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A focus on golf courses: devastation or a chance for nature?

Golf courses are now a natural part of our landscape. Although their history in our country dates back over 100 years, recently their development has been more rapid. Along with accelerated construction, an increased interest in this phenomenon has begun, both positive and negative. Positively, golf courses can be seen especially in connection with land reclamation, yet if they are built on high quality agricultural land, the views differ. What is their current state of development since 1990, and how do they affect the landscape? From the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice together with specialists from our faculty—Přemysl Štych from the Department of Applied Geoinformatics and Cartography and Dana Fialová and Lenka Svobodová from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development—a team of scientists focused on this question.

Golf courses have a long tradition. Their origins can be dated to the Roman Empire, and the game first appeared in the Czech Republic at the end of the 19th century. The first official golf course was built near Mariánské Lázně in 1905, followed by the golf course in Motol in 1926, where the first Czech golf club was founded. Until 1989, only nine golf courses had been built here and only the richest players took part in the game, especially members of the Communist Party with their foreign clientele.

The main changes appeared after 1989 with democracy and the free market system. A period of construction development and user interest began, with the largest increase in the number of golf courses between 2000–2007. By 2016, 114 golf courses with a total area of 5106 ha were registered, the most golf courses being in the Central Bohemian Region and the least in the Vysočina and Olomouc regions.

Golf courses are a relatively new but more frequent element of our landscape. Photo by K. Fraindová.

The results of this research point out that although the land is used for sports and should be recorded as other areas, it accounts for only 37 % of the area in the cadastral records. More than half are still recorded as agricultural land, the largest proportion (35 %) being arable land, which is often used as an argument against the construction of golf courses. More than 34 % of golf courses are located on high quality soils (protection class I and II). Approximately one third is a permanent grassland, with only a small part of the area occupied by forests, water areas, built-up areas, fruit orchards or gardens. Cultivation and revitalization of degraded areas, for example, at mining sites or old landfills, accounts for more than 18 % of the area of golf courses and can be seen as positive outcomes.

When these new golf courses were constructed, the change in the use of the land during conversion to a golfing area occurred in only 6.6% of the total area of the courses. The researchers suppose that this was mainly due to the demanding bureaucracy associated with high fees, different taxes for land use and agricultural subsidies. Golf courses often have problems with financing, and some of them are operating at a financial loss. One reason for the stagnation or even decline in financial return may be linked to the stagnation (decline) of golf club members since 2012.

From the point of view of climate and hydrology, 20 out of the 114 golf courses could be evaluated as endangered by potential drought, the worst conditions being in South Moravian region with 62–123 dry days and a moisture deficit of 16–80 mm. Irrigation supplements the lack of water. In general, grassing of land at golf courses can be assessed positively. Calculation of direct runoff using the CN method showed that grassland at golf courses and terrain modifications have a positive effect on water drainage, because all these elements contribute to water  retention and accumulation in river basins. Grass also has significant anti-erosion effects.

The results of this study show that golf courses cannot be evaluated as only a negative or a positive element of the landscape. In places of high natural value such as nature parks and reservations, constructing them is illogical and degrades the landscape, not only aesthetically but especially ecologically (in the use of pesticides, poorly located irrigation, harmful emissions from everyday maintenance). By contrast, in areas that have been significantly affected by human activity, such as landfills, intensively used agricultural land, former mines or surface mining areas, golf courses may have a positive ecological effect in increasing water retention and accumulation and reducing erosion.

Sláma, J., Bystřický, V., Štych, P., Fialová, D., Svobodová, L., Kvítek, T. (2018): Golf courses: New phenomena in the landscape of the Czech Republic after 1990. Land Use Policy, 78, s. 430–446.

Kateřina Fraindová

Published: Apr 15, 2019 08:10 AM

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