Monday, April 20, 2015

Ballyliffin Golf Club Battles the Elements (and red tape)
The low dunes separating the ocean from the 13th green.
An article in today's Irish Independent is a stark reminder of the effects the destructive power of nature has on our Irish golf courses.

Last year, storms had a huge impact on courses on the west coast and across the south west, flattening swathes of woodland and encroaching onto links courses (Doonbeg* and Lahinch,
particularly). But there were wider effects, too. (See that blog, here.)

We all know how nature can change the landscape but that doesn't make the damage any more bearable.

Oh, sure, the Indo's headline is a bit over-dramatic. It's not as if Ballyliffin's entire 36 holes will be consumed by the sea but, as nearby North West Golf Club discovered over several decades, if you don't do everything in your power to stop it then it eats away at you until several football size pitches of golf course have vanished. At Ballyliffin, the current threat is to their 13th green, but if you happen to have played here you will appreciate that once 13 goes, parts of 14, 15 and 16 won't be far behind, and nor will the 12th on the Glashedy course.

The 12th hole on Glashedy sits close to the
Old course's threatened 13th green.
It is a balancing act, isn't it! Protecting a golf course and people's livelihoods... versus protecting the environment and the North Inishowen Coast Special Area of Conservation, which covers the entire northern edge of the peninsula.  There is no easy way to settle this problem... and wrapping it in red tape appears to be the government's... the EU's... the Office of Public Works'... and the National Parks and Wildlife Service's solution.

Personally, I applaud institutions that want to protect our environment, both for our health and enjoyment, and for future generations. After all, we have shown scant disregard for it over the past 200 years. But as with any government institution there is no wriggle room. It's a machine. You present a problem and the machine chews it up and spits out a one-solution-fits-all response. Where's the common sense approach?
The glorious par three 5th on the Glashedy course.

What's Happening at Ballyliffin?

The long beach that fronts the golf course is awash with large pebbles, which sit above that glorious golden stretch of sand so adored by beach-lovers. These pebbles move up and down the beach in what Ballyliffin's General Manager, John Farren, describes as part of a 'fluid ecosystem.' But those pebbles have now moved to leave the dunes exposed to strong seas. John did an interview for RTE News yesterday, describing the threat faced by the course, but he told me that by this morning yet two more metres of the dunes had gone.

The 14th at Ballyliffin Old, with ocean alongside.
About seven years ago the golf club gave a local community group a 20 yard strip of the dunes that runs along its border. This was to build a coastal walk that could be enjoyed by all. This was washed away in recent months and the group's attempts to rebuild and protect it in recent weeks was what caused the strong response by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). EU legislation was thrown at them and legal action threatened against them  - and the club. The result is that nothing can be done... not until an ecologist is brought in by the club to assess the damage, identify solutions and then negotiate in a complicated process between the NPWS, the golf club and Donegal County Council... a process that will take months, and then some.

Where's the common sense in that when all the time this is going on the dune system is being washed away! In the battle of nature vs mankind there can be only one winner, but wouldn't it be nice if mankind was allowed to work with and for nature when the opportunity arises?

Here's the link to the Indo article.

Not Unique to Ballyliffin

John also points out that this is not a problem unique to Ballyliffin. Narin & Portnoo, Portsalon, Rosses Point and many others face the same challenges that nature has to throw at them. If tourism is regarded as such an essential part of the Irish economy, it would be an idea for Failte Ireland to get invested in the problem and help golf courses (and others) find ways to work more successfully and directly with those institutions (the EU behemoth, specifically) who have decided the only way to protect our environment is to sit back, read the rule book, polish the red tape and have a cup of tea.

*Doonbeg (Trump Ireland) lost its iconic 14th hole to last year's storms, but because of the red tape that now seems to bind every facet of our lives, they weren't allowed to erect storm defences without going through the arduous process that Ballyliffin is now facing.

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