Golf and property development – time for a divorce

    After watching the documentary ‘Dark Side of the Greens’, Glyn Pritchard believes golf’s association with billionaire luxury property developments is damaging the game’s image.

    In 2011 filmmaker Anthony Baxter produced the award-winning documentary ‘You’ve been Trumped’ about Donald Trump’s golf development at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire. The film focused on Trump’s bullying tactics of local residents in his ambition to get a two golf course development built on the Balmedie sand dunes, a site of Special Scientific Interest.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 16.45.03Last year Baxter followed up ‘You’ve been Trumped’ with ‘Dark Side of the Greens’, a documentary looking at how developers like Donald Trump are using golf to build luxurious, exclusive resorts at the expense of the locals and their ecosystem, and abuse natural resources. It was broadcast on BBC4 last September.

    The second film investigates controversial developments in Dubrovnik, Croatia; Lake Las Vegas, Nevada; East Hampton, Long Island; and The Tiger Woods development in Dubai. The film also touched on golf course development in China and revisited the Trump development in Aberdeenshire. If you love golf, ‘Dark Side of the Greens’ doesn’t make for pleasant viewing. Leaving aside the spectacle of ‘The Donald’ being obnoxious to one and all, the film shows the despoiling of natural environments and the corruption of democratic processes. This is not confined to the developing world but comes right home to the UK.

    The Scottish national government overruled the Aberdeenshire Council’s planning objections to Trump’s Menie Estate plans, by stating that the project was in the national economic interest – Trump promised a $1.5 billion investment creating 6,000 jobs. At the time the local MSP was none other than Alex Salmond, then Scottish First Minister, and he and The Donald were the best of mates. Subsequently Trump vigorously opposed a £230 million offshore wind turbine farm which would have been visible from his development.

    Last December in the UK Supreme Court, Trump lost his legal challenge to the planned offshore wind farm. Salmond then described Trump as a “three-time loser”. Trump’s organisation responded by saying of Salmond, “Does anyone care what this man thinks? He’s a has-been and totally irrelevant.” Trump has now abandoned plans for a second golf course at the Menie Estate and turned his attention instead to running the United States. Only about 200 jobs have been created at the Menie Estate.

    The basic point seems to be that developers like Trump are giving golf a bad name and bringing the game into disrepute. Golf should not be synonymous with exclusive, luxury property development and new golf courses should be sympathetic to the area in which they are located with minimal environmental impact. Courses should also be affordable for the local community. The standard summer green fee at the Menie Estate is £215, with a local resident concession of £145.

    At this point, to avoid being labelled a hypocrite, I should declare that I own an apartment on a golf course development in Andalusia. However, the course was built by a responsible UK development company, Taylor Woodrow (now Taylor Wimpey) and has the international ISO 14001 certification for environmental management systems. A mid-summer green fee is €41.

    The association of golf with billionaire property development is not doing the reputation of the game any good. Even the multi-millionaire residents of the Wentworth Estate are squealing at the new membership rates introduced by the Beijing-based owners, Reignwood Group. A new re-joining debenture charge of £100,000 for existing members may have been scrapped, but the club could still soon become out of the reaches of the rich, making it only accessible to the super-rich, many of whom will be foreign residents. On its website Reignwood Group states that it wishes to “stay current with today’s trends to be innovative, cooperative, environmental, open and willing to share.” Make of that what you will.

    The proposed ‘Dubrovnik Heights’ golf development in Croatia, featured in ‘Dark Side of the Greens’, is being led by billionaire Aaron Frenkel with course design Greg Norman Golf Course Design. Because the development will overlook Dubrovnik, a World Heritage site, UNESCO has asked for a state of conservation report to be considered by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in July.

    The price of properties overlooking Dubrovnik, the golf courses and the Adriatic will be astronomical, if the development goes ahead. Already villas are being built in anticipation of the green light. According to Jovica Božić, a developer of luxury villas on the site, “Rich people can afford to play golf – guaranteed. All classy like Paris Hilton sisters, they come.” God help us!

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    Miles is the Owner and Managing Director of Robel Media, and the award winning GOLF RETAILING Magazine. With over 25 years in the media business, Miles has a wealth of experience in magazine publishing, digital media and live events. HANDICAP - 7.2