Golf and the environment have been shown to go hand in hand in STRI's inaugural Golf Course Environment Awards. Applications to the Awards were received from the length and breadth of the United Kingdom with high quality environmental management work showcased within a wide range of habitat types by clubs with varying levels of resources available to them.
Course Managers and club officials are increasingly realising the benefits of maintaining a diverse and ecologically interesting environment within which their course can sit and this was highlighted by the large number of clubs that were keen to shout about their work and be recognised for the progress they've made - and rightly so.
Making a real difference to a golf course - having a positive impact on that course - is the goal of all course managers. Being proactive and making your mark on a course provides a vast amount of job satisfaction in addition to keeping the course competitive within what is an increasingly competitive market.
Many courses applying to the Golf Course Environment Awards this year have enthused within their application about how the course has changed, for the better, over recent years following their proactive management input.
The quality of playing surfaces has improved, much to the delight of members, following, in many cases, the implementation of a new turfgrass management programme tailored to the course and perhaps some management of the vegetation surrounding tees, greens and fairways; whilst the habitats represented within the course boundaries have been tended to and their quality enhanced, creating an environment which has improved to the point that it is noticed and commented on by the members.
The dream is to carry out changes on the course that are well received and congratulated by the membership, and this can, and does happen - don't get me wrong though, the initiation of large scale ecological management is often met with opposition at the early stages and it takes time for opinions to change.
As such it is vital that communication links are established between club officials and membership explaining what the ecological work entails and what is ultimately going to be achieved by it.
This keeps everyone involved and ensures there are no surprises. Once a project is complete and the results are there for all to see, it is often the case that people gain faith in ecological management work and become much more supportive of future projects.
Many Course Managers/club officials out there may have a desire to move forward with this kind of management, but are unsure of the best way to proceed. To make progress it is vital to have an understanding of the basic landscape characteristics of your particular site and a grasp of the ecological principles upon which they should be managed. Training and advice is available on these subjects and this can be incredibly useful for steering your club in the right direction.
Many clubs involved in the Golf Course Environment Awards have obtained advice on such matters and this has allowed their ecological work to snowball and advance much more quickly resulting in many of these clubs now being at the forefront of ecological management in the UK.
The 2009 Golf Course Environment Awards Programme is now complete, and winners have been selected. The full list of Awards winners is as follows:
Overall Achievement Award - St. Andrews Links Trust
Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year - Matt Worster - Minchinhampton Golf Club
Regional Winner (Scotland) - Carnoustie Golf Links Management Committee
Regional Winner (Northern England) - Fairhaven Golf Club
Regional Winner (Southern England) - Burhill Golf Club
Regional Winner (Wales) - Aberdovey Golf Club
Conservation & Biodiversity Management Award - The Bedfordshire Golf Club
Integrated Turf Management Award - Lymm Golf Club
Waste Management Award - Loch Lomond Golf Club
Water Management Award - Penlanlas Golf Club
Case Study - St. Andrews Links Trust
The Overall Winner of this year's programme is St. Andrews Links Trust who are awarded a study trip to the United States to visit several high profile clubs during excursions aimed at further enhancing knowledge and understanding of greenkeeping issues.
The diversity and scale of works undertaken at St. Andrews in recent times is truly impressive. Large scale gorse clearance has been carried out across the coastal dune system and a diverse and ecologically rich grassland sward has been restored in its place. By opening up the dune landscape the team at St. Andrews has managed to revert much of the course landscape back to its original form.
In addition to this work, the club has actively encouraged nesting sand martin within an on-site quarry via the creation of clean sand faces, assisting in an increase in populations here in recent years. Skylark are also being encouraged via an ongoing grassland management programme in key areas.
A further high profile project undertaken in 2009 has been the construction of a comprehensive reedbed system to cleanse waste washdown water. This environmentally friendly method of dealing with a clubs waste water issues has been constructed 'in-house' to an extremely high standard and will, once fully established, no doubt become a feature of the course.
The amount of environmentally directed projects, coupled with a general enthusiasm and clear desire to be considerate to the surrounding environment, has made St. Andrews a worthy winner of the overall prize.
Case Study - Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year - Matt Worster, Minchinhampton Golf Club
As with the Overall Winner, The Conservation Greenkeeper Award brings with it the highly desirable prize of a trip to the United States.
This year's winner of the Award is Matt Worster from Minchinhampton Golf Club near Stroud, Gloucestershire. Matt undertakes all standard greenkeeping duties in addition to developing and initiating ecological projects at the club which are both numerous and extensive. As a result, the club awarded Matt the title of Ecology Coordinator in recognition of his enthusiasm and drive towards improving wildlife interests on the course.
Matt's career at Minchinhampton began in 2002 as Assistant Greenkeeper. Since that time, he has completed a BSc (Hons) in Rural Environmental Sciences, producing a final year dissertation on the impact of golf course practices on Minchinhampton's Old Course.
On the course, Matt's influence has impacted greatly on the ecological management work undertaken. Large scale grassland management work has been carried out including the trialling of highly successful hay strewing experiments to increase grassland wildflower content.
Hedgerow planting and maintenance work has been extensive and pond management, creation and restoration work has been undertaken to an extremely high standard.
Reflecting on the balance between golf and wildlife, Matt concludes "Golf courses provide stable habitats and multiple opportunities for habitat creation and protection. Sound ecological management of these features and the wider golf course encourages flora and fauna to thrive, creating sanctuaries for wildlife and increasing the quality of the golf course for the players and public to enjoy".
In addition to the two top accolades, four 'best in region' Awards have been presented, with each recipient receiving a free ecological advisory visit from an STRI consultant; and four further clubs have been recognised for a 'special initiative', each receiving free admission for two delegates to STRI's Ecology Training Courses held in October.
All prize winners have undertaken a wide array of worthy ecological and environmental projects and whilst it is impossible to cover them all in this article, case studies of the winning clubs can be found on the Awards website at www.golfenvironmentawards.com - here, you will also find details on how your club can get involved in the 2010 Programme.
The Golf Course Environment Awards have shown that there is a considerable amount of positive environmental work going on in the golf industry and it is important to recognise that whilst this work is improving conditions for wildlife and reducing the impact of the golf club on the environment, it is also improving the golf club as a product. Management work on the golf course is undertaken to maximise its playability by producing a course that is aesthetically pleasing and strategically interesting - two key elements to the enjoyment of the game.
STRI and the Awards sponsors would like to thank all clubs involved in the 2009 Programme and look forward to what we hope to be successful 2010 for all concerned within the Industry.
For further details about the Awards visit www.golfenvironmentawards.com or alternatively contact STRI's Ecology and Environment Team direct in 01274 518903.