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Kodaikanal gets India’s first organic golf course

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-07-2017 Sanjay Rajan

At a time when there are growing concerns about the impact of the construction and maintenance of golf courses amidst fragile ecosystems around the world, the Kodaikanal Golf Club (KGC) has emerged as India’s first certified organic golf course.

Spread over 100 acres, and fringed by a mix of forest and a breathtaking view of the plains from an altitude of almost 7,000ft atop the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu, the 18-hole course was recognized as organic by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) last year. IMO is a global body for quality assurance of sustainable products.

Given that Kodaikanal is a holiday destination, the KGC does not attract the kind of golf traffic through the year that courses in cities do. Only a handful play on a regular basis, with numbers going up substantially in summer. This, says G.S. Mani, the secretary of the club and the superintendent of the course, made it easier for the club to go organic, using water judiciously, eschewing chemical pesticides and introducing organic composting.

“We first began with biodynamic practices on the course in 2004,” he recollects . Biodynamics is a holistic agriculture system that involves sustainable practices that strive to create a balanced ecosystem by generating the required farming nutrients from within the campus.

“Kodaikanal was going through severe water crisis back then due to the exponential growth of the real estate business,” adds Mani, as he walks past a little noticeboard which proclaims to the world the course’s new certification.

Photo: Sanjay Rajan

The golf club is awaiting its second certification from another international body, Demeter, one of the largest organic certifiers in the world—its biodynamic certification is recognized in over 50 countries.

“Maintenance of a golf course requires a lot of water. As our facility is situated on marshy land, water is generated from natural springs. But I thought it was wrong to desecrate these water bodies by going with the standard practices of turf management, which involve using synthetic fertilizers, for the pleasure of a handful of golfers alone,” says Mani, who has studied biodynamic agriculture.

Sustainable golf is the latest mantra in the sport’s international community, and the Golf Environment Organization (GEO), an international non-profit, is playing a major role in creating a stronger and more sustainable future for the golf industry. For GEO, a key area is to help ensure that golf courses maintain the best possible playing surface with less water.

In the case of the KGC, which was established in 1895, going organic not only helped reduce the demand on water for course maintenance, the club was even able to provide the local municipality close to 50,000 litres of water a day (generated from the natural springs) for free distribution to local residents during times of shortage.

“Not only is water usage a lot less in organic practices, the water bodies remain fresh too,” says 66-year-old Mani. “Synthetic fertilizers accentuate the growth of grass and also require a lot of water, and, as a result, turf maintenance also becomes more expensive. “Organic practices help the turf grow at its natural pace and, equally important, do not contaminate water bodies,” adds Mani, explaining the use of organic compost, growth nutrients and pesticide control.

“Leaves and grass cut from the course are used as biomass to make compost. We use CPP (cow pat pit) as growth nutrients, which is basically cow manure mixed with crushed egg shells and basalt dust,” Mani says. Panchagavya, a mix of five direct and derived products of the cow—dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee— is sprayed for pesticide control.

Environmental groups globally have raised concerns about the impact golf courses have on the flora and fauna. The KGC, a tourist landmark, has tried to find a balance.

With the forest forming a chunk of the course’s boundary, large herds of gaur (Indian bison) use the tranquil facility to graze, and for water. “To safeguard the greens, we have put up fishing nets around it which we roll up while playing,” says Mani. “The rest of the course, with all the water bodies, is open to the bison families and other animals to graze and drink from.”

In addition, to keep the cost of relaying to a minimum, the KGC has created a 9,000 sq. ft nursery beside its clubhouse to grow its own Kentucky bluegrass. “We identified Kentucky blue as the one that acclimatized best on the course and one that generates the quickest. We have relaid three of the greens and will relay the rest over the next few years,” says Mani.

He adds that the maintenance expenses have halved since the course turned fully organic.

The next step: going solar.

Sanjay Rajan has written on sport for over two decades. He tweets at @SeamUp.

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