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French golf course holes cemented over by climate activists

The protesters are opposed to the at least partial exemption applied to golf courses when other non-essential usages are completely banned

an image of a golf ball on a green

Environmental activists are calling for a total ban on golf course watering when severe drought restrictions are in place Pic: Branko Jovanovic / Shutterstock

French climate activists have cemented over the holes at two golf courses in protest against the rules exempting the facilities from the ban on non-essential water use which applies to much of the country. 

Read more: Drought map update: See the French departments with water restrictions

The activists were from the Toulouse branch of Extinction Rebellion and Action Kirikou, and posted images of the cemented holes on social media. 

A sign pinned to the flag pole reads: “This hole drinks 277,000 litres of water a day. Do you drink that much? #StopGolf”

The Extinction Rebellion protesters also stated: “While we experience an episode of extreme drought, the watering of golf courses is authorised because of the cost of maintaining these luxurious spaces.

“Alongside this, drought is leading to total bans on irrigation in farming.

“To denounce the appropriation of water by this leisure industry aimed at the most privileged, activists [...] have sabotaged the Vieille-Toulouse and Blagnac golf courses by definitively blocking up some holes with cement or by damaging the lawn.

“This action is directly aimed at preventing the use of these golf courses and therefore the [act of] watering them, and demands real checks on the water usage of golf courses.”

Extinction Rebellion has also launched a petition calling for the watering of such facilities to be banned once drought restrictions reach their second-highest level. It has collected 1,700 signatures so far.

Worsening drought in France 

After an unusually dry winter and spring, and a summer characterised by four heatwaves, France is currently in the grip of an “historic” drought, and the whole country has some form of warning or water restriction in place. 

Around 100 communes can no longer access drinking water from the tap and are depending on lorry deliveries, and in Var, some residents have been asked to limit their consumption to 150-200 litres per day.

Read more: Parts of French canals closed to boats due to low water level

Read more: Water conflicts multiply in France as drought restrictions extended

Read more: Rainwater, wells: eight questions about water restrictions in France

The department of Haute-Garonne, where the affected golf courses are located, is largely under an ‘alerte renforcée’ – which means that residents and businesses are being told to significantly lower their non-essential water usage – although some areas are on crisis-level alerts.

This highest level of restriction requires residents to stop all non-essential water consumption, and bans the use of water for agricultural purposes. 

The specific nature of the water restrictions applied in each department are decided by the prefecture. If you are unsure about the rules in place in your area, you should check on your prefecture’s website.

Read more: Vigilance, alert, crisis: what France’s four drought warnings mean

You can find out more about drought alerts in your local area through the government Propluvia website.

‘Without water, the green will die in three days’ 

In reaction to the actions of Extinction Rebellion, Nicolas Astier, the director of Golf du Garonne, said: “These people are not well informed about our water consumption: we only water the greens, which is a surface only covering half of a football field.

“We have been paying attention to our water consumption for two months,” he said, adding that he was intending to report the incident to the police. 

Golf de Chantilly director Rémy Dorbeau has said: “Greens only represent 1-2% of the total surface of a golf course. For 18 holes, we need 100-120m³ of water each day on very hot, windy days. 

“When the days are cooler, we use less than that. Using averages is therefore very dangerous: multiplying 100m³ by 365 days does not make sense, for example, as we do not water every day of the year.”

France’s Golf Federation has previously argued that the country’s more than 600 golf courses employ 15,000 people, and that the industry has taken steps to cut its water usage.

“Without water, the green will die in three days and it takes three months to regrow,” Federation spokesperson Gérard Rougie said.

“A course without a green is like an ice rink without ice, it will have to close.” 

Whether golf courses are currently allowed to water their grass will depend on the restrictions in place in the commune in question. 

While many will have been told to reduce their watering schedules by up to 60% or stop watering fairways, it will still be permitted to do so on the greens. 

However, in some areas, such as Maine-et-Loire for example, the practice has been temporarily forbidden. 

Penalties for activists damaging property

If environmental groups staging protests through golf courses are judged to have caused significant damage, they could risk a fine of up to €30,000 and two years in prison.

This risk has not deterred another environmental group, Youth for Climate, whose activists turned off sprinkler valves on public lawns earlier this month.

“Between watering a lawn and saving water so that people can live during the drought, we have made our choice,” the organisation tweeted, adding that watering golf courses was “useless and harmful”.

A petition calling for an end to golf course watering 

Action Kirikou has issued a statement with its petition, which argues: “At a time when 93 out of 96 departments are under water usage restrictions, sometimes leading to total bans on irrigation for market gardeners and farmers, a section concerning a minimal fraction of the population appears to be enjoying a privilege belonging to another world to this crisis: golf.

“On drought alert levels two and three, watering greens, fairways and tees is allowed (subject to a self-regulation which is obviously respected scrupulously…) while watering vegetables is more and more restricted. 

“So food now comes after the odd few hours of pleasure enjoyed by a bourgeois elite?

“It is not until the final level of drought [restriction] that watering golf courses is finally banned…and even then we might dare to imagine that some courses will get around it!”

The petition goes on to claim that in 2002, the 107 French golf courses that existed at the time used 36 million cubic metres of water over a year, the same as the annual consumption of a town of 500,000 people.

Applied to the number which exist today, “this is an extrapolated consumption of 207 million cubic metres per year, the same as a city of more than 2,800,000 inhabitants!”

French politicians have also called for tighter restrictions on golf course watering, with the mayor of Grenoble, Eric Piolle, asking BFMTV in July: “Why can we water golfing greens when everyone is short of water?”

La France Insoumise MP Hendrik Davi has also tweeted: “During a drought, it is banned to fill swimming pools, but golf courses must only reduce their consumption [...] and water between 19:00 and 09:00. 

“An 18-hole [course] needs 5,000 cubic metres each day, the same as what 12,000 people consume.”

Where else is still allowed to water grass spaces? 

As well as golf courses, sports facilities such as football and rugby pitches, tennis courts and equestrian eventing spaces are still allowed to water their grass in the drought.

However, they are subject to restrictions and can only carry out watering at night in general.

Some sports clubs have, however, been accused of watering outside of the permitted timetable.

Jean-Marc Lecourt, president of the Société française des gazons, has argued that: “If we water the grass, it is not to make it green, but to keep it alive, and especially to ensure the physical safety of players” in football or other sports. 

“If the ground is not playable, the club’s finances are at stake!”

It has been suggested that sports clubs could use fake grass to save water but: “This would not be so good an idea,” Mr Lecourt said. “We have developed irrigation systems for these grounds, as when it is hot we cannot play on them. 

“The difference in temperature is higher with fake grass.”

Some clubs, like the Groupama Stadium in Décines-Charpieu (Rhône) have started collecting rainwater for their grass.

Related articles 

France drought: can public car washes stay open despite restrictions?

‘You have to change your lifestyle’: tips to cut water usage in France

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