In a dry land, plans for green lawns of golf

About 40 new golf courses will soon be built in Greece, nine of them on the island of Crete, in an attempt to attract more high-end tourism to the country. But the plans have drawn criticism, mainly because of doubts that the vast lawns that make up golf courses can be maintained in an arid country like Greece. A golf course usually covers an area between 50 to 150 hectares, mostly lawn and small ponds. Since Greece does not have the large green areas of Scotland, the home of golf, this ecosystem must be landscaped from scratch. Constructing a golf course will require a multi-million-euro investment and will likely encounter obstacles raised by forestry or archaeological services. These services have referred to golf course proponents in Greece as «a blight that the country would be well rid of.» Nevertheless, there are plans to build a golf course at the archaeological site of the Toplo Monastery in Crete, while attempts have been made to declassify forests (such as in Apigania) and to build houses in open countryside, including land that could be cultivated. (Another 50-60 percent for auxiliary areas such as roads should be added to the actual size of the golf course.) In many cases, land protected under the Natura 2000 program is being bulldozed for golf courses and housing developments, such as near Pylos in Messinia. There are more serious objections, however, regarding the huge supplies of water required to maintain a golf course, not to mention the large amounts of chemical fertilizers needed to keep the grass in a condition that will satisfy the most demanding customers. Water demands According to the WWF, every golf course constructed in the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean requires as much water every day as a town of 12,000 people. One doesn’t need much imagination to realize what this means to Crete, an island that some people appear bent on transforming into the «golf capital» of Greece. In the high tourist season of summer, water is considered a luxury. Many towns and settlements have running water for only two hours a day during summer’s peak. The European Commission has classified the island as the «number one candidate for desertification.» «Water-guzzling lawns in Mediterranean conditions drain the groundwater and speed up the salination of underground reserves,» said Professor E. Briasouli of the Aegean University’s School of Geography at a conference held recently by the Cretan Network of Environmental Organizations. Adding another 6,500 cubic liters of water a day – the requirement for a golf course in tropical regions where rainfall is heavy – to an already burdened water supply network, without taking into consideration the quantities consumed by the large tourist complexes that usually surround the golf courses, is tantamount to ignoring the fate of farmers and other locals. Perhaps that is why the European Union has thrice rejected an application from Spain to divert the Elda River in order to supply water for golf courses in the semi-arid zone of the south. If Greece wants to build golf courses, the country must sidestep many EU directives and get into more trouble with the framework directive on water (and which has been adapted to Greek legislation in a way that leaves wide margins for interpretation). Plans for developing golf courses in Greece run contrary to the environmental conditions laid down by the European Union, which are becoming stricter than ever. Golf courses also need large quantities of chemical fertilizers. According to the New York environmental protection bureau, a golf course needs five times more chemicals than an intensively farmed field. Moreover, it is an established fact that chemicals, wherever they are used, seep down into the water table, with catastrophic results for biodiversity. A study of golf courses by the British Sports Research Institute showed the concentration of phosphate fertilizers was over the permissible amount in 99 percent of cases, while 95 percent of these overstepped the limits by as much as 300-5,000 percent. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America also found that golfers suffered more often from various types of cancer, although this was never linked with the use of chemicals.