Alex Rowell

A new golf course in Lebanon?

An image posted on the course architect’s website shows Beirut and the Mediterranean below

While Lebanon’s vastly diverse geography and climate allow for almost every kind of sport and recreation at some time of year, one game that has never quite managed to flourish in the country is golf. Since its opening in 1923, the Golf Club of Lebanon in Beirut’s southern suburbs has remained the only course in the country. 90 years later, the French Mandate-era complex is something of an anachronism in the impoverished Ouzai neighborhood, whose bare-brick shanties surround the course and even sprawl onto the grass in places. Of its few thousand members, only a minority are said to be regular players.


This may be set to change, however, as plans to build a new course in the hills of Roumieh, 18km east of Beirut, are currently under negotiation. The Lebanese architectural and engineering firm Khatib & Alami is partnering with British golf architects Swan Golf Designs (SGD) with an aim to build an 18-hole course that will, in the words of a press release, offer “views of the capital city to the Mediterranean beyond” and “be set within the indigenous forest with holes sweeping through the valleys, making the most out of the changes in elevation that the spectacular location affords.” It will constitute part of a wider development also comprising residential real estate and a hotel.


At present, the plans are still “very much in the preliminary stages of negotiations with the various ministries,” according to SGD course architect Howard Swan. “We’re currently going through some environmental negotiations and impact assessments.” In terms of the overall timeline, Swan told NOW, “we hope that toward the end of the year there might be a chance that we get started [on construction],” though “it depends on the government and how long the negotiations take to get the approvals.”


One such approval will need to come from the Ministry of Environment. While Roumieh is perhaps best known for its crowded and often chaotic prison, it is also home to a sizeable pine tree forest.


“We don’t want to be an obstacle for development in any part of Lebanon,” Environment Minister Nazem al-Khoury told NOW. “But environmental issues and conservation are our priority. Because this is a big project […] we have to have an EIA – an environmental impact assessment.


“Of course, they [would] need to pull out some trees,” said Khoury. Accordingly, one scenario being discussed is for the developers to pay for reforestation elsewhere. “We could count all the trees that are going to be pulled down, and replant them,” he told NOW.


Though the Roumieh municipality website describes preservation of its forest as a “major objective,” village mayor Louis Khater Abi Habib told NOW he had no objections to the plans. “Definitely, if they can do it, why not? We will support it, obviously.”


Indeed, Swan said he did not foresee environmental factors being a problem. “Not at all, [the government has] been very supportive.” He argued that a golf course is an environmental asset; a “lung in the city,” that could be “maintained positively for the environment, creating new habitats.” It is in Roumieh’s interests to support the project, he added, as “there is not too much open space left in that particular area.”


Minister for Tourism Fadi Abboud took a similarly upbeat view of the project. Though he hadn’t been informed of the plans when NOW mentioned them, he described the news as “music to my ears.”


“We need golf courses, they are very important for tourism. In the [United Arab] Emirates, particularly Dubai, they’ve taken golf very seriously, and in all honesty they’ve succeeded. We have the right weather, we have the right terrain, and we should take it seriously too. If this is happening, I’m very happy.”


Asked if he thought the course would get government approval, he replied, “Why not? A golf course should be not only accepted, it should be [fast-tracked] quickly. There is no reason not to.”


Mayor Abi Habib, however, told NOW that commercial feasibility considerations may end up derailing the project. “I don’t know whether it will ever take off because it has a lot of complications. The terrain is very steep, and for a golf course you need a lot of flat area, so it’s going to take a lot more land than would normally be needed.”


The mayor went on: “I think they’re having second thoughts about the whole thing.” Khatib & Alami, whom Swan said are currently studying the commercial feasibility, was not immediately available for comment.

The course developers are currently seeking approval from ministries including the Environment Ministry (Image source: swangolfdesigns.com)

"[The 18-hole course will] 'be set within the indigenous forest with holes sweeping through the valleys.'”

  • CrazyLEB

    The consultants have no idea what they are talking about. They're setting a golf course in a highly karstic zone with very steep slopes. This is just another environmental disaster to hit Beirut. They're killing a forest and creating a quarry site for the next three to five years (until leveling works are done). The Ministry of Environment's people know it but are hushed by oppressive project owners.

    January 9, 2014

  • Lebanawn

    This the last thing Lebanon needs. Golf courses are a huge waste of space and resources. How about making some green areas that everyone can enjoy.

    February 26, 2013