Golf’s changing framework


Sean Dudley

As golf development reels, Benjamin Warren says the industry must bounce back from the downturn with a reinvigorated product and refreshed code of conduct.

As with any global industry, golf must continually explore areas for growth, geographically and via product diversification. Though the game has been successfully exported itself around the world, the scope of the golf product on offer today is narrower than during the Golden Age many years ago.

Although deserts, jungles and mountains are diverse and inspiring landscapes in which to play golf, it’s only mankind’s incredible advances in the manipulation of hydrocarbons and the associated explosion of engineering creativity that have enabled development in such challenging climatic conditions. As things stand in 2010, the only landscapes yet to host golf are shrouded in ice. No one can say for sure how much longer will they retain this protection.

With the growth of Asian golf driving investment from Bangalore to Beijing, the vast populations that rely on the Himalayan watershed for irrigation, sanitation and drinking water are facing up to the reality of unsustainable growth. While politicians wrangle over distractions such as carbon trading and the media piles down blind alleys in pursuit of leaked emails, the high glaciers that help to sustain two-thirds of humanity are shrinking at an unprecedented rate. With massive flooding almost certain to be followed by crippling water shortages, the industry’s growth market has some challenges to address.

How serious is the threat to this watershed? Ask the Indian government. A four thousand kilometre fortified wall now runs from the Nepalese border to the Indian Ocean. Climate-driven migration is an impending reality and the billion people that rely on the Ganges for their health and livelihoods are on the front line.

As similar transitions in framework conditions unfold from the Alps to the Andes, thought leaders are working hard to realise development models that can sit at ease with the future requirements of civilisation.

The movement towards lower resource/higher ecosystem golf courses is being driven by a pioneering group of golf organisations, in partnership with the world’s leading NGO authority on sustainable golf. Since late 2008 a group of experts have been collaborating to produce a framework of guidance. When the world’s three leading golf architecture bodies convene in St Andrews during March 2010, they will bear witness to the launch of this endeavour.

Lead document author and European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) Environment Convenor Mike Wood is co-ordinating the project. “We are advocating a more integrated way of looking at golf development, in which a thorough understanding of project context enables developers to capitalise fully on the natural and cultural resources of their sites,” he says. “The guidance will highlight the opportunity and responsibility golf architects have to enrich the environment and local communities by playing their part in designing-out adverse impacts and designing-in tangible benefits.”

To be distributed online, the document will be housed in a website with core content published in both English and Chinese. With the capability of hosting further translations, relevance to emerging golf nations is a priority.

John Finisdore of the Washington-based World Resources Institute understands the position: “Of all sports, golf has perhaps the closest affinity with the environment as courses not only impact the environment but depend on it. The industry is increasingly aware that designing courses with the environment in mind can have positive affects on the bottom line.” The United Nations Environment Programme is also supportive.

GEO chief executive Jonathan Smith says: “Traditionally the dynamic between government and golf has been defined by suspicion and competition rather than cooperation. But golf development abounds with opportunities to improve the wellbeing of people and the planet. Against the canvas of wide scale environmental concern and resource pressures, golf architects should be able to demonstrate that they understand what’s happening to people and the environment, that they have accepted their opportunity to make things better, and that they know how to maximise the potential of every site. GEO aims to constructively support that movement, and in so doing help to protect and enhance the golf industry.

“But we also need to get hands on, so we will soon announce details of our golf development programmes: the non-profit and completely transparent means through which we will partner in real world projects to showcase sustainable golf development. We are finalising our education programming, and look forward to supporting the continuing professional development of golf designers, contractors, government planners and development control officials.”

Benjamin Warren is communications director of the Golf Environment Organisation.

This article was initially featured in the January 2010 issue of Golf Course Architecture.