The Shangri-La Villingili resort in Addu Atoll is due to open the first full-sized golf course in the Maldives on March 27.
The nine hole course sits on seven-and-a-half hectares of previously undeveloped land at the southern end of Villingili Island.
Most holes par three and average 123.4 yards in length, and are set amongst the island’s natural veggetation including of palms, pandanus and other tropical plants. The course includes a clubhouse, refreshment bar and a pro shop.
“It’s a recreational course, not a professional course,” explained Shangri-La’s Assistant Communications Manager, Cristina Acenas. “It is accessible to beginners but advanced golfers will also enjoy it.”
Challenged about the environmental impact of a nine hole golf course on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the resort was quick to respond.
“The golf course uses salt tolerant Paspalum grass for its greens which thrives on available grey water and natural environmental factors existing in the Maldives,” Acenas explained. “Seashore Paspalum is used on golf courses worldwide and is said be the most environment-friendly among the types of grass used for golf courses.”
“A salt tolerant plant growing in sandy substrate is not going to need many nutrients, so it’s not so bad,” suggested a marine biologist consulted by Minivan News.
“The main worry would be using well water to irrigate the course, which would impact the island’s freshwater lens and other vegetation on the island,” she said.
Acenas explained that treated grey water from the island’s sewage treatment plant would be pumped into an irrigation dam constructed on site, “so no fresh water or fresh desalinated water is used to irrigate the greens, minimising waste and the carbon footprint associated with operating a full-sized golf course.”
A second concern raised by the marine biologist was the potential for run-off to wash fertiliser into the ocean, disrupting the nutrient balance of delicate reef ecosystems.
“They do have to be careful that nutrients don’t leech into reef,” she observed. “An increase in nutrients can great algal overgrowth that outcompetes corals and impacts reefs. It’s good they’re using a low nutrient plant, but they will need to keep a check on it.”
Acenas said that fertilisers used to maintain the course would be organic and used sparingly.
“It has been determined that the selected Paspalum turf cultivar will thrive well in the conditions present at Villingili. The Paspalum Grass through proper cultural practices should be sustained at healthy levels with minimal use of organic fertilisers and chemicals, and has a very high tolerance to salinity, more so than most weeds. This is a much healthier approach when considering the environment surrounding the course,” she told Minivan News.
The site will be subject to a biannual terrestrial monitoring by environmental consultants to assess fauna, flora and the impact of the course on their habitat, Acenas noted.
The golf course is located near a turtle nesting habitat (August – October), “and turtles can be seen coming to the surface all year round on this side of the island, especially on the ocean side from holes six to nine,” she added.
The marine biologist Minivan News spoke to observed that a golf course was probably a better nesting environment for turtles than a built up area because the course would lack light sources, which can cause females to become disorientated after laying eggs and crawl inland, rather than back out to sea.
Approval for the course was granted by the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Housing and Environment, following following an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
The Maldivian government in March 2010 signed a contract with Dutch Docklands of the Netherlands to develop a floating golf course and hotel in the Maldives.
Then Deputy Minister for Environment, Mohamed Shareef, said the floating golf centres would be “much better and more environmentally friendly than reclaiming land.”