NOTHING CAUSES more discussion amongst the golfing fraternity than when debating the quality of courses and players. And whilst the list of the world’s top players is easily identifiable by who has won most in any given year, the compiling of lists of the best golf courses is a far more subjective matter.
How many of us can honestly say that we would put a golf course at number one when the only time we have played it we performed like an idiot? One well-known member of Royal Ashdown Forest has barely a good word to say about the natural splendours of Scotland’s Turnberry links for the very reason that he played it in around 20 shots more than his handicap
The compilation of the country’s best courses in golf magazines and on websites always prompts cynical accusations that those that have spent most on advertising are almost certain of an appearance in that particular Top 100.
Trump National, the highly controversial development in Northern Aberdeenshire, appeared in one ‘Best of’ list some two months before the course even opened. Trump, unable to buy out a number of local residents, has resorted to shifting huge earth banks in front of their homes and blocking previous paths of access as well as building on what was a site of special scientific interest, yet the environmental impact of courses are barely taken into consideration when lists are collated.
An even more ambitious project is taking place in the Maldives where the Government has commissioned Dutch Docklands International to build a golf course amidst a luxury housing scheme on a series of artificial floating islands that will be anchored to the seabed. The course will be accessed by a number of underwater tunnels (see above photograph) and is anticipated to be open for play by 2015.
The developers insist that the project will be environmentally friendly although it is hard to see how it cannot cause massive disruption to the seabed. Nevertheless it is a banker to appear to in a ‘Top Golf Courses’ list somewhere for no other good reason than its novelty. And chosen golf travel writers will write complimentary things about it because only a few will be invited to the all expenses paid opening. When did you last read a review of a course in any magazine that was unfavourable?
Yet sustainability is playing an ever-increasing part in both the development and maintenance of golf courses. Awarding France the prize of hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup at Paris National was in no small part down to the extensive sustainability commitments made by the French.
In Scotland, the development of Machihanish Dunes has not only protected an endangered environment but also boosted employment in the local community with the restoration of two previously redundant hotels. It is the antithesis of what Trump has done; getting the local community onside and showing just what major benefits golf can bring to an area.
Jonathan Smith, chief executive of the not for profit Golf Environmental Organization, says that golf ‘Can tell a good story, offering investment and employment, a healthy activity for all ages, local access to and protection of green space whilst protecting bio-diversity.’
Given that the average golf course in the USA consumes around 50m gallons of water a year- the equivalent consumption of a village of 1,400 people, and that Spain and the fast emerging Chinese market is facing increasing problems over water scarcity it is about time that environmental factors starting to play a major consideration when deciding which courses should be included in any lists of a country’s finest.
And those that are not showing regard for the environment should be marked down accordingly. Sadly it is unlikely that any golf magazine editor will be prepared to grasp that nettle just yet and publish an eco-friendly top 100 for fear of upsetting potential advertisers, even though it is most certainly time that they did.