Golf courses - big and small - cover a substantial amount of land. Most of our modern 18 hole golf courses are routed over more than 185 acres of land. Even some of the worlds most unique, fun and charming golf courses - like Nuwara Eliya, Kingston Heath and Utrecht De Pan – cover at least 100 acres. To put that into perspective, Wikipedia defines an acre as “…a unit of area containing 4,840 square yards which is approximately the same size as 1 football (soccer) pitch or 16 tennis courts”. From this, you get a good idea of how big these golf courses are, and an appreciation of the amount of work the golf superintendent (and team) have to manage from day to day.
Golf courses are becoming much more sustainable places of work; some of this is because of a reduction in high maintenance areas (like far rough) that would have in the past received a significant level of input and constant tender loving care. Few golf courses will have started their life with the long-term future in mind, but many are now seeing that securing their future is reliant on finding ways of becoming more sustainable.
As a business sector, I don’t believe we have done ourselves any favours by designing, building and then putting the spotlight on golf courses that are excessive in every way. The sad fact is that people outside of golf - looking for an opportunity to denigrate our game - use the way these courses look to highlight the amount of resources they consume over a large area in support of their view that golf courses are a burden on the environment. There are, however, thousands of wonderful examples of golf courses that actually improve their space, but sadly we don’t hear about these nearly enough.
One of the ways I believe we can improve the image of our game, reduce the maintenance scope and improve the golf course experience, is for more facilities to be designed to serve multiple uses. Historically, golf courses were much more than just golf courses. In places like Scotland, the courses were (and sometimes still are) common land, used by the residents of the nearby town for recreational activities other than just golf. Not too long ago, golf courses were used for all manner of purposes, from being a place for animals to graze to, somewhat oddly, laundering clothes.
As part of the multi-use concept, could one grow an edible crop on a golf course, OR route new holes to take advantage of an existing crop(s), OR regenerate a lost system back into existence? Having an edible crop on a golf course is not a new phenomenon, as I got to experience recently when I spent nearly a month in Southern Asia touring some of the regions most unique, sustainable and edible golf courses.
The new Shangri La Hambantota golf course near the city of Hambantota, on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, is routed on approximately 100 acres of coastal terrain. The visitor’s arrival draws their eye to the thousands of coconut trees that dot the landscape and frame many of the golf holes. In this instance, the coconut trees give the golf course an identity - at least for many of the holes. Recently, Peter Haarhof (Golf Superintendent) and Romain Pourveer (Director of Golf) came up with the novel idea of growing pineapples - Sri Lankas’ national fruit - in some of the rough areas. Up to 15,000 pineapples have been planted which has help create a remarkable scene that you can’t quickly forget. These pineapple areas now require less input than before and are less labour intensive too. The pineapples (and coconuts) are used at the facility, so this initiative has helped create a win-win situation for everyone.
Myanmar’s largest fruit export is mango, which can be found in droves across the country and particularly in the area surrounding Mandalay where you will find two remarkably beautiful golf courses: The Yay Tagon Taung Golf Club and Shwesaryan Golf Resort. The design of both these golf courses embraces a less is more doctrine (design LESS man-made features giving golfers an opportunity to appreciate MORE of the surrounds). Existing mango trees surround many of the holes and at times add strategic interest. In this case, golfers must maneuver their ball over, under or around these fruit trees to get to the target. As the mango fruit drops to the ground they are collected and consumed by the local maintenance staff or any golfer wanting a taste of this tropical fruit. Nothing goes to waste as overripe fruit is a source of food for some of the native wildlife - like the monkeys that make their way down from the mountains.
The rice paddy fields bounding four of the holes at the Laguna Lang Co Resort in Vietnam is a case of regenerative design. The rice paddy fields lay fallow for many years before the golf course was constructed, but have been brought back into existence and now make up as much as 5 ha of the golf course property where they influence the play both visually and strategically. Importantly, when all the rice paddy fields are sown they can produce as much as 30 tonnes of rice from two harvests a year. This rice is used at the resort or distributed to the locals. This is a unique feature on a golf course - although not unique for Vietnam - and golfers playing a round of golf at Laguna Lang Co get a real sense of place generated from this very edible feature.
As golf grows why not more golf courses with an edible crop? The benefits are real, not only on the golf course but off it as well and adding productivity to the land use can’t be a bad thing.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not those of the R&A.