 18-hole golf course will normally occupy between 50 and 60 hectares, golf communities use up to 300 hectares, with major environmental consequences. The report suggests that if Spaniards want to enjoy golf and at the same time reduce its environmental impact, more public courses should be built: there are currently only 35 in the whole country.

But is there room for any more courses? Andalusia, which has now introduced legislation to limit new courses, while at the same time increasing access to the public, will see the construction of around 25 courses over the next five years. More than 30 are planned in Valencia, with a similar number in the pipeline for Murcia. Most of these will include homes. The relevant water authorities have warned that they cannot guarantee supplies. The Balearic Islands have already introduced a moratorium on golf-course building, and have just approved legislation to prevent residential communities being built around courses. Catalonia has followed suit. “We will do everything we can to prevent courses being used as an excuse to build new properties, and they must be environmentally sustainable — particularly in terms of water use,” says a spokesperson for the regional government.

Spain’s growing golfing community wants more courses, arguing that the sport brings economic benefits. Consultants Aymerich Golf say the industry is worth around ¤2.6 billion a year, mainly from tourism and construction. The country’s courses generate around ¤1.68 billion, and employ more than 11,000 people. The Spanish Golf Federation says it is in the sport’s own interest for its growth to be sustainable.“If construction licenses are illegally issued, then you have to look at who is on the receiving end, and not blame the golfer,” says a Federation spokesman, adding: “The problem is that in the end, the last thing anybody really takes into account is the game itself.”

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