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Golf: safe for the environment?

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.

The benefits

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 in.

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 harmony.



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