Of course, golf courses can act as nature reserves. Some are designed with minimum landscaping, some recycle water, and some use few pesticides. But it is also true that 40,000 or so golf courses worldwide have now turfed over an area the size of Holland. At first sight, golf courses appear to be green and therefore environmentally useful. But golf course design is often brutal - mountain's are capped, marine environments polluted from run-off, forests felled - all for the sake of a little white ball. And of course, to keep the greens green you often need pesticides. The fact that US Golf Course Superintendents have a higher incidence of cancer and US Ladies Golf Professionals can get free mammograms, speaks for itself. Water is a scarce resource yet golf courses are watered liberally while communities in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia and even here in the UK have water restrictions. Golf courses are even built in deserts, and as an Egyptian engineer recently commented to me: "to do that is as stupid as taking the desert to Switzerland".
Golf protests are now happening in almost every country in the world. Even politicians and scientists are joining the anti-golf fray. Senator Juan Flavier in the Philippines, argues that the amount of water used on one golf course could serve 6,000 Manila residents - a figure that rises to 60,000 in rural areas. And the human rights abuses associated with golf are also increasing. In the Philippines, Burma and even Canada and Hawaii, locals have in some cases been forcibly removed from their homes, (in Burma, sometimes at gun-point), to free up land for golf resorts. It is a classic David and Goliath case.
Worth about $40 billion to the US and Europe alone, golf is no longer the homely game we all know and love. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that through the world's largest industry - tourism - has been exported all over the world.
After that first conference, I came home and researched the issue in the UK. Here, too, communities were fighting developments after the boom in golf course applications in 1989. With 2379 courses in the UK - 61 per cent of Europe's courses - and 476 new courses built in the last five years, do we really need any more? People in Sussex, Surrey, Wales, London and Jersey were all coming up with the same answer - no. The golf boom has now slowed, according to the Golf Research Group, although around 50 courses are still built in the UK every year. But still environmental questions need to be raised. When we are being asked to use water sparingly because of shortages, is it right that golf courses can use as much as they like? According to Friends of the Earth, the biggest threat to wildlife in the UK is now lack of water, yet only a handful of golf courses are using waste water for irrigation. Essex Council's Golf Report states that an 18-hole golf course could end up using 1m litres of water a day. Multiply that by 60 days for a normal summer, and by 2,379 - the number of UK courses - and you have 142,740 million litres that is not lost from our rapidly decreasing water reserves. Or put it another way - 2,548 litres of water per person in the country to bathe in, grow food with, or drink. Which seems more sensible to you?