3 Bad news for golf? Compare & contrast

GingerbreadTeam_website.jpg [cropped]Paul Lowe at Bromborough Golf Club considers himself fortunate to have the support of the STRI, the EGU and the R&A. Also that he enjoys being involved with the 'Gingerbread Men', a small group of greenkeepers who are 'striving for the more sustainable golf course'. I'm sorry, but I see all this as bad news for golf in the UK and this is why.

Agronomist, Tim Lodge, has a bit of a rant about the R&A, BIGGA, the STRI, Gingerbread Men ....

The R&A is clearly driving all of this sustainabilty, in particular the Golf Course Committee of that organisation. This is a small group of retired and successful businessmen, all with a great love of golf. Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, they have not a shred of professional greenkeeping experience amongst them.

One of the key roles of the R&A is to promote golf throughout the world. This is a cause that is certainly worthwhile. It is a fact that golf comes under attack from many quarters, and particularly from those who are concerned about its environmental implications. Green deserts, water abstraction, deforestation etc. I think these issues are of much greater concern overseas than in the UK, but the R&A, understandably, must be seen to be countering them.

Unfortunately, it has chosen to do this by a rather easy route here at home. It appears to have seized upon the minimalist policies of traditional greenkeeping, the policies that have been debated among greenkeepers for about the last 120 years.

Stuart Yarwood, clearly a very good greenkeeper at Lymm Golf Club, considers himself to be a 'Gingerbread Man' and, therefore, at the vanguard of the R&A's sustainable golf mission. I'm sorry to disillusion you Stuart, but your maintenance programme looks pretty much like the sort of thing most greenkeepers are doing up and down the country and have been doing for years.

You have reduced fertiliser and water input on the greens for sure, but I don't think that necessarily makes your course into some kind of environmentally neutral nirvana.

Here are a few reasons why not, but as a profession we don't seem to want to talk about these too much.

1) Sand and aggregate usage. Golf courses go through hundreds of tons of sand each year for use as top dressing, divot repair and in bunkers. These are limited resources, as the Government has recognised, which is why it has imposed the aggregate tax in order to reduce consumption.
2) Machinery fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Petrol and diesel driven mowers and other machinery are in more or less continuous operation throughout the working day on a golf course. The aggregates and other materials also have to be hauled over long distances to get there.
3) How come nobody gets uptight about water and fertiliser use on tees? These occupy about the same area as greens, and water and fertiliser inputs are often much greater.
4) I don't see many golfers arriving by train, bus or bicycle to play golf three or four times each week. I do see a lot of gas guzzling SUVs and other excessively large cars in the car parks.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that golf courses are any worse from an environmental standpoint than, say, a supermarket or some kinds of factory. They must surely be much better. It's just that, once you start scrutinising the bigger picture of golf's environmental credentials, it's not all sweetness and light. Best not to draw attention to it, and we'll all carry on quietly doing our little best.

Now, this 'Gingerbread Man' thing. A few years ago we had 'The Sons of Golf'. This smugness is all getting rather embarrassing; please stop it now. Just wait for the R&A to launch its 'Sustainable Golf Certification scheme'. Scientifically confirmed by the R&A's supine consultants the STRI; "Well done Joe! After 25 years of sound greenkeeping you have successfully elevated Blindfold Golf Club to the fourth rung of the sustainability ladder. Only another sixteen to go and you can have a pint in the Members Lounge at Royal St Ockport and call yourself a 'Son of the Gingerbread Men!' (But make sure you wear a tie)." You have to laugh, otherwise you'd cry.

There is no benefit in factionalising and creating what amounts to an artificial hierarchy within the profession. BIGGA has provided a worthy forum for greenkeepers to meet and discuss their work since 1987 and has over 7,000 members. I suppose this is really a plea for BIGGA to stand up and be counted here. Don't let the R&A and their servants use the worthy achievements and debates within the greenkeeping profession as a pawn in its global PR campaign.

Greenkeepers, don't factionalise and undermine an organisation that does so much for you at all levels, not just the championship and Open qualifier courses. Do carry on doing your job to the best of your ability and be proud of yourselves. This is what is happening here. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Agrostis Turf Consultancy
Dr Tim Lodge

Telephone: 01359 259361
Email: tim@agrostis.co.uk
Web: www.agrostis.co.uk

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