GOLFING great Gary Player yesterday hit out at critics who claim golf courses are bad for the environment, but brought on a heap of further criticism from conservationists. Following a meeting with Hongkong officials about the possibility of siting a 36-hole, public golfing facility on Kau Sai Chau, the South African superstar said there were many misconceptions about golf courses and the environment, and they could be beneficial. But Green Power founder Dr Simon Chau Sui-cheong dismissed Player's claims as ''total rubbish'', and said there was plenty of evidence to show golf courses did more harm than good. Player, who will be producing preliminary layout plans for the courses, said: ''Golf courses are a gift to nature. It's vitally important to have these green belts . . . particularly in populated areas. ''I think people should be showing more concern about problems such as pollution and over-population, rather than putting up more buildings. ''Golf courses act as green belts and help to keep people sane. If things were left to some human beings, we would be inundated with highways and high-rises,'' he said. ''The point is that if golf courses are built correctly, they will not only enhance the environment aesthetically and as far as wildlife is concerned, but also serve a lot of people. ''The proposed land for this project in Hongkong is lying fallow at the moment. It is an ideal location and is suitable for golf. We would love to put it to good use for thousands of people.'' But Dr Chau said golf courses were like green concrete and drove away wildlife rather than protecting it. He said the grass used on the courses did not absorb water well, so it ran off into streams, carrying with it chemical pesticides and fertilisers. The clearing of land for courses also destroyed flora and drove away insects and animals, which usually did not return. ''People cannot improve nature. You don't give people more access to nature by destroying it,'' he said. But Dr Chau claimed that while he was opposed to any more golf courses being built, the Kau Sai Chau site would probably be less harmful to the environment than a proposed course on Shalotung, where the wildlife variety is much richer. Player, who attended a press conference yesterday to launch the Shenzhen-based Sand River Golf Club, also stressed the importance of providing more public courses across southeast Asia, to help dispel the image that golf was a rich man's game. ''Golf should not be classified as a sport for rich people. It should be a sport for everyone and we have to convince the powers that be how necessary it is to build public courses in Hongkong,'' he said. Mr John Halliday, chairman of the Golf Association of Hongkong's Public Course Sub-committee, said he was encouraged by Player's views with regard to Kau Sai Chau, an uninhabited island between Sai Kung and High Island. It was formerly used by the British army for shelling practice. ''He is very conscious about how expensive it is to play golf in this part of the world and wants to see more opportunities for juniors,'' Mr Halliday said. ''He was sincere in his desire to be productive and helpful in our cause with regard to Kau Sai Chau.'' The Golf Association is trying to convince the Government to hand over the land and come up with financial support to construct the complex, which is estimated to cost between HK$200 million and HK$300 million.