Recently I learned of a new development in Bolivia, El Chocolatal Golf Eco-Resort. Now I don't know much about Bolivia, so perhaps that is a good place to start, and we'll look at other aspects of this project in another post. I touched base with Morten Schimdt and Daniel Robinson, co-founders of the project to learn more...
This is a common reaction to the news of an 18 hole golf course near Rurrenabaque, the gateway to the Bolivian Amazon. Over the last 15 years Bolivia has set aside almost 20% of its surface in some form of protected area. Rurrenabaque is the principal access to 4.8 million ha of 5 contiguous protected areas, 3 in Bolivia and 2 in Peru. To date virtually all of the direct costs of these areas have been covered by foreign governments, but there is an indirect social effect: what are local people to do if they are no longer able to fish, farm, hunt or cut wood in these vast areas? What is to be done with those areas outside?
The simple answer is tourism. Rurrenabaque currently receives 30,000 tourists a year resulting in a vibrant regional economy. Though significant, existing tourism is a gross “underutilization” of protected areas such as Madidi National Park, considered the most biodiverse in the world with an expected 1,000 bird species (all of North America has around 800). For these areas to be socially sustainable it is vital to attract and satisfy, a wider range of visitors, thus providing more, and better, local employment. The more inhabitants’ livelihoods are tied to successful conservation, the more interested in conservation they become.We expect that in the long term, golf courses will be limited to those areas with well distributed rainfall like Scotland and… the Amazon. Golf courses in deserts using fossil water will disappear and those that can provide satisfying golf with little irrigation and little fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides will survive.
We are aiming to have the most biodiverse golf course in the world. During construction we have registered 4 wildcat species of the 6 present in the lowlands from Argentina to Mexico, including jaguar (tracks) and jaguarondi. Even under construction it is an excellent place for bird watching. You are guaranteed to see multiple toucans calling in the evening. You can hear the famous Screaming Piha from the club house. This is a bird well known for inhabiting only tall Amazonian forest. Though we do not have a complete baseline, ornithologists expect 150 to 200 species on the golf course. The caddies know more about the local flora and fauna than about golf.