2021 Golf Environment Awards Winners

STRIin Conservation & Ecology

The STRI are pleased to announce the winners of the Golf Environment Awards 2021 which were announced on Wednesday 16 December during their first ever virtual ceremony.

We are so appreciative of everyone's feedback on the event which, thankfully, went without a hitch! We had the usual tears from Bob, a few tongue-tied moments, and the overuse of 'amazing' and 'incredible', but it wouldn't be the Golf Environment Awards without all of these! We hope that the passion and atmosphere that we all usually experience during the awards managed to come through your computer screens and hope that you enjoyed watching as much as we enjoyed presenting.

In an odd year, to say the least, the Golf Environment Awards have provided a beacon of hope and a sense of community. The awards bring us all together, if not always in person. We want to thank everyone for their support this year for allowing the Golf Environment Awards to continue to provide a platform to showcase all that is good in golf. So, without further ado, and if you haven't heard already, the winners of this year's Golf Environment Awards are…

Effingham Golf Club - Operation Pollinator 2021

Having been a finalist in 2019, Effingham Golf Club finally took the award for Operation Pollinator 2021. As soon as you arrive at Effingham you are greeted by one of many Operation Pollinator areas created by Jon Budd and his team, showing visitors to the Club what to expect as they head out on the golf course. As a result of the greenkeeping teams efforts, the golf course now supports 21 hectares of wildflower rich grassland, managed with pollinators and playability in mind.

As you enter the car park at Effingham, the audibly buzzing wildflower area that welcomes you was once a tennis court. Three years ago, Jon and his team transformed it into a thriving pollinator patch by removing 2 ft of dense clay and replacing with chalk and nutrient-poor soil. The team enlisted the help of Surrey Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation to create a bespoke wildflower seed mix to benefit local pollinating insects and sowed this alongside fescue to create a rich, diverse and long-lasting Operation Pollinator area.

Jon Budd

Out on the golf course, where there were once undefined, wide fairways, now lies thin and wispy rough filled with chalk grassland wildflowers. These areas require infrequent mowing thanks to their open structure but, when management is required, Jon engages the assistance of a local farmer who bails and takes away the Clubs grass cuttings for hay, benefiting all involved.

Adding even more pollinator benefits, Jon has also introduced two beehives on the golf course nearby one of the many swathes of nectar-rich grassland. He plans to introduce no more hives, understanding the need reduce competition for our other native bee species in the UK. He communicates this well, along with the other benefits that wildflowers can bring for biodiversity via YouTube videos, guided walks and course blogs, inspiring members and other locals to create their own Operation Pollinator areas in their gardens at home.

Effingham Golf Club showcases Operation Pollinator like no other. Congratulations to the whole team!

Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club - Outstanding Environmental Project of the Year 2021

A truly landscape-scale conservation project took the title of Outstanding Environmental Project of the Year 2021 at Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club. Over the last few years, the team at GEO Certified® Pyle and Kenfig have been part of the Dunes 2 Dunes project, working with Natural Resources Wales, Bridgend County Borough Council, and other local landowners, farms and golf clubs (Royal Porthcawl Golf Club) to restore and enhance the internationally important dune landscape along the Kenfig National Nature Reserve (NNR) coastline.

The greenkeeping team, headed by Paul Johnson, have now created nine sand scrapes and three dune slacks in areas formerly occupied by scrub, bracken and coarse grasses to knock back natural succession and create new, important habitats within the golf course. Not only has this boosted biodiversity, but the new scrapes also have the added benefit of creating a visually beautiful and more playable golf course. The works have been so well received by members that the Club plan to create even more scrapes alongside new natural wildflower areas and bee banks as part of their ongoing ecological management plan. This create further habitat for a wide range of fauna and the Club are now able to screen and re-use the sand gained from sand scrape creation for other course maintenance works. Win-win!

The judges were stunned to discover that the surveys undertaken throughout the project identified species that had never been recorded within the golf course before, or indeed the local area. These included great crested newt, shrill carder bee, lesser horseshoe bat and over 3000 fen orchid of which Pyle and Kenfig are pleased to support the largest population within the UK, comprising around 50% of all records!

The Club have worked hard to communicate their efforts within the wider community, engaging with volunteers and local school pupils to show them that golf courses are more than greens, tees and fairways, but that they encompass incredibly important habitats and in-house, detailed knowledge on how to manage these for wildlife.

Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club have demonstrated purpose, innovation and effective nature conservation at a landscape scale. Congratulations to all involved!

Jon Keepen of Cumberwell Park Golf Club - Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2021

After being a finalist in this category in 2018, we are so pleased to crown Jon the winner of Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2021. Having impressed the judges each time he has entered, this year Jon truly wowed the panel with his incredible efforts to enhance the biodiversity within, and beyond, Cumberwell Park. Jon regularly communicates his conservation work, using social media very well as well as presenting talks for members and other community groups such as the Women's Institute. He has also discussed his important work on both TV and radio in the past, spreading the message that golf courses can be managed to support wildlife and let it thrive.

As Head of Conservation, Jon has transformed over 150 acres of the site into rough grassland, creating extensive green corridors throughout the three courses to not only provide important habitat for invertebrates, ground nesting birds and small mammals, but also provide definition to golf holes through the main playing season and reduce management requirements. Indirectly, birds of prey including kestrel, barn owl and little owl have increased dramatically throughout Cumberwell because of increased availability of prey and the provision of numerous nest boxes on the many specimen trees that lie within the swathes of vole-rich grasslands.

As you can imagine, 150 acres of grassland needs management, which in turn provides huge amounts of hay. At Cumberwell, Jon has worked with a local farmer who bails and collects hay from the courses to feed cattle. In 2018, this was more important than ever due to low hay supplies across the UK as a result of drought. Jon and the team continue to provide this crucial support to the wider local community.

Outside of his role as a greenkeeper and conservationist at Cumberwell, Jon regularly assists other local wildlife groups to boost his knowledge, engage his passion for wildlife and continue working towards his own bird ringing licence. This year, Jon has continued to assist his friend and mentor, Major Nigel Lewis, to make sure that sites within Wiltshire, beyond Cumberwell, continued to be surveyed for barn owl and other raptors whilst other volunteer members, most of whom are elderly, had to isolate due to the pandemic. Without Jon's help, it is unlikely that the sites would have been surveyed and decades of continual monitoring would have been broken.

It is Jon's selfless acts of kindness and completely humble attitude that really impressed the judges. During his time at Cumberwell he has overseen the planting of 5000 new trees, 620 m of new hedgerow, 150 acres of enhanced grasslands, the construction of one artificial kingfisher nest, engagement with numerous wildlife charities and the ringing of five kestrel, three barn owl and one little owl, in just this year alone. It is hard to understand how Jon fits it all in, but he does, and that is why he is Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2021.

Nairn Dunbar Golf Club - Environmental Golf Course of the Year 2021

A club that has seemingly done it all! Richard Johnstone and the team at GEO Certified® Nairn Dunbar Golf Club have proudly won the award of Environmental Golf Course of the Year 2021. With a sustainable approach across all departments, the Club have seen improved performance thanks to their efforts to reduce environmental impacts and enhance biodiversity.

Out on the golf course, Richard and the greenkeeping staff work tirelessly to manage the difficult links landscape surrounding the golf holes as well as maintaining excellent playing surfaces. Scrub invasion has been reduced year on year with the creation of naturalised sand scrapes and dune grassland, creating valuable habitat for a range of wildlife and reducing maintenance requirements. Other existing habitats within the golf course have been enhanced too. Waterbodies within the course have received less frequent management to encourage marginal vegetation to thrive and provide habitat for nesting birds, amphibians and insects. As we expect from most golf courses, Nairn Dunbar is also home to numerous bird nest boxes, and brash and log piles - all incredibly valuable wildlife installations that also provide a talking point to inspire conversations about conservation.

Richard introduced a rough management programme in 2016 and this has continued out of season ever since to allow regeneration of open, wispy roughs to allow wildflowers to thrive and golfers to find stray balls. This change in management has seen rough cutting reduce from 24 hours a week to just 4 hours. There is now the added benefit that the rough forms habitat corridors throughout the links as it connects with woodland, wetland, scrub, marsh and bare sand scrapes.

Richard Johnstone

One such scrape really impressed the judges as it now supports a sand martin colony following the installation of a sheer dune face. With the Club's permission, bird ringers from the RSPB and BTO now monitor the colony each year to track longevity and survival rates, benefiting the conservation of this important species.

Turfgrass management has also been tweaked to be more environmentally friendly, whilst still ensuring great playability and disease and pest management. In the last four years, the Club have reduced their fertiliser output by 75% and are now mostly organic based. In that time, no fungicide applications have been made and pests and disease have been few and far between thanks to a switch to holistic management, including spiking, sand topdressing, careful water management and a programme to introduce more bents and fescues.

Reducing waste of all kinds is one of Nairn Dunbar's goals. Recycling bins can be found throughout the links for golfers and visitors to use and this continues in the clubhouse and maintenance facilities ensuring that very little goes to landfill. Paper use is discouraged throughout the business, reusable water bottles are preferred, and bamboo tees are now sold, instead of plastic. The Club have also switched to bulk buying to reduce delivery and packaging and try to reuse and recycle as much as possible, for example by offering old furniture to local homeless shelters and using pallets to construct nest boxes.

That isn't everything, but we'd hate for this article celebrating Nairn Dunbar Golf Club's win to turn into a list! You can find out more about what changes the Club have made via their various social media pages and award-winning blog. The Club share their environmental practices with the golf industry, local community and beyond ensuring all can hear about the great things that the Club are doing to safeguard and enhance the environment. Congratulations to Nairn Dunbar Golf Club!

Thank you to all of the Golf Environment Awards 2021 entrants, we couldn't have done it without you and the industry needs you to keep flying the flag for sustainable sport.

You can watch the full virtual presentation HERE