Sorry, the Melreese Country Club Is Not a "Green Space" or a Park

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Technically, the Melreese Country Club is a green space. In satellite views of Miami, it is a large space that is green. The grass and smattering of trees around the links are, in fact, green. This is undeniable.

But is Melreese a "green space," as claimed by some opponents of David Beckham's new plan to build a gigantic soccer-stadium-centered complex on the city-owned course? Nope! And sorry, it's not a park, either.

True green spaces are environmentally friendly buffers against development. Green spaces nourish the local ecosystem. By almost any sane definition, golf courses do not meet those standards. Slathered with pesticides, golf courses suck up water resources at a staggering rate — all to support enormous acreage primarily used by a small, wealthy minority of residents.

Check out these stats from a Fast Company piece on golf's environmental challenges:

In an age of fast-declining water supplies, the average U.S. course uses 312,000 gallons of water a day, or the equivalent of what a family of four gets through in four years (some courses use as many as one million gallons). And, many courses use huge quantities of chemicals, as they try to live up to an ideal of a bright-green, perfectly presented course. A mid-1990s estimate by the Neighborhood Network, a Long Island environmental group, found that U.S. courses used an annual 65 million pounds of dry bulk pesticides, and 2.9 million pounds of liquid pesticides. 
Those pesticides, of course, wash into groundwater supplies and affect birds and other local animal populations. And thanks to a powerful golf lobby with deep ties to entrenched politicians on both sides of the aisle, golf courses even got an exemption to keep using one extremely damaging pesticide called methyl bromide — which depletes the ozone and can cause human health problems — for nearly a decade after the EPA banned it everywhere else.

That exemption ended in 2013, and golf has made a very public push to become more environmentally friendly in recent years by using more "gray" wastewater and fewer pesticides. Courses can be effective homes for some migratory birds.

But even with those improvements, pretending that a massive, artificially watered and chemically enhanced course is a "green space" just because it includes grass and some trees is absurd.

Melreese also fails any logical definition of a "park," despite the rallying cry of "Don't Pave Our Parks" adopted by some Beckham opponents. Parks are open to the community. They're open to everyone — runners, cyclists, barbecuers, drunken frisbee tossers, yoga crews, those guys who balance on canvas ropes between trees, abuelitas with kids in strollers. Does that sound like a golf course?

Melreese does include a tennis court and a restaurant, but those options don't make it a public park:

Even for golfers, a round at Melreese runs $75 for Miami residents and $125 for visitors. The course is a privately run enterprise that has lost money eight of the last ten years, as Local 10's Glenna Milberg reported. That does not sound like a park!

There are perfectly legitimate reasons to be opposed to the latest plan from Beckham and his new partners, Jorge and Jose Mas. The golf community points out that thousands of kids learn the game for free at the park, and that it's the only city-run course in town. They've managed to snag 21,000 signatures on a petition with that argument, and more power to them.

There are major questions to answer at this Thursday's city commission meeting about the finances of the deal. Would $4 million a year in rent really be a fair rate to taxpayers for a massive, private complex that could make serious bank for the Mas brothers? Where did they get their estimate that the stadium project would generate $44 million a year in taxes?

But don't buy the idea that Melreese is some environmentally important gem in a paved-over city. That's never been what golf courses are, and it's not a valid reason to argue against Beckham's plan.