Eco-Friendly Golf Development Case Study: El Chocolatal Eco Resort Part 2

As mentioned in Part One of this Case Study, El Chocolatal Golf Eco-Resort in Bolivia is going beyond regular expectations of an "environmentally friendly golf course" and is attempting to create the lightest possible footprint. It is a challenge to say the least.

How is this build different?
The 100 ha property is only 1.5 km from the Pilon Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Indigenous Territory, separated only by steep, pristine forested municipal watershed reserve. The property consists of heavily-logged tall forest along with patches of secondary forest that were under slash and burn agriculture, when we bought the land. We have left wide strips of natural regenerating forest between fairways. Many species appreciate the increased surface area of the edge between forest and the open spaces provided by the fairways. We have also left corridors of forest between the steep, pristine land at the back, and the stream that forms one of the property boundaries. This acts as a buffer and controlled entrance to the protected areas benefiting huge region where wildlife is protected.

What were the key challenges?
The biggest challenge is to build a golf course in an area with no knowledge of golf courses. The closest course is 400 km away and at 3,350 masl, the highest golf course in the world. Very little experience they have gained is of use to us. What we have done is to use older golf books that predate the use of modern pesticides and fertilizers and try to use best practices known from 100 years ago.
The soils are pure sand by texture. This facilitates internal drainage and the grounds can be walked on even during prolonged downpours. The greens are natural “push up” greens, and the bunkers have been sunk into the sand wherever necessary. No soil or sand has been brought in from outside.
A natural push up green is one that builds on the natural soil little by little rather than digging everything up, putting in drainage and trucking in commercial material as it would be done in the US according to modern construction practices.
The sandy texture also provides a major challenge. To manage tropical sandy soils you need to have a permanent input of organic matter due to the high, year round oxidation rates. Our solution has been to hide large composting areas in the forest near each green and accelerate the decomposition of natural forest litter which is mixed with wood ash and applied to the greens. Our fairways have natural nutrient cycling from mowing, from the grazing horses and litter fall from surrounding forest.
We initially expected to incorporate the stream into the fairways, but the steep sandy banks proved to be fragile and will be left under complete forest cover. 
It is also a challenge to build an “organic” golf course given that this is difficult anywhere in the world. For example, in the first two years the Bermuda Grass initially collected from local streets, was attacked by at least 5 species of caterpillar living in the surrounding forest. There was a temptation to apply insecticides as several infestations virtually stripped every blade of grass. However, by not applying pesticide the populations of natural enemies increased and the problem became controllable. Once we began mowing regularly it helped control these pests as they needed longer stalks to survive.
Modern US courses are done now with special clones. We wanted to bring as few species as possible. Who knows when this grass came here. It very likely came up the Amazon through the centuries, but may be even older than that. Nobody plants it, but it survives in towns and villages in the streets where there is a certain level of traffic. As such, the Bermuda grass and other native species are ideal for the golf course. And let us not forget that a century ago, when golf courses were still designed to put the natural elements into play, virtually all fairways and greens in South Eastern USA were based on Bermuda Grass. 
On opening the first 9 holes, the challenge is to continually improve the playability of the course without affecting its unique nature.

What about your guests Carbon footprint?
When you are worrying about the 14 dollars of carbon that your flight to Bolivia might emit, don’t forget that you would also be contributing 500 to 1,000 dollars to a sustainable economy in the Amazon based on the true appreciation and management of its resources. And you would be playing on the world’s most biodiverse golf course, designed, constructed and managed to pool CO2 rather than generate it, and conceived to give the player a unique golf experience on environmentally and socially sustainable conditions.

For more details on El Chocolatal feel free to contact co-founders Dr. Daniel Robison (construction) and Dr. Morten Schmidt (design) at El ChocolatalGolf Eco-Resort.


looks like a very interesting project

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