The Golf Course 17.08.11

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Donald Trump recently declared the Balmedie Dunes on the North Sea coast near Aberdeen to be the most beautiful place in the world. "I have never seen such an unspoiled and dramatic seaside location," he trumped. By this he meant that it was the perfect place for his latest golf resort, since the first thought of a golf-course developer when he sees 
an unspoiled piece of land is to spoil it.

Golf courses can get away with things that normal developments can't. Donald Trump went as far as to say that his golf course would actually improve the environment: "It's OK, they're green, they're 'natural', they can't be bad." His claim was absurd, but not uncommon. One reason for this is that a golf course makes nature more visible – or appears to. Like the English landscape garden, it acts as an image machine, creating picturesque views of a perfected and frozen nature. It is often an invisible destruction.

Perhaps the golf course's greatest crime is the march of real estate that follows its creation. Trump International Golf Links Scotland will boast a 450-room hotel, 950 holiday apartments and 500 houses for sale. Golf courses, you see, are hardly ever designed primarily for the people who play golf on them. Instead they play an elaborate game of hiding and revealing, blending the urban and the rural. The surrounding real estate will boast of its "golf-course views" while the images in the course's own promotional materials will do everything they can to hide the houses. The golf course acts as a kind of modern moat, which fits flexibly around high-end real estate and acts as a buffer zone between the new houses and the real world. It is a private and perfected landscape, where nothing unexpected can happen.

Golf is rarely at the heart of even the more prestigious courses. These are instead places of business, and of politics – hence the term "golf-course diplomacy". (How much of the credit crisis can be traced back to an all-male golf junket?)

It is of course unfair to blame the golf course for the crimes of its creators and users, but even from a purely aesthetic view they are almost uniformly awful, filling the landscape with their invariably blobby, and supposedly natural, forms. (Why do we never see a square bunker?) The only qualification required for designing one is that of having been a famous golfer, which is a bit like assuming Wayne Rooney could have designed Wembley. They are the ultimate non-places: designed and used in the same way no matter where they are.

Golf courses are vast, land-hungry things that both privatise and destroy the land on which they are built. They are one of the least efficient uses of land imaginable. In China they are blamed for food shortages, in the Gulf they are blamed for water shortages and in Scotland, the home of golf, the sport has abandoned its origins as a game of the commons to become a game of the uber-enclave.



Jumeirah Golf Estates



Duncan Marsden

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Golf courses play an elaborate game of hiding and revealing, blending the urban and the rural

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