Viewers of last weekend’s Masters will have marvelled not just at Phil Mickelson’s back-to-back eagles on the penultimate day of play, but also at the wondrous state of Augusta National’s greens and fairways. Most golf enthusiasts would argue that it is the most perfectly tended course in the world.
To keep a course in that kind of nick requires water, and quite a bit of it. This is part of the reason why golf courses in northern China have always proven controversial. Where water is already in short supply, why waste it on golf courses?
This is not a new topic to WiC. Regular readers will recall we first cited it in issue 14 and again in issue 35 when we speculated that golf’s admission as an Olympic sport might ease the way for new course construction (future Olympians need somewhere to learn the game). There are 16,944 courses in the US (says Golf Magazine) compared to around 500 in China.
But a golf course has sparked controversy again this month, with the China Daily reporting “illegal” construction in an “ecological conservation area” near the city of Erdos. The 233 hectare course in Inner Mongolia is being developed in an area that the Economic Information Daily says has struggled “with the twin problems of severe water shortage and soil erosion since the 1960s.”
In 1998 the Ministry of Water Resources planted seabuckthorn in the area to solidify the sand and improve the local ecology. The Economic Information Daily says the strategy was starting to show results but that the new plans for greens and fairways pose a threat to any environmental gains.
Local villagers in Jiuchenggong – where the course is located – note that the seabuckthorn is being removed to make way for 36 holes, a series of villas and a hotel. According to the course’s owner, Yitong Coal, half the holes have already been completed. The first tee time is pencilled in for August.
Not our fault, says the Environmental Protection Authority in Erdos. When Yitong made an application to build in 2005, it said it planned an “agricultural park”. No mention was made of golf course construction.
Even a lover of the game might question the logic of golf in Erdos. After all, the very first courses were situated on the Scottish coastline – an area drenched in near-endless rainfall. The parched landscape around Erdos is the polar opposite. “For an area short of water, the operator has to overuse underground water to keep the business going, which may kill plants nearby due to a lack of water,” forecasts Sun Baoping, a professor from the Chinese Society of Water and Soil Conservation. Since 2004 there has been an embargo on new course construction in China, largely in order to preserve water resources and agricultural land. But as the China Daily observes, “many projects still managed to go ahead.”
In fact, the golf industry has made something of a nonsense of the planning rules. As reported in WiC52, a member of the National People’s Congress has revealed that even in Beijing, only one of the city’s 20 courses has received official approval.
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