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Environmentalists cry 'fore!' in China

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In a 1996 Sports Illustrated interview discussing his ethnicity, Tiger Woods declared that he was "mathematically Asian." If current trends continue, the same could be said for the sport of golf. With exciting players like Mr. Woods dominating the game, golf's popularity in Asia doubled in the 1990s. Industry analysts expect twofold growth by 2008 - but new players will materialize only if the region constructs more golf courses.

Though much of Southeast Asia offers the tropical weather and cheap, plentiful land that first lured golf course developers to the area, the industry has now set its sights on the greatest prize of them all: China. While China entered the golf business more slowly than its neighbors - the country is expected to have constructed only 100 courses by 2004 - it is poised to play a much larger role in the industry than its Asian neighbors. With China's immense urban population growing wealthier and more westernized, the possibilities for further growth are nearly endless.

Golf is more than a sport; it has the potential to help drive economies. In Japan alone, golf has added as much as $14 billion to the national economy, according to The Economist. While China is primed to reap the benefits of golf's growing popularity, the country is also susceptible to the problems that have plagued other Asian countries. The costs of increased golf course development, though less apparent, are high; construction disrupts ecosystems due to heavy water demand and the use of harmful chemicals, and it has even led to social unrest.

The United States - home to more than 16,000 golf courses - was ranked the world's No. 1 wasteful water-user at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto recently. Golf is partly to blame. By conservative estimates, to maintain one 18-hole American golf course, 3,000 cubic meters of water run through sprinklers every day - the same amount of water sufficient to meet the average daily usage of 15,000 Americans.

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