“Equipment and machinery budgets remain very restrictive”

Julián Lara – founder and president of Riversa, Spain’s leading company for golf course equipment, machinery and irrigation systems, involved for nearly 40 years in the industry – talks about the past, present and future of this economic segment... among other subjects.

1 – How would you describe the current situation in the golf course equipment and machinery industry in Spain?

- I would best describe it as sluggish. During the years of crisis – which also affected the golf industry, and quite a lot – budgets were restricted and this affected staff and, of course, equipment. Even though the situation at golf courses is improving, budgets remain very restrictive.

2 – With the crisis, have golf courses invested in, or are they investing in, equipment that they do really need for optimal maintenance?

- I understand that during the crisis they didn’t invest in anything, taking into account the fact that most courses were suffering losses, but now – in recent years – the situation has been changing and they are still not investing. I believe this is a serious mistake, because the most important asset that a golf course has is its course and – if you want to offer a good product – you must invest in it to maintain quality amenities.

3 – What have technological innovations in irrigation systems meant for golf courses?

- Irrigation systems for golf courses have evolved tremendously in recent years, and all the innovation has been focused on controlling water usage. These days you don’t talk about water usage but rather saving water. We have systems such as Toro’s Lynx that enable us to control each litre of water consumed, second by second.

4 – Have better golf courses been built this century than when you began operations, 38 years ago?

- It’s been difficult to improve on the classic traditional courses, among other reasons, because they haven’t provided the amount of land that a good course requires. Apart from such exceptions as Nuevo Prat in Barcelona or Soto de Manzanaque in Madrid, the others haven’t surpassed the classic courses of the 20th century.

5 – Over the past four decades has there been any revolutionary innovation in maintenance equipment?

- Innovation and improvements in maintenance equipment have come in the area of quality cutting and productivity, as well as in better ergonomics, and in this sense there have been great advances. These days you can see fairways cut with the same quality as greens 20 years ago. Attention has also been paid to the environment, both in noise levels and emissions.

6 – What are the keys, in your opinion, to building a good golf course?

- I would say there are three plus one. That is to say, there are there keys to building a good course and one more, its maintenance afterwards. So for a good course it’s necessary to have good land, at least 70 hectares, a good design and good construction.

7 – It seems as though the Spanish economy has begun to regain its breath, albeit slowly. Have you noticed this recovery in the golf industry?

- Golf courses, especially those in tourist destinations such as the Costa del Sol, Canary Isles and Balearics, have been improving their activity over the past two years, and in some cases even setting new records in number of players. Although this is still not reflected in revenue due to a reduction in prices and the increase in IVA (VAT), which was a serious blow last year. The other courses are still having a bad time, especially members’ clubs due to a decrease in the number of members and the resulting loss of membership fees

8– Do you believe the political authorities are aware of the importance of golf courses for tourism and job creation?

- Politicians and parties have a clear slogan when it comes to golf: they are anti-golf. Some, yes, are aware of the wealth that golf can generate, especially in tourist destinations, but they don’t recognise this publicly because it’s not considered good for a politician to talk well about golf.

This is an issue that we have had pending for several years in Spain, and we can’t find a way to convince the politicians. In other countries – Portugal, France, Germany and not to say England – political support for viable projects is unconditional.

9– The high water consumption for golf course irrigation is one issue frequently criticised by ecological groups. What arguments can you offer to reject this criticism?

- Ecologists are another group who oppose golf on a matter of principle. And water consumption is one of their most common arguments. In the first place, water usage levels are nowhere near what they claim them to be. They speak of 400,000 cubic metres a year for an 18-hole golf course, and that’s not true. Consumption depends on the surface that has to be irrigated, the kind of ground, the climate, the grass type, etc. However, in any event, today there are irrigation systems that control each litre of water consumed and in no case are these totals reached. In the second place, in many regions of Spain it is stipulated by law that water used to irrigate golf courses has to be recycled, in which case it is water that is re-used rather than wasted.