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Golf Course Development in Southeast Asia: How the World's Most Prestigious Game Is Swinging Away at the Environment

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Golf Course development in Southeast Asia: How the World's most prestigious game is swinging away at the Environment

The sport of golf has come a long way since it was first played on the wind blown pasture lands of Scotland over 600 years ago. Today, golf courses around the world are in a way their own small ecosystem, where only pieces of the natural environment are a part of these artificial landscapes. Courses are meticulously groomed for both championship and tourist play. The game is taking front stage all over the world and new courses are being constructed everyday. This may be great for the game of golf and the wealthy investor who is making millions off of these luscious green fairways, but what about the drawbacks to environmental degradation that it is causing?

The main environmental effects of golf courses in Southeast Asia are similar to those all over the world, but lack government regulation like in the United States. These countries do not have a strict Environmental Protection Agency or other NGOs to keep these issues under control. The main problems between the environment and golf course development that will be discussed in this paper include water usage and contamination, deforestation, the use of toxic chemicals and fertilizers, and the importation of non native grasses. The governments of these countries will also be examined, as to how they are dealing with these problems and how, if at all, they are helping their native people. After discussing the problems of Southeast Asia's golf boom, this synthesis will go into detail about what can be done to help slow down or eliminate many of these problems.

The world's golf craze and Japan's current obsession over the game has swept through the countries of Southeast Asia since the early 1990's and currently there are over 500 new courses in the region. This compares to a total of only 45 golf courses in these same countries in the early 1970's. Currently, Malaysia has 155 courses, Indonesia has approximately 90, the Philippines have 80, and Thailand has close to 200 golf courses spread throughout their landscape.(ASIAGOLF) Along with these newly developed golf courses come all of the negative environmental impacts. In many of these countries, the government is either too corrupt, poor or they are focusing their energies on a multitude of other issues. Negative environmental effects are often times low on their priority list. These new golf courses bring in much needed foreign currency and jobs.

A golf crazy Japan, a country about the size of California, is finding new havens for their golf outings throughout the countries of Southeast Asia. The rising prices of green fees, club memberships, and a lack of land to build on in their own country have sent the Japanese to countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia to satisfy their golfing needs. It has become more economically feasible for people to golf in these neighboring countries than in their own. Golf courses in these countries also provide caddying services and other amenities that are hard to come by anywhere else in the world. At some courses in Thailand each player has up to 4 different caddies(site). The caddies carry the player's bag, clean their equipment, provide players with snacks and beverages and even prostitution in some cases. New golf resorts have rapidly developed throughout the region and are now attracting Western tourists and investors to profit from these new resorts. Organizations such as the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) are welcoming these outsiders with open arms and are failing to pay attention to the environmental and social impacts that this new development is bringing about.

Water Usage and Contamination

In the countries of Southeast Asia clean water is a rather precious resource and water shortages are common. As elsewhere in the world, it is needed for agriculture, drinking and other daily tasks by the people of villages and towns throughout these countries. The plush grasses of these golf courses also need constant watering in order to stay healthy and lush for the clientele who have traveled long distances and are significant amounts of money to play these courses. The average 18-hole golf course consumes 6,500 cubic meters of water per day, which is enough for the daily needs of approximately 2,000 families in these countries. (TED, pg.1) It was originally thought when first evaluating these countries for golf course development that water would not be a problem because of high rainfall averages. During the dry season golf investors and managers thought nothing of the local villager and only cared about the well-being of their investment.

In the early 1990's allocation of the water supply became a major issue, because the courses were taking all of the needed water from nearby villages. In Thailand this encouraged a government ban against golf courses drawing water from public water sources.(site) Since this ban course representatives indicated that they no longer were using these public sources to irrigate their courses and have established their own reservoirs to use utilize. Although this may have smoothed things over on the surface, this battle for water was far from over. Water theft became even more corrupt and deceptive than ever. In 1993, Thailand was in the middle of its worst water shortage in recent history, to the point where farmers had nothing to use for their crops; and taps in many of the major cities, including Bangkok had dried up. Environmentalists and the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) uncovered more than 13 courses around the country that had been illegally drawing water originally

set aside for human consumption and agriculture. The RID warned these courses to stop, but there was never anything done by the government to stop it. (S&E,pg.4) This goes to show in one way how corrupt the governments of these nations truly are.

The Langkawi pipeline project in Malaysia is another prime example of how government corruption and golf course/resort developers are taking advantage of the local people through water deprivation with severe, even fatal consequences. A golf resort was being built on a neighboring island to Langkawi, called Redang Island. The Malaysian government funded a $7.5 million pipeline that would pump potable water out to this golf course/resort from the mainland.(TimH, pg.2) Soon after the people that lived on the mainland were deprived of a sufficient supply of clean water because of the pipeline, cholera broke out and much of the town became ill with intestinal disorders.

These two examples from Malaysia and Thailand have shown that these new developing golf courses



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