Sustainable Golf Week Q and A

James Kimmingsin Golf

With it being Sustainable Golf Week (SGW), we spoke to Deputy Course Manager, Scott Aitchison from Royal Dornoch Golf Club in this quick-fire Q&A about his passion for sustainability and how the week can benefit the future of golf.

Scott began his greenkeeping journey back in 1991 as a summer seasonal for Prestwick St Nicholas, after which he was offered an apprenticeship which began when he left school the following year. He then moved up to Dornoch in 1998 as a first assistant running the second course, the Struie, and was promoted to deputy in 2008, on his journey so far, He said "I've not been found out yet"

Do you think that sustainable golf week is a good idea?

The main reason I think it is a good idea is because we still have so far to reach spreading awareness. Even though so many are on board there are some who may not feel they have the time or resources to get involved. SGW is just one way of getting the message across social media and helping people understand that having the right mindset costs nothing and that every little thing you do with nature or the environment in mind is helping. Keeping that message circulating helps people get to that mindset.

Have you implemented any sustainability projects into your course management?

Many! The best one for me is regenerating a salt marsh which is still ongoing and has been for many years, it is getting to the stage where we are seeing real benefits. We were losing part of our 10th hole on the Struie to coastal erosion. We tried the old Christmas tree method we saw work at Troon but we don't really have blown sand on this part of the beach it's more flats.

That didn't work but my boss Eoin had the idea to hammer in chestnut fencing to take the energy out of the wave and deposit the sand. This was successful, a member of the club was involved with monitoring coastlines and noticed saltmarsh wanting to move into the deposited sand. From there we hired a Dr of Salt Marsh Conservation and Restoration who put a plan in place on how to develop this.

We got the local school involved and got the kids down to help transplant the salt marsh which is great for their learning. So now it's quite a big deal we have the salt marsh expert, the coastline expert and the community involved, we are just happy to avoid having to use hard engineering to save our hole, as well as creating an environment for species to thrive in.

Can sustainability drive bring any new challenges? Things such as diseases becoming more prominent

I think what's happened over many years in greenkeeping is we have all chased the manicured look from the telly and a lot of that comes in a bottle or a bag. Getting back to greenkeeping fundamentals is key, as reducing outputs and refocusing our lens to the natural look of the course, the way it was, that's the sustainable goal! It's not going to be easy in some cases but a short-term fix is never a long-term solution anyway. As long as the message is communicated and understood so everyone knows the aim then I think it's the right way to go.

How can greenkeepers help golf in becoming more sustainable? Are greenkeepers arguably some of the most important people for this?

I think the course is the major asset at the majority of clubs so yeah greenkeepers are important. We can help golf by communicating to our memberships the sustainable methods we use when managing the golf course. I think golf courses still carry the stigma where people believe they are ecologically derelict chemical dumps of mismanagement so if we can allow people to see that's not the case then we are on the right path to changing the negative perception some people have of golf.

Can golf courses provide vital habitats for wildlife to thrive? Have you implemented this?

Yeah, we are guided by a five-year ecological programme that helps us with best practices to nurture what we have living on our course and to encourage a variety. This largely surrounds management, rough management removal of invasive species things like that.

Is it a case of everyone working together golfers, greenskeepers and committees?

That's where it comes down to mindset. It takes patience to change habits and it takes time to convince already busy people to look at things a different way but ultimately it's all our responsibility so it absolutely should be all hands on deck. Everyone not just in golf needs to look at themselves to see if they can try a bit harder to help the environment.

Can golf clubs do more to integrate people into the game? Has your club taken this kind of approach?

Targeting young people The junior section at Dornoch is thriving. We get them along at a young age, I think it's the primary one and our teaching pro has worked with the school to build golf lessons into their physical education which I think is magic, to be honest. They will get all the benefits of the junior section right through. We also promote golf as a healthy pursuit for anyone to be honest. Out in the fresh air is where to be and golf gets you right in amongst nature which is good for the bonce even if having a golf game like mine isn't.

Sustainability and wildlife projects have not been adopted by everyone in the industry. What advice would you give to those who may not have started sustainability yet?

Do it! Just try. Do a wee bit of research and look at the small wins that can be made on your course. Do I have to cut that bit? Could I make that invasive scrub a sandscrape? Do I have to burn this dead wood or could I use it? You don't have to split the atom to get on board.

How important is it to promote working in golf and turf care to young people? Can we do more to encourage people into our industry?

I really hope so because it's the biggest concern for the turfcare industry. I think we are caught at a bit of a waterfront wondering why we can't recruit young people into the industry while promoting an autonomous future so I think we need some brilliant minds to predict opportunities that will come from that because it won't go away. Sustainability would be another avenue but I think the future roles in the turfcare industry might start looking different soon. There are so many leaving it's sad because it can be a magic career. I love being part of the golf industry and my son is a greenkeeper like his dad so I have a vested interest in it being a career for many generations to come.