IN HIS public spat with businessman Nicos Shacolas, Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos claimed that some of the alleged irregularities regarding Turkish Cypriot land were aimed at enabling the former’s company, Cyprus Limni Resorts and Golf Courses, to build two golf courses in the area. How interesting that a shrewd businessman, like Shacolas, would want to build not one, but two golf courses in the western part of Cyprus.
The majority of Cyprus’ golf courses are now the ownership of a big bank which took them over in order to reduce the loans held by the developers that made them in the hope of selling holiday villas. The villas were sold, but the golf courses proved unviable businesses because of the big costs of maintaining and operating them and the inadequate number of paying customers. For the developers, the golf course was not a one-off, cost of sale, but an annual cost that had to be paid long after the holiday villas were sold.
Whether Limni Resorts will go ahead with the building of two planned courses, after the experiences of other developers, is not our concern. Our concern is the misguided government policy on golf courses, which underlines the little amount of thought that goes into its formulation and the superficiality with which important issues are approached. When Giorgos Lillikas was the commerce minister of the Papadopoulos government, he decided that for Cyprus to become a golf tourism destination about eight courses would be needed, because golfers demanded variety, and licences were duly issued.
Predictably, there was no examination of the environmental impact and, more vitally, the depletion of water resources. The fact that long droughts were a regular occurrence and Cyprus depended on desalination to meet water demand was ignored. It was not rational management of scarce water resources. Worse still, some of the course owners made agreements with the government for agricultural water rates. The developers were using subsidised water to keep their courses green and to sell villas.
The irony is that golf tourism never took off and it is not because we have not built eight courses yet. When our policy-makers were developing their plans, they might not have considered that Cyprus was a bit far away from our target market of European golfers, for whom Spain – the golf tourist’s destination – is much closer and easier to fly to.
Perhaps the bank that has now taken control of most courses will come up with a plan to make them viable, but we doubt there will be any more being built in the near future. The market has taken care of that, even though it has not stopped that waste of our scarce water resources.