The cost of having fun: Golf courses are 'killing' Vietnam's environment

By Chi Nhan, Thanh Nien News

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A golfer at a course in the central coastal town Phan Thiet, which used to force locals to make a long detour to the beach before being shut down. File photo A golfer at a course in the central coastal town Phan Thiet, which used to force locals to make a long detour to the beach before being shut down. File photo


Vietnam's government is putting the environment at huge risks by approving many riverside and seaside golf courses, whose uses of fertilizers and pesticides are alarmingly high, experts said. 
Le Anh Tuan, a senior environment researcher at Can Tho University in the Mekong Delta, said golf courses “are a threat to the environment.”
Tuan cited international studies as saying that each hectare of these courses uses three to five times more chemicals than the same area of agriculture land.
A golf course in Southeast Asia uses around 1.5 metric tons of chemicals per year on average and most of them end up in ground water and even pollute the air.
He also criticizes the courses for its excessive use of water. A 18-hole course in Malaysia uses 5,000 cubic meters of water a day, which is enough for at least 20,000 households, he said.
“These studies were conducted a long time ago but they remain relevant until now. Golf courses may be using different brands of chemicals but the amount of toxins is just the same.”
The amount of toxic substances at some courses in Vietnam are extremely high.  
In the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, Tan Son Nhat golf course of nearly 160 hectares uses 190 tons of fertilizers and nearly nine tons of pesticides every year, according to a local study.
The problem is, experts say, Vietnam has so many golf courses but the authorities keep allowing more to be built. 
A national development plan for golf courses said that by the end of 2020, Vietnam will have 96 golf courses, including 19 in the Red River Delta and four in the Mekong Delta, the two main rice baskets of the country.
Many new courses have been planned on arable land next to rivers. Some are going to be built by the sea. 
Hanoi early this year asked the agriculture ministry to approve a golf course of 291 hectares along the major Duong River. 
Scientists have strongly objected to the proposal, saying the amount of chemicals used will directly harm people in the downstream.
The central province of Quang Ngai in 2011 backed another course of around 233 hectares which is set to take over an entire islet on the Tra Khuc River.
The 18-hole Sam Son course in Thanh Hoa Province near Hanoi is going to open soon near the mouth of the Ma River, which supplies water and rich alluvial soils to the country’s third largest delta in Thanh Hoa.
Public discontent
Experts familiar with the matter said that Vietnam is building golf courses at “sensitive locations,” which will create discontent among the public and an impression that the country only favors the rich.
A massive golf course in the central resort town of Phan Thiet had blocked public access to beach for 24 years before it was shut down last October, only after making huge losses.  
Tuan said golf courses in other countries are often built far from residential areas and water sources, usually on desert land.
They also have to abide by strict rules that minimize their negative impacts to the environment.
Vu Ngoc Long, director of the Southern Institute of Ecology, said golf course managers in Europe and even those in Thailand and Malaysia are required to apply technologies to reduce the harmful repercussions. 
They plant the grass on a thin layer of sand that can prevent chemicals from leaving into the soil underneath and treat water discharges carefully, he said. 
But in Vietnam, the rules are not strict. 
“The way golf courses are operated in Vietnam will kill the environment,” Long said.

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