Lock­downs tee off global de­bate on golf cour­ses

The Chronicle Herald (Provincial) - - DI­VER­SIONS - RINA CHANDRAN

BANGKOK — Lock­downs in cities to limit the spread of the coronaviru­s have high­lighted the paucity of green spa­ces in ur­ban ar­eas, reignit­ing the de­bate on whether pri­vate golf cour­ses should be opened up for pub­lic use, land ad­vo­cates said late last week.

More than one mil­lion peo­ple across the world have been in­fected by the coronaviru­s, ac­cord­ing to a Reuters tally.

With many coun­tries in­tro­duc­ing re­stric­tions on move­ment, city res­i­dents are crowd­ing parks and bat­tling for space on pave­ments. Au­thor­i­ties are re­pur­pos­ing streets for walk­ers and jog­gers des­per­ate for ex­er­cise.

"We should be open­ing up pri­vate green spa­ces so there's more room for everyone to ex­er­cise safely," en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Guy Shrub­sole said in an on­line pe­ti­tion on golf cour­ses in Bri­tain that has gar­nered about 5,000 sig­na­tures.

"Rather than let our ex­ist­ing parks be­come over­crowded, it would be safer to open up more green spa­ces like golf cour­ses," said Shrub­sole, au­thor of a book on un­equal land own­er­ship in Bri­tain.

There are 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of golf cour­ses across the United King­dom, ac­cord­ing to Shrub­sole.

If golf cour­ses in Bri­tain were opened up, about one mil­lion more ur­ban res­i­dents would be within 500 me­tres of a green space, data sci­ence con­sul­tancy Ge­o­fu­tures es­ti­mated.

The coronaviru­s out­break has led to a re­think on pub­lic and pri­vate spa­ces, with ho­tels and mil­i­tary camps used for quar­an­tine, ships and churches adding hospi­tal beds, and con­fer­ence cen­tres tak­ing in home­less peo­ple.

STAY REL­E­VANT

In Hong Kong, the world's most un­af­ford­able hous­ing mar­ket, au­thor­i­ties last year said they would con­vert a part of the 130-year-old Fan­ling Golf Club into hous­ing on the rec­om­men­da­tion of a task force on land.

"It is a warn­ing to all sports and recre­ational clubs that are granted land at pref­er­en­tial rates that they have to stay rel­e­vant for so­ci­ety as a whole," said Paul Zim­mer­man, chief ex­ec­u­tive of De­sign­ing Hong Kong, an ur­ban think-tank.

"A few hours of pub­lic ac­cess will not sat­isfy the pub­lic call for greater so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity," he said.

Else­where, wan­ing in­ter­est in golf has led to the clo­sure of thou­sands of clubs, with de­vel­op­ers cash­ing in.

While in Scot­land, even the iconic St. An­drews golf course is open to the pub­lic on Sun­days.

In Bri­tain, some golf clubs have opened their doors to lo­cal res­i­dents dur­ing the lock­down.

The Read­ing Golf Club and the Caver­sham Heath Golf Club, which closed on March 24 fol­low­ing the lock­down no­tice, have opened up some ar­eas to lo­cal res­i­dents for walk­ing and jog­ging.

Vis­i­tors must steer clear of the greens, tees and bunkers, and cy­cling and skate­board­ing are not per­mit­ted.

"It was a unan­i­mous and in­stant de­ci­sion by the board, and it has been very grate­fully re­ceived and well re­spected," said Gary Stan­goe, gen­eral man­ager of both clubs.

But while other golf clubs may also wish to con­sider giv­ing ac­cess to lo­cal res­i­dents, for many it is not prac­ti­cal, he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

"It has to be their choice, no different from any pri­vate landowner, and a lit­tle un­fair if golf clubs are sin­gled out. When golf re­sumes, we will im­me­di­ately re­turn to being a pri­vate golf club once more," he said.

REUTERS

Repub­lic of Ire­land's Paul Mcgin­ley in ac­tion dur­ing the first round of the Senior Open Cham­pi­onship at the Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, Lytham St Annes, Bri­tain, on July 25, 2019.

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