NEWS

Designs for 30 golf courses in tourist resorts

Last summer Tourism Development Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia said that a law would be implemented to encourage the construction of golf courses in Greece. «Golf appeals to higher-income groups and should be our goal,» she told the First International Golf Tournament in Greece at Hersonissos, on the island of Crete. Now, that goal looks like it is close to being realized. There are about 30 investment plans currently under way, nine of which concern the island of Crete. Others are for new golf courses in Halkidiki and Pylos in Messenia, among others. Greece’s 1,135 golfers are sure to be pleased, although they were not who the foreign investors or the government authorities had in mind when embarking on this new development sector. The existing golf courses in Greece – which are located Halkidiki, Corfu, Rhodes, Crete and Glyfada – are more than enough to serve local golfers, but the development of the sport in Greece is also linked to increasing the number of rich tourists who like golfing. Still, those tourists a small sector of the market. Golfers comprise less than 10 percent of the world tourism trade and have a choice of 32,000 golf courses in 119 countries. Of these, 59 percent are in the USA, 19 percent in Europe, 12 percent in Asia. Closer to Greece there are already hundreds of them – 280 in Spain, 229 in Italy, 67 in Portugal, 14 in Turkey and four in Cyprus. In Europe overall there are 6,235 golf courses. Yet it is not tourism policy itself that has led local residents in Crete, Halkidiki and Messenia to lodge strong protests against the prospect of new venues. Their main objection can be summed up as a concern that the soil and climatic conditions in Greece cannot sustain such investments. A golf course of 50-150 hectares consumes about a million cubic meters of water annually, the equivalent of 370 Olympic swimming pools or to supply a town of 11,000 people. Naturally, pressure on both surface and underground supplies is even greater in areas that are already dry, such as eastern Crete. «Debate about the environmental effects of golf courses began in the 1980s,» said Professor Eleni Kapetanaki-Briasouli, of the Aegean University’s environmental planning department. «These areas consume vast amounts of water that is taken away from other activities. Solutions suggested by the golfing industry such as desalination and recycling of water are expensive, energy-consuming and do not guarantee results. We have to realize that in Greece we don’t have enough water.» Maintenance of the turf on golf courses required an intensive use of pesticides, polluting both surface and underground water. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the amount of weedkillers needed on golf courses is about six times that used on a farm of a similar size. A survey on British golf courses showed concentrations of phosphate fertilizers well over the permitted limits in 99 percent of cases. According to some sources, golfers have a heightened susceptibility to cancer. In recent years, genetically modified varieties of turf have been developed that require less maintenance. However, the pollen can be swept many kilometers away by winds onto cultivated or other areas. «Golf courses eat away at the ecosystem in which they are created,» said Oliver Rackham, a historical ecologist who is a professor at Cambridge University. «But perhaps I am not the best person to talk about it. I have never been to Crete to play golf. Why should you go so far to something you can do just as well at home?» Golf club owner: Plan course development «Golf courses should be built where conditions permit,» said Constantinos Tsaousoglou, owner of the Corfu Golf Club. His view is that if we really want Greece to become a destination for golfers, new courses should be built near the existing ones. «In Malaysia there are 40 courses within a distance of 20 kilometers. Golfers like to play on different courses without having to travel 500 kilometers, as they now have to do in Greece,» he said. Tsaousoglou believes that Greece needs investments in golf courses so as to extend the tourist season, as golfers travel off-season. Nevertheless, he admits that housing projects are needed next to golf courses. «They can’t survive otherwise,» he said.