September 7, 2008

Golf Course development must protect the environment...

Swing For Life has concluded yet another successful event which hit the target goals and will provide more assistance to the poor and needy and, last month, the Gannon Vietnam Open Championship raised money for Orbis International.

These two events resulted in many thousands of dollars raised for people in need, a fact which the anti-golf pundits can not complain about, as much as they would like to.

What they DO like to whine about endlessly is how "golf courses despoil the environment through rampant pesticide, insecticide and fertilizer use or how the "greedy owners exploit local workers and renege on their promises…"

While most of their accusations are inaccurate, there is a grain of truth to a bit of it here in Vietnam, so when the Government decided to halt all new licensing of golf course projects until they could better assess the situation, I applauded their prudence.

Does that surprise you?

Golf courses in Vietnam, for the most part, were built as inexpensively as possible with little regard to environmental safeguards. Maximising immediate profits was the main goal and long term consequences were banished to the "cross that bridge when it happens" school of thought.

Well, the bridge is now in front of us and the Prime Minister said this is the only bridge across to the other side.

However, this is good because it forces golf course owners and "bandwagon developers" to look inwards and re-examine themselves. It also forces them to discuss the situation with their foreign experts to see what alternatives are available and learn what we professionals have known for years…

You do not pee in your own well.

Golf course architects can easily design an environmentally friendly golf course which is a self-contained environment and does not allow chemicals to spill into the streams and lakes without treatment.

A local environmental "expert" professor claimed that golf courses use three times as much fertilizer and pesticides as a local farmer, which is very wrong and here’s why – chemicals cost a lot of money. Golf course managers are loathe to spend money unnecessarily because it affects the bottom line and, thus, makes the owners who pay our salaries very upset.

Therefore, we hire qualified foreign superintendents who know how to do the job while using as little chemical application as possible. The days of wall-to-wall spraying are long over as superintendents prefer to use "point and shoot" applications of chemicals which target a specific area and are engineered to become inert within a few hours after application and long before they reach the water-table, or become inert upon contact with soil.

Run-off itself can be eliminated by a protective barrier canal around the perimeter of the course which returns water to a treatment lake before being released. I have long advocated the concept of interlocking lakes and ponds and ensuring all drain lines return as much water as possible to the internal lakes.

The clubhouse should use "grey water" (treated water from sinks and showers) for toilets and for golf course irrigation. In fact, many courses in the US now require 30 - 50 per cent use of "effluent" for golf course irrigation and there is no reason why Vietnam cannot enact the same policies. Sure it costs more now, but saves us all later.

A bigger problem is broken promises to locals after taking their lands for the golf course projects.

Taking advantage of poor people simply because you can, is reprehensible and contrary to the spirit of golf. Golf is more than a test of skill, it’s a test of your character and requires you to accept responsibility for your actions.

Players practice and take lessons in hope of getting better. Poor people sell their land to the developers in hopes of making a better live for their families. Reneging on a promise made to a poor person is 1,000 times worse than to a rich person because of the lack of alternatives of the former.

If we are to build a better society and convince people that golf builds character and instills a sense of morality, we had better start living by example instead of simply big talk…

Otherwise, the PM’s office might have trouble finding reasons to license any more clubs.


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