Sustainable Structures

Environmental crises call for closer look at golf courses

image of a golf course

This article, written by Tessa R. Salazar and published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on February 5, 2011, still holds true today.


How is civilization being measured nowadays? Some would reply by how many holes the upper crust of society have punched into the greens. Absolute fans of the game, and of golf courses, would have meant this as a tribute to the sport.
On the other side of the fence, though, the critics can’t help but sound sarcastic, and alarmed; their views fueled by increasing international news on the adverse environmental impact of golf courses. These greens are now being associated with contaminated waterways resulting from pesticides and fertilizers found in their runoffs.
Expectedly, golf courses have gone on the defensive, with a number of them claimed by their owners as “environmentally sustainable.”
A group called Global Anti-Golf Movement at Facebook, however, insists that there’s no such thing as environment-friendly or sustainable golf courses.
“In the face of growing criticism of the adverse environmental impacts of golf courses, the industry is promoting the notion of ‘pesticide-free,’ ‘environment-friendly’ or ‘sensitive’ golf courses. No such course exists to date, and the creation and maintenance of the ‘perfect green,’ comprising exotic grass, inevitably requires intensive use of chemicals,” the group declares. The movement also claims, among others, that existing golf courses should be converted to public parks, and where they have encroached into forest areas, wetlands and islands, there should be rehabilitation and regeneration of the land to its natural state.
Different view
Urban planner and architect Felino Palafox, however, has a different view on golf courses. The man responsible for developing several golf courses here and around the world stresses that these greens, particularly Wack-Wack and Manila Golf, which are situated in a congested urban area “are probably part of the lungs of the city. Or they may be open grassy areas that percolate rainwater to recharge the underground aquifers of the city.”

He is also well aware that some golf courses might, indeed, be guilty of “greenwashing”—claiming the development to be environmentally sustainable when, at closer scrutiny, it is not.

image of a golf course Indicators 

Palafox, an environment advocate who led large-scale projects in 33 countries as a principal architect, urban planner and development consultant, observed that a prime indicator of an environmentally sustainable golf course would be the substances or systems used to maintain them. Fertilizers and chemical weed removers or pesticides are tell-tale signs.
Another indicator is the type of raw materials used, or if the landscape plants, trees and grass are imported.
“If you import the fairway grass and the trees and the plants, it’s not really green. How much aviation gas was used? If it’s shipped out thousands of miles away, that’s not being sustainable,” Palafox says, citing carbon footprints as a major indicator.
Palafox was recently elected president of the Management Association of the Philippines—the first time an urban architect has been elected to head the group. In his speech, Palafox cited climate change as among the biggest challenges facing the 60-year-old association. Two other daunting challenges, he pointed out, are corruption and criminality.
Palafox became MAP president after serving as MAP governor in five boards under five MAP presidents.
Amado De Jesus, founding chair of the Philippines Green Architecture Movement, has added his views on the discussion, saying, “Eco-friendly golf courses adopt policies for proper use of pesticides, fertilizers and water, and also the efficient use of fossil fuel for maintenance of vegetation. They (should) avoid using exotic imported plants that require a lot of water for maintenance.”
He stressed, however, that what he said were indicated on the international standards on golf courses, adding that he is not an expert on golf course developments.

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