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Action Replay: Missing the Green

A good walk spoiled is the standard cliché about golf, but it seems that it is far more than a country stroll that can be ruined. According to a recent report (Observer, 27 April), in Surrey more land is used for golf courses than for homes. Green belt land for golf courses is fairly cheap, as the planning system means that it cannot be used for housing (and the price of land for housing has been growing rapidly in the last couple of years, especially in the south of England). Living near to a golf course can raise house prices, though.

And golf uses up more than just land. Maintaining a golf course can require enormous amounts of water, especially in drier areas such as the Mediterranean. Golf tourism, in Spain for instance, means massive demands on water, increased by the visitors who swarm to hotels near the courses. Use of pesticides can affect groundwater and the building of a course can reduce the number of local animal species. There is a Global Anti-Golf Movement (www.antigolf.org) which advocates, inter alia, ‘an immediate moratorium on all golf course development’.

There are many municipal courses, especially in Scotland, but for the most part courses are private property, with keep-off signs, and clubs may be exclusive and very expensive to join. It is often claimed that golfers are mostly comfortably off and in older age groups. So many will have a fair amount of disposable income, with the chance to spend freely on equipment and the socialising that is part of the game.

As a result golf is very big business, involving massive expenditures, on building courses and buying equipment. According to a 2013 report, golf contributes €15bn to the European economy (compared to €56bn in the US) and is responsible for 180,000 full-time-equivalent jobs. It did badly in the recent recession, as many people cut down on club membership, but apparently not so badly as other ‘hobbies’. Golf is also seen as important for some business people, a means of building relationships with others or seeing how someone behaves under stress, how ‘sporting’ or fair-minded they really are. Hence its description as ‘Corporate America’s No. 1 pastime’. A course can even be a place to confirm business deals, so combining exercise with a chance to make a profit.

PB