Teed Off (20-05-2012)
with Robert Bicknell
Last week, the golf professionals / managers and the Viet Nam Golf Association (VGA) met in Ha Noi to discuss different issues facing the golf industry in Viet Nam. In a nutshell, where are we now and where do we want to be in 10 years. As you can imagine, the discussion was quite animated and highly enjoyable. It's always good to get together and chew the fat.
Before going any further, let me say that the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VGA or other professionals. I do not presume to speak for anyone else in this matter.
Now then, some people demonize golf courses for being environmental disasters and for using agricultural land. Neither one is completely true, but it sells newspapers so it's difficult to change people's minds.
Let's discuss the environment for a moment and get something straight right off the bat – nobody wants to harm the environment, OK? This is where we work and live. Polluted water hurts everyone.
Most golf courses employ certified superintendents to take care of the actual golf course. These people are university-educated agronomists who specialise in turf-grass science. When it comes to protecting the environment, these guys are experts and don't let anyone tell you different.
If the golf course doesn't have safety systems built in, they'll insist on them. Just because they're working overseas doesn't let them off the hook with their own associations and EPA's. Screw up over here and they lose their certification and licenses back home just the same.
Secondly, golf courses use almost the same chemicals as farmers, except ours are safer and we use them in a much more diluted form. Also, due to improvements in modern turf grasses, golf courses nowadays use fewer chemicals more efficiently. Also, chemicals are expensive and golf courses have to make a profit. So, less is best for everyone.
Viet Nam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) has been charged with inspecting golf courses and this is something we welcome. Nothing would make us happier than to work with MoNRE in protecting the environment. We live here too.
Now then, let's now try to define "agricultural land."
In Viet Nam, this is every square centimetre of dirt in the country. Hey, if there is an open space with dirt, people here will either grow something on it, or play football there. It's just the way it is. So, for the sake of argument, let's define it as rice fields.
Would it surprise anyone if I said that we don't like using rice fields for golf courses?
Well, it's true. From an economic standpoint, building a golf course on a rice field is twice as expensive as other land due to the amount of fill required.
Secondly, (and to me, this is more important) Viet Nam has worked like hell to change from a food importing country into one of the largest rice / coffee exporters in the world. So, to sacrifice food security for golf is simply insane, especially when there are other areas which can be used for golf courses.
Personally, I'd like to see the government offer land such as abandoned mining sites to golf course developers, providing they also included a cheap land-use fee and reduced taxes to offset the higher cost of renovating the land.
I believe future golf courses should be built in coastal and mountainous areas to help develop the tourism industries there and I also believe developers should submit comprehensive business development plans and an Environment Impact Assessment before getting a license.
If you look at the true bottom line, golf courses have employed tens of thousands of people. We have helped to raise over a million dollars for various charities and most communities who have a golf course as a neighbour have prospered.
Despite the demonizing efforts of a few, we actually do make positive contributions to society in general.
I'm not saying that the golf industry is perfect, far from it. There will always be a few bad apples in the barrel, but when they are identified, we try to cull them out.
Golf is still a growing industry in Viet Nam and we have a long way to go, but we all agree that it is necessary to enact nation-wide standards and hold ourselves responsible to them. — VNS