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My knickers are in a bit of a twist over here and it’s not due to the chronic butter shortage or colossal heat (both of which are cause for loud complaint, believe me). What’s got me riled up these days is more macro. Regular readers know that I (try to) let most of what Cuba hands down roll off my back. But I could go to the mat on this one.
Cuba recently confirmed what rumor had held for a couple of years already: moving forward, the cornerstone of the country’s tourism strategy will be to develop 10 golf courses across the island. This grand plan was revealed by tourism Minister Manuel Marrero at FIT – Cuba’s international tourism fair (see note 1). I had hoped it wasn’t true. (I also hope to win the Pulitzer and earn the Cuban Medal of Friendship someday. Don’t mean it’s gonna happen). But this golf scheme seems particularly hair brained to me.
Let’s review the facts, shall we?
A conventional 18-hole golf course requires 312,000 gallons of water a day (that’s 1,181,048 liters for my more advanced readers) to keep it green. I knew they were resource-suckers these playgrounds for the rich, but 312,000 gallons a day?!
Meanwhile, back on our little island…
“a [Cuban] government report released in mid-April said large areas of Cuba have been suffering the effects of a prolonged drought that began in November 2008. The shortage of rain has led to a significant drop in water levels in the country’s reservoirs and has hurt the availability of groundwater, affecting water supplies for more than 500,000 people…The Meteorology Institute’s Climate Centre, said that the overall scarcity of rainfall from April 2009 to March 2010 ‘has affected 68 percent of the national territory’…while 2009 had the fourth lowest rainfall total in 109 years, according to official sources” (see note 2).
An 18-hole course requires between 140 and 200 acres (57 to 80 hectares) of land – half of this is maintained turf. Multiply that by 10 courses and you’ve got a healthy chunk of Cuba’s territory. Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t that land be put to better use raising cattle or homes?
Keeping those greens green requires about 30 different types of pesticides. These poisons have the potential to contaminate ground water while destroying wetlands, mangroves, and other habitat. And they’re seriously bad for us bipeds too: a scientific study found golf groundskeepers have higher mortality rates than the general population for lung, prostate, large intestine, and brain cancers, with some non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma thrown in for good measure (see note 3). Meanwhile, a study has yet to be conducted on golfers, who are also regularly exposed to these toxins.
The pesticide question scares me – have you ever seen them fumigate for mosquitoes here? Clouds of chemicals shot from a “bazooka” into each room of a closed home without a scrap of protective clothing or gear in sight. Worrisome, this pesticide-dependent “sport” called golf.
From the Bahamas to the Philippines, environmentalists and land reformers are saying NO! to golf courses (sometimes violently). Given global trends, Cuba is appearing pretty backwards with this golf strategy (see note 4). I’m a golf dissident, I admit, but given the few facts I’ve presented here, shouldn’t we all be? Maybe if there was more information available about this strategy, it would temper my position: where will these courses be located? Who’s designing them? Will alternative methods be employed?
Alas and alack.
Golf is a multi-billion dollar business and Cuba needs revenue. I get it. But so that we might be as forward thinking in our backwardness, I’d like to offer you, Mr. Minister, the following policy recommendations:
– Employ alternative designs that use fewer chemicals
– Consider going organic – Cuba wouldn’t be the first
– Use only drought-tolerant grasses and native plants
– Irrigate with grey water
– Conduct independent feasibility and environmental impact studies for each proposed site (and be prepared to follow recommendations, including scrapping plans for sites that threaten habitat, migratory flyways, etc)
I repeat: I think the Cuban golf strategy is folly. Who’s going to play Pinar del Río when there’s Pebble Beach? Or Holguín instead of Augusta? Some, I’m sure (including those people of color and Jewish-ness denied access to US links). But enough to sustain and make profitable ten courses?
And is this what we really want? Throngs of sorta sporty men in pastel plaids and unfortunate loafers laying claim to thousands of Cuba’s green acres for their individual pleasure? The whole plan just seems too extreme, too contradictory.
Leading up to the Cuban tourism fair, Spanish golfer Álvaro Quiros gushed: “golf could become a new attraction for tourists visiting Cuba because of…the magnificent climatic conditions on the island all year round” (see note 5). Excuse me, Álvaro? Have you heard of a hurricane? How about drought?
Extreme, contradictory and…hair brained.
And while I’ve got your ear, Mr. Minister, would you please consider putting an end to the capture and use of dolphins for those swim with dolphin programs? Or haven’t you seen The Cove?
1. The week-long affair was themed ‘Authentic Cuba,’ which is hilarious for so many reasons. And ironic: how, exactly, is golf (and yacht clubs which also figure in the grand plan) ‘authentically Cuban?’ But as always, truth is stranger than fiction and the irony of the ‘Cuba auténtica’ press junket/dog and pony show was summed up by a Colombian journalist who whispered dramatically to a reporter friend of mine: ‘do you want to sit in on this interview? I’ve got a guy who’ll talk about the bad things in Cuba for 10 bucks. You pay five and I’ll pay five.’ On second thought, this is probably the most authentic Cuban thing that happened during this journalist’s island jaunt.
2. For full article, see Drought Looming again in Cuba
3. For more see www.beyondpesticides.org/news/daily_news_archive/2004/09_23_04.htm
4. Ditto the blind acceptance of Styrofoam. Until a handful of years ago, I never saw one piece of Styrofoam here. Now it’s everywhere and will be for generations to come. There are advantages to a one-party system. You can integrate health and education efforts for example and you can ban bad shit like Styrofoam with the stroke of a pen. Whatever criticisms you may have of Cuba, who can argue with the wisdom of keeping this evil out of our midst – especially on an island? What, after all, has Styrofoam ever done to improve our lives?
5. This, along with the golfer’s other assertion, that “golf helps to improve the health of practitioners, encourages personal relationships and caring for the environment” qualifies, in my opinion, as some of the stupidest shit ever uttered by a professional athlete. No small feat.