Friday, May 07, 2010

Golfing in Sudan

A new golf course has opened up in the most unlikely place... Sudan. The golf course is placed in a country with poverty stricken slums, and a bloody conflict in Darfur. It raises some ethical questions of use of water and inequality. But the people who built it say it's another score for development in Sudan.

From CNN, we are introduced the course developer and hear both sides of the debate.

Soba is the latest creation from Swiss architect Peter Harradine and his company Harradine Golf, an organization started by Harradine's grandfather in 1929.

Since taking the reins, he has been responsible for building golf courses in some of the most dangerous locations on the planet. It seems, after a war ends and a cease fire is announced, local developers reach for his number.

"I get contacted by all sorts of different people," he told CNN. "I am based in Dubai, as are a lot of investors who use Dubai as a hub. So I have had calls from [places like] Georgia, Tunisia and, of course, Sudan, but I'm not consciously waiting for wars to end!"

Yet it is his course in Sudan that has been the most surprising, not to mention controversial. Harradine was contracted by a local conglomerate to satisfy the demand created by Sudan's booming, oil-fueled economy.

According to the IMF, Sudan's GDP grew an average of eight percent year-on-year between 2004 and 2008. "There are a lot of rich people in Khartoum," Harradine told CNN.

But not everyone is happy with the global spread of golf. According to some, the building of golf courses in some parts of the world, especially in areas where clean drinking water is at a premium, raises some huge ethical issues.

UNESCO's first World Water Development Report said an 18-hole golf course can use as much as 2.3 million liters of water every day. The UK-based NGO Water Aid estimates that 66 percent of Sudanese, more than 25 million people, do not have access to clean water.

"We are not here to tell the Sudanese they can or cannot have a golf course but I'd be very surprised if the economic benefits will help the communities that live cheek by jowl with it," explained Water Aid's Oliver Cumming.

But Harradine sees the golf course as a chance to spread the game he loves whilst boosting the local economy at the same time. "I never go into politics, but I love golf and everyone should play golf," he said.

"I've never had any problem moving around Sudan. We had more problems finding the right sand for the root mixture and the right raw material. It's the technical issues, especially when there's an embargo, like bringing in brand new Caterpillars, but we got them. You read a lot in the papers that is bull***t. Who's right, who's wrong?

"During the construction we employed 200 people from the neighboring shacks," he continued. "They all had work, plus the security. A lot of people are learning how to maintain a golf course and each player has a local caddie. So these guys will all become players. In the beginning the richer clients profit, but in the end it trickles down to the normal guy."

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