28 February 2018

Can golf courses in Asia meet the challenge of sustainability?

At a recent conference at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore, a small group of 40 individuals from the golfing community met to discuss the looming issue of how to make their sport sustainable.

Staged while the Singapore Open was taking place outside, presentations were held on the theme of ‘Sustainable Practices within the Club Industry’.

The task before them couldn’t be much greater, or daunting, given an estimated 6,000 golf courses exist across the continent, with many more in development.

It remains to be seen whether concerns of sustainability and the impacts of climate change have taken root within the industry. Eric Lynge, CEO, of the Asian Golf Industry Federation, recently told the South China Morning Post that “people in the golf industry here all know sustainability is a necessary aspect of good practice now, albeit mixed with a degree of trepidation”.

The Scottish-based Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) was in attendance at the Singapore ‘mini-summit’, and it is leading adviser on environmental practices within the sport. The foundation also provides certification to sustainable courses around the world.

Jonathan Smith, the foundation’s executive director said in a speech that “in so many ways, from eco-system services and conservation of wildlife, to health and well-being for all ages, volunteering, outreach, jobs and supply chains, golf is good for nature and communities”.

The GEO’s guidelines include criteria on appropriate course design, water conservation, soil management, and improving wildlife habitats, among others.

However, only four of China’s estimated 500 golf courses are fully certified within the GEO’s strict qualifications, with another 12 committed to a programme of improvements. Japan has none.

Mr Lynge illustrated the current problem as one of cost: “there’s an economic pressure on golf here, so the perception is still that sustainability is expensive, or that it would result in a deterioration of playing conditions. But those objections can be overcome”.

And while the PGA in America has also started to make inroads into sustainability, having recently released its first environmental impact report, the issue is one of urgency.

Another report from the Climate Coalition has highlighted how climate change is already threatening the future of the UK’s favourite sports, and golf was one of them.

It’s hoped that with the game growing in Asia, sustainability can be incorporated early on, rather than at the end. Smith commented during his talk in Singapore that “as regulation threatens, as resource costs increase, as communities and consumers expect more…it makes every sense for golf facilities to explore their practices and look for new ways to increase value and reduce costs”

“There really isn’t anything in sustainability that isn’t good for golf businesses”, he added.


Photo Credit: Sentosa Golf Club

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