Ecology matters

Richard Stuttardin Golf

RichardStuttard.jpgEntries to the 2009 Golf Course Environment Awards have now closed. In the meantime, it's worth noting that the various elements on which the Awards are judged make an important contribution to the package a golf facility has to offer.

Many clubs are addressing one or two of these elements, but few have considered them all. With this article I want to highlight the various opportunities a golf facility has towards maximising its appeal and continuing to run successfully as a business.

Nature Conservation - are you creating the best environment for your club?

Enhancing the natural environment on the golf course is something STRI has promoted throughout the golf industry for the past twenty years. The creation of a diverse environment within which to play golf has a much more vital role in the success of a golf course than many people realise. There is no doubt that the maintenance of good quality playing surfaces is critical to both a club's reputation and success, yet, without a diverse and memorable setting within which to play, a club is lacking one of the key 'hooks' that retains members and attracts new blood.

No matter what type of course, be it parkland, heathland, downland or links, natural surroundings can be used to great effect, both from an aesthetic and strategic aspect. The following summarises just some of the options for nature conservation on the golf course and what you could be doing to promote them:

Deep rough grassland
Deep rough grassland is a valuable habitat resource for insects, small mammals and ground nesting birds. If managed appropriately, it can also provide striking fairway definition and be used as an integral strategic element.

By considering golfing play and ecological value when planning the development and management of grasslands you are automatically maximising the value of this habitat to your golf facility.

Trees and woodland

As well as forming important strategic features, trees and woodland blocks have considerable wildlife value, but do require active management.

• Thinning and re-stocking work will create or maintain a diverse structure and assist in woodland regeneration.
• The removal of non-native trees and the introduction of more appropriate species ensures that your course stays true to its natural surroundings.
• Retaining deadwood (standing deadwood or ecopiles) is of great benefit to many insect species.
• The promotion of birdlife via the introduction of bird boxes, that can be monitored with sightings detailed on the club notice board and website, invokes interest in on-course wildlife and broadens the appeal of the club.

Heathland is a diminishing resource in the UK and one that adds a great deal of aesthetic and ecological interest to the golf course. Golf clubs can play an important part in maintaining and preserving areas of heath.

The creation and appropriate management of areas of heath can be a complex issue requiring specific and well timed operations. There are a number of UK golf clubs that are synonymous with their heathland component, further emphasising the power of a well-managed environment.

Water features

Appropriately sited and managed water features create a great deal of visual, strategic and ecological interest on the golf course.

If left unmanaged, however, they can become surrounded by scrub vegetation, dominated by algal blooms, acquire a deep layer of silt and become somewhat of an eyesore. It is, therefore, important to consider the management of these features, along with all other represented habitats on the course, via a well structured management plan.

Turfgrass Management - are you spending more than you need to?

Turfgrass management is crucial to the success of a golf facility. Inappropriate management can lead to poor quality surfaces, be damaging to the environment, and may be extremely costly. Ensuring surfaces are subject to sufficient light and air movement, together with the implementation of cultural management practices, may significantly reduce the need for pesticide, fertiliser and water inputs. The financial savings alone can be remarkable.

Waste Management - an opportunity to improve golf's image

The production and management of waste on the golf course is an issue of increasing importance. All businesses are being looked upon to become more resourceful and to embrace the use of recycled materials as well as developing their own recycling initiatives. By doing this, golf clubs can help to further dispel their former negative environmental image.
One of the most prominent waste related issues on the golf course is grass waste. Spreading clippings in areas of rough goes against the idea of environmental enhancement detailed above, as the introduction of nutrient enriched clippings to an area inevitably brings about the promotion of nutrient loving vegetation - i.e. coarse grass species and scrub.

A more appropriate use of the clippings would be to create a dedicated composting area, where clippings and waste from other on-course management operations (wood chip etc) can be used positively.

Water Management - are you aware of your responsibilities?

Water use on the golf course can be costly, particularly if your primary source is from the mains. Wherever possible, alternatives to mains water should be used. This may be in the form of a bore hole or reservoir for course irrigation, whilst smaller scale initiatives, such as water butts, can provide sufficient water for clubhouse gardens. Minimising the need for water, through turfgrass management that promotes less demanding grass species, can reduce the financial and environmental burden, as well as resulting in a healthier series of playing surfaces.

Additionally, clubs are now required to have suitable systems in place to deal with waste water from washdown areas. The implementation of mechanical water recycling facilities or reedbeds to cleanse waste water is something all course managers need to be aware of.

Communication - There's no "I" in team

Maintaining strong communication links between all those involved at the golf club - i.e. greenstaff, committee and members - can allow developments at the club to progress with more vigour and greater harmony. An open and unified approach to golf course management can be achieved via the use of newsletters, notice boards, club website, evening presentations and on-course signage.

So what's the next step?

A few key elements towards the maintenance of a successful golf facility are covered above. It's not an exhaustive list, nor is it a miracle fix to bypass the effects of the recession, but it is, without doubt, the most appropriate direction for your club to be heading. Most clubs have gone some way towards addressing a number of the areas discussed but are in need of some guidance as to how to proceed further.

If you feel you are making progress in any of the areas mentioned above, it is well worth considering entering the Golf Course Environment Awards next year to gain valuable industry wide recognition for your work and advice on what to do next, as well as receiving one of a wide range of prizes and awards.

For more information visit or call STRI's Ecology and Environment Unit on 01274 518903 to discuss of any of the matters highlighted above.

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