Overdevelopment of golf courses

Worldwide there are more than 25,000 courses, a very small percentage of which are public. At least in the Asia-Pacific region, and unlike other sports grounds, the supply of golf courses is a function of the buoyancy of property development market. Most golf courses built recently or under construction are a form of land speculation. Investors can purchase memberships at a pre-construction price (also tax-free and unregulated), in the hopes that they can sell them at a healthy profit once the course has been built. Golf club memberships are bought and sold on the open market like other commodities. Financial crimes like tax evasion and profiteering are associated, as is the yakuza (Japanese mafia).

In Japan in 1993, there were 1,950 golf courses with 400 more under construction and 1,100 others planned; in addition, Japanese companies were operating golf courses abroad at 200 locations, with 50 more under construction and about 100 more being planned. It is reported that so many golf courses have been built in Japan that local people cannot afford land anymore.

Japanese developers now buy cheaper land and labour in tourist spots such as Thailand, Australia, and Hawaii, where 35% of agricultural land has been bought by Japanese investors and there are 70 golf courses, more than half owned by Japanese, with nearly 100 more being built or planned. Prime, scenic locations are favoured, areas of native vegetation are being cleared, streams and coastal areas are being polluted by the fertilizers and chemicals applied to the grass courses, and limited water supplies are being drained. Forced eviction of farm families, bribery of local politicians and explosive increases in the price of land and homes are some of the social effects. In Indonesia, anti-golf civil protests have become a human rights issue, with several farmers and students in jail in 1993. The latest countries to be affected are China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and some in Central and South America.

When a real-estate giant announced in 1996 that it was building an 18-hole golf course and 600-room condominium hotel on Boracay, a small jewel island in the Philippine archipelago, the news sparked an outcry. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources warned that the golf course would further deplete island's scarce water resources and increase its pollution (the island has no sewage system), endangering the island's fragile ecology. The company began building the golf course without obtaining the necessary environmental clearance. The government reacted but the remedy was like using a sling-shot against an elephant. The company - which reported 1995 net income of about US$30 million, up more than 1,000 percent from the previous year - was fined $2,000.

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