Throughout Europe golf is booming. France is building golf courses faster than any
other country in Europe. The success of Bernhard Langer and Germany's recent World
Cup win have led to an upsurge in golf's popularity in that country. Sweden won
the Dunhill Cup and the World Cup in 1991 and Anders Forsbrand is currently at the
top of the European Order of Merit. Spanish golf is dominated by the twin talents
of Seve Ballesteros and Jose-Maria Olazabal, but there are several tournament winners
amongst the other Spanish professionals. Portugal has just had its first-ever European
tour winner with Daniel Silva's Jersey Open triumph.
A recent report by the English Golf Union estimated that in Great Britain alone,
700 new golf courses would have to be built over the next ten years to satisfy current
and expected demand. As the average golf club in England has between 600 and 700
members, that means another half a million golfers joining the estimated 1.2 million
that already play regularly or occasionally.
This is all good news for golf lovers, but there are those who are not so happy.
Chief amongst these are the environmentalists. "Greens" used to refer to the area
around the holes on which golfers putted for pars, birdies and, very occasionally,
eagles. Mention the Greens today and the word refers to the people who are preventing,
on ecological grounds, the building of many courses.
The Greens' argument is that the new courses are effecting the balance of nature.
Woods, hedges, ponds and fields are being dug up or bulldozed flat to make way for
manicured fairways and sand bunkers. The birds and animals that used to live there
are being killed or forced to leave. The amount of water that the average club uses
to keep the course in good condition is reducing the amount of water available for
domestic and industrial uses. The pesticides used to control weeds and insects are
sinking down to the water table. Precious resources are being destroyed or wasted.
There may be some truth in this, but it is not the whole truth. The days are long
past when building of any kind was allowed in areas of outstanding beauty with no
thought for the environment. Planning permission, nowadays, is as strict for golf
courses as it is for any other type of development. Before any such project is given
the go-ahead, the various factors involved, social, financial and environmental,
are studied. It is only when the authorities are completely satisfied that no harm
will be done to the area that the builders are allowed to move in.
A strong case can even be made that golf courses actually benefit the areas where
they are built. In many instances, courses are built in areas which are not
areas of natural beauty and where nature is, at best, old and tired. The new courses
often rejuvenate the area. To make holes more difficult, trees are planted, streams
are diverted across fairways and lakes are filled in around greens. Not surprisingly
perhaps, given such delightful surroundings, it is not unusual to find that, within
months of a course being completed, a whole variety of animals and birds has moved
Obviously, careful thought has to go into the design of the new courses. Obviously,
as few changes as possible should be made to the natural environment. Obviously,
the wild-life and the trees and woods should be protected. But this can be, and
is being, done. There is no reason why golfers and nature cannot live together in