Leading Article: When golf is more bane than game

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The Independent Online
IN PROCLAIMING 29 April to be the first World No-Golf Day, environmentalists in general and the Global Network for Anti-Golf Course Action (GNAGA) might at first blush be thought to be indulging in a particularly imaginative flight of self-parody. On closer inspection, they have a good case, and their protest raises afresh the larger question of whether tourism, especially in developing countries, tends to do more harm than good to local people.

In the case of golf there is not much doubt. It is one thing to build a reasonable number of golf courses in countries with temperate climates where golf is played by at least some local people, and where the local economy is likely to benefit. Even in such countries, however, the creation of new courses is liable to arouse strong emotions. Some people regard them as a symbol of creeping suburbanisation. Others resent the building of probably ill-designed golf club and parking facilities, as well as sharply increased local traffic. In amply watered Canada, a plan to extend a golf course on to land near Montreal considered sacred by the Mohawk tribe triggered the miniature rebellion of 1990.

It is another matter to build a golf course on terrain so dry and infertile that it must be heavily watered, at the expense of local supplies but without paying the real cost of the water, and dosed with chemical fertilisers that may directly or indirectly damage local people. In one case, as reported on page 5, developers planning an island golf resort want to relocate 1,000 native people because golfers might find them 'unsightly'. It may be argued that the same happens when subsistence farmers have to make way for heavily irrigated cash crops. But at least in such cases the demand for labour is high and there is much greater local economic benefit.

The proliferation of golf courses in Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Hawaii and the west coast of the United States is largely attributable to the shortage of land in golf-mad Japan. Often Japanese golfing holidays are also thinly disguised sex holidays: the golf equipment might as well be left at the airport.

Quite why the Japanese should love this far-from-oriental game remains a mystery. One theory is that it provides fresh air with a minimum of exercise - and in a landscape almost as artificial and disciplined as a Japanese garden. Another is that they do not really enjoy it, but it has become part of corporate culture: the Japanese equivalent of the business lunch. One of the present recession's silver linings is that in this country and across the world many golfing developments planned in the Eighties boom are being abandoned, to the relief of local people.