Spanish region limits golf development

 In a move that some have described as revolutionary for golf-happy Spain, the regional government of Andalusia recently approved a sweeping new law restricting the development of golf courses.

The regulations, approved in February after months of heated debate, dramatically limit the number of houses that a developer can build around a course and require new courses to use recycled water for irrigation.

Throughout the country regional governments are approving similar measures in what is largely seen as a backlash against rampant golf course development. More than 100 courses have been built in Spain in the past eight years, most accompanied by high-density residential developments targeting foreign buyers. "I don't have anything against golf," said Juan Area, editor of El Observador, a newspaper here. "But I think there are too many golf courses."

In Andalusia - home to the popular Costa del Sol, which is sometimes called the "Costa del Golf" - there are 118 courses, accounting for more than a third of the courses in the country. Nine new courses opened in the past four years alone, according to data from Real Federación Española de Golf, an industry group.

But few believe that golf course development in Spain will grind to a complete halt. "Spain is undoubtedly the strongest demand market in western Europe," according to a recent report by KPMG's Golf Advisory Practice, which tracks the market. Since 2000 the number of players affiliated with clubs in Spain has doubled, to about 300,000, said Andrea Sartori, head of the golf practice.

Despite the housing slowdown, there are still dozens of projects in the advanced planning stages, many in inland areas where there are relatively few courses.

"I personally think these regulations will have no impact whatsoever on golf course development long term," said Mark Roulston, editor of The Olive Press. "Yes, there will be an element of strictness now but the developers are powerful, with a lot of money, and money talks."

By Kevin Brass of International Herald Tribune