31 August 2005

The Web

Golf course blues

The passionate argumentation and controversy a golf course proposal can create is more than understandable. A golf course requires a large tract of land and gallons upon gallons of water, both of which are scarce resources in this island.
There are a number of myths that characterise the ongoing debate over golf courses.
The first myth is that a golf course, or three of them, is the answer to the ills Malta faces in tourism. This is not the case. There are much more things that can be done with much less expense that will enhance the tourist product in its entirety.
The second myth is that a golf course will attract thousands of tourists. A golf course in Malta will not attract 30,000 tourists as has been suggested by the tourism minister. First of all this assertion was not backed by serious studies and secondly with countries like Spain, Portugal and Tunisia offering numerous golf courses Malta can never be a golf playing destination with just three courses.
A professional 18-hole golf course will simply enhance the current five-star tourist set up but it will not attract people who travel to play golf.
The third myth is that a golf course will drain Malta’s water resources. While this may have been the case up to a couple of years ago, it may not be so in the not too distant future. Malta’s obligations to treat all sewage before dumping it into the sea means that three sewage treatment plants will have to be built in the next three years and some of the second grade water they will produce could easily be used to irrigate a golf course all year round.
The fourth myth is that a golf course will require large amounts of fertiliser and pesticide to retain the plush green turf throughout the year. Like farming, golf courses do use pesticides and fertilisers but modern techniques have made it possible for golf clubs to use less of the amounts that were used in the past. Indeed, the amount of fertilisers and pesticides used by some farmers would put any golf course to shame.
There seems to be general consensus that the country requires at least one more golf course, with some even suggesting a maximum of three. Within this context land use becomes the single most important issue.
Can this country of 316 square kilometres afford to dedicate large tracts of land for the exclusive use of a couple of golfers?
An 18-hole golf course with full facilities can easily require a land area that varies from 0.4 square kilometres to a maximum of 0.8 sq km. Having three of them would mean a total land area of between 1.2 and 2.4 sq km from which the general public would be excluded from entering.
Prevailing circumstances may necessitate the construction of at least one golf course and the expansion of the one that already exists in Marsa.
The expansion of the Marsa course is not without its downside. It would mean the removal of other sporting facilities housed in the vicinity of the Royal Marsa Golf Club or possibly to limit the damage to third party sporting facilties, the course can be expanded, across the road from the current site into the agricultural area just below the industrial estate where Coca-Cola had intended to construct a factory 10 years back.
The bigger issue, however, remains the location of a new golf course. This leader does not believe the current site championed by the Prime Minister is the ideal location for such a venture.
Ix-Xaghra l-Hamra and its environs is one of the few unspoilt tracts of land where the general public can enjoy a breath of fresh air. It can easily be transformed into a natural park that incorporates agricultural areas, historical sites and areas of natural beauty.
In addition, a golf course in Ghajn Tuffieha is cut off from the main tourist areas in the eastern part of the island. In this respect the choice of Xaghra l-Hamra is confusing since one of the main reasons why the site at Tal-Gawhar in Safi, MEPA’s preferred site for a golf course, was given thumbs down was because it was considered far away from the main tourist areas.
A more plausible alternative site could be the White Rocks area along the stretch of coast between the Splash and Fun Park and the outer limits of Pembroke. With the White Rocks project dead and buried the already spoilt site can easily be utilised for a golf course. It can stretch down towards Bahar ic-Caghaq where the makeshift camping site is currently situated. Any real estate development required to make the course viable could be located on the Pembroke side without the need to encroach on the area where the Armed Forces ranges are situated.
The White Rocks site offers some natural contours ideal for a golf course and is located bang in the heart of Malta’s tourist hub. It is a much more viable option servicing the tourist industry directly and enhancing a derelict site, which is a blotch on the coastline.

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