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Who'll foot this bill?


Golf is a deceptively green game. Figure this: a single golf course with a 100-acre area uses about 2. 1 crore litres of water each year, enough water to meet the consumption requirements of up to 2, 500 people. The neatly-manicured stretches, accessible normally only to a handful of the rich and elite, need four to seven times the amount of pesticide that is used for intensive farming. The harmful effects of the chemical damages not only groundwater but the entire food chain and it will suffice to say that other than imported turf, nothing much else can survive on the land.

While the world argues over emission cuts to delay global warming, the sudden profusion of golf courses, environmentalists argue, is cause for alarm. Despite its water table literally touching rock bottom, Delhi and the NCR still boast of the most number of golf courses in the country - 17 at the last count with another 16 expected to be ready within the next six years. With a minimum land requirement of 150 acres for a championship-size course, over 2, 500 acres in the Capital then are under a cover of grass that has very little water-retention capacity and needs frequent watering. Also it is usually shallow rooted and hence dries out faster. "Watering this grass is not easy. Most golf courses have tubewells, but that is not sustainable, " says Rakesh Purohit, secretary general of the Indian Pitch and Putt Union.

To get an idea, the head of the body regulating this fast-growing, truncated and affordable version of golf points to annual energy consumption costs in courses abroad. "A study on US golf courses revealed that a typical golf course can use anywhere from 250, 000 kilowatt hours (kWh) to upward of 500, 000 kWh of energy and a typical pumping system will account for 25 per cent to 50 per cent of a golf course's energy use. Energy costs for pumping water are about $250, 000 (around Rs 1. 23 crore), " says Purohit.

While there are no comparative figures for golf courses in India, Purohit says a measure can be gauged, "if you lop off 30 to 40 per cent of the energy consumption on US courses". But given India's climatic demands, water consumption, according to Purohit, would remain the same, give or take 10 per cent. To off-set this alarming level, he advocates the use of rainwater harvesting. "But clubs' committees feel that they are costly and are reluctant to adopt them, " he says.

Golf clubs in Bangalore and Hyderabad have already switched to using treated sewage water for watering their courses and Delhi could also head that way soon. Groundwater extraction by golf courses has been found to be a major reason for its depletion in the Capital and it is unlikely that once the present borewells run dry, golf courses will get permission to dig new ones.

Aakash Ohri, director of DLF Golf Resorts, says that the company already has a nine-million-litres-per-day capacity water recycling and treatment plant which it uses for watering its Gurgaon course. "We are also using bio products for the turf and our staff is trained abroad in turf management, " he says.

Internationally renowned golf course architecture firm Roberts Trent Jones II have developed a green charter and are increasingly designing courses that are "in harmony with nature. " Their next foray into India - after the Royal Springs in Srinagar - is to redesign Kolkata's iconic Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Michael Kahler, their managing director for Asia and the Middle East, says that despite certain absolute necessities, it is possible to have a 'green' golf course. "Take turf management, " says Kahler, "One can easily use organic materials and fewer pesticides. Initial costs may be more but the long term gains are immense. Organic fertilisers are also becoming less expensive now. The main reason why they are still not used extensively is because it is easier to procure chemical fertilisers. " Kahler believes that the issue of ground water can easily be navigated. "Courses are artificially-created spaces that could also involve tree cutting. It is possible to predict the water requirements when planning it, depending on weather, soil conditions etc. In that situation one can easily factor in water bodies and plan a system of recycling of water so that the pressure on ground water is reduced, " he explains. He also feels that only critical areas like fairways should be kept green and not entire courses. "We need to condition golfers to not expect an entirely green course, " he says. Maybe it is this revolutionary idea that could present a window into a world of genuinely green golf courses in the future.

Reader's opinion (1)

Sanjay LokurOct 12th, 2011 at 17:41 PM

When the mills in Parel were closing down and selling off their land, many town planners advocated that we use this land to create open spaces for Mumbaikars. While on one hand, available land has been gobbled up by the real estate biz to build shopping malls, the rich get lush green golf courses.

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