The role of a greenkeeper is no longer to keep the greens green but to keep the club green
Today, reducing environmental impacts should be on the agenda of all sports facilities. Indeed, all walks of business should be doing their bit for the environment and, as a result, potentially making financial savings in the process. Golf clubs are no different and I use these as an example of how the operational direction of a business needs to change in today's climate.
For many, the only green aspect of the golf course should be the greens and, perhaps, the tees. Throughout the history of golf this has been the role of the "greenkeeper". In the past, breaking down the meaning of this title was straightforward - it was the job of the greenkeeper to keep the turf green and fit for play. For a while now, however, the greenkeepers role has stretched out beyond the playing surfaces to include the maintenance and enhancement of the out of play areas. These 'wild' areas have become a signature for clubs, helping them stand out from their competition by creating an attractive, natural and diverse environment within which to play golf.
The role of the greenkeeper has, therefore, changed. He or she has become a manager of considerable areas of land. Add to this the requirement to be aware of, and be responsible for, dealing with environmental issues both on the course and, increasingly, in the clubhouse, it is certainly the case that the role of greenkeeper in 2008 is much more diverse and complex than it used to be. As a result of this the role of greenkeeper is no longer to keep the greens green but to keep the club green.
People's opinions and extent of knowledge on the subject of climate change will, no doubt, differ between individuals, but everybody by now is aware of the basic issues - we are overharvesting, polluting and destroying habitats to a point where our lifestyle is no longer sustainable. It is a real problem that is already beginning to affect us. For example, you will, I'm sure, have noticed the 17% mark up on the cost of food stuffs recently? This can be linked to the failure of food crops which, in turn, is caused by climate change related events. The point is the problem won't go away if we pretend it doesn't exist.
However, the aim of this article is not to focus on the hard facts about climate change. Golf clubs are businesses and, for any business, the main drivers for change are the prospect of financial gain and increasingly stringent legislation. Therefore, my aim with this article is to point out relevant issues that are likely to be drivers for change with the hope that you will gain eye-opening insights into the current and future management of your golf facility.
Have you thought about ...
Your washdown area?
• Do you currently have an appropriate facility to deal with your washdown water?
• Discharging contaminated water to groundwater is now illegal (under the Groundwater Regulations).
• Contaminated water includes dilute pesticide washings and elevated nitrate levels from grass clippings.
• To discharge water from your washdown facility you must have a discharge licence from the Environment Agency or equivalent national statutory body.
• Legislation is becoming ever more stringent in this area.
• Mechanical water recycling facilities and reed bed systems are the most effective solutions.
• How do you currently deal with grass clippings?
• Letting them fly adds nutrients to the sward and, whilst in certain weaker swards it may assist growth, in the main this practice can promote thatch build up and coarse, undesirable species such as Yorkshire Fog, as well as increasing the potential for worm casts.
• Spreading clippings into rough grasslands again adds nutrients to the sward and creates grassland areas that are less attractive, less valuable for wildlife and, crucially, more difficult to play from. This results in a reduction in their acceptance on the golf course.
• Dumping clippings in non contained piles in areas out of sight of play is not permitted due to the potential for groundwater contamination.
• Best practice is to create composting bays, ideally covered, on a hard standing with a sump to collect leachate. Pile the grass clippings in the bays, ideally mixed with some wood chip to allow air movement through the pile and speed up decomposition. Turn the piles every six months or so and viable compost should be ready to use within twelve months.
• Do you know how much water is used annually to irrigate your golf course?
• Do you know how much the clubhouse is using?
• Would you say your water use was higher than it potentially could be through perhaps the presence of highly water demanding grass species or pressure from members to keep grass growth lush?
• Have you looked into management practices that will facilitate a reduction in water demand? For example cultural practices, species composition changes or promoting the premise that it may be acceptable for greens to be slightly 'less' green at certain times of the year.
• Are you familiar with the Water Framework Directive?
• The average golf club spends £15,000 each year on energy. Between 15% and 25% of this is wasted through inefficient systems and poor planning. This equates to £2,250-£3,000 worth of wasted energy per club per year.
• There are a wide variety of measures that can be undertaken to reduce these losses. These range from easy to implement initiatives (for example simply turning lights off when not needed) to larger scale initiatives with initial cost implications but with long term financial returns (for example, installing an energy efficient boiler and other efficient appliances).
• Environmental audits are vital tools for any business. They identify the environmental footprint of the business in terms of its consumption of resources and the distribution of resource use throughout each operation within the company. Following this, the audit will identify ways of reducing resource use and promoting environmental best practice both for the financial benefit of the organisation and also to benefit the environment through reduced pollution and demand on resources.
• I have already stated that 15-25% of energy consumption at the average golf club is wasted. An environmental audit identifies the areas where wastage is occurring and provides a structured programme for increasing efficiency. The net result of the audit will therefore not only identify how to eliminate but will also potentially lead to an overall reduction in demand for energy.
• Environmental auditing is in its infancy within the golf sector but a number of clubs are following in the footsteps of businesses in other industries and are undertaking the process. Perhaps one of the biggest additional benefits is that audits provide baseline data upon which to build improvements.
Subsequent monitoring should be undertaken to highlight just how significant the savings are that have resulted from any "green" measures the club have chosen to undertake. This allows success to be quantified and, as with all projects, the promotion of successful results generally increases the support for further work.
Are you thinking green yet?
Becoming greener brings more than just environmental benefits. This is a key point and a key driver for change. All businesses need to commit to becoming green - golf courses included - and those that have the foresight to begin adapting their practices, even in a small way, will undoubtedly reap rewards in the future.
Those that invest money in schemes will almost certainly make their money back within a relatively short period of time and, from then on, will continue to accrue savings year on year.
For many, it is difficult to be convinced that change is a good idea. Change is often deemed a scary, unnecessary process and it is for this reason that some businesses, and, in some cases, entire industries, get left behind. Becoming greener can only be a positive change whichever way you look at it.
Now I'm not suggesting you get straight on the phone and order a wind farm to meet your power needs, I'm merely suggesting you think about how your club operates and begin the process of looking into the options in this area that are available to you. Carrying out investigative work costs nothing and it will be the case that you find initiatives that are surprisingly beneficial to your club's bank balance, image, efficiency and, of course, to the environment.
About the author: Richard Stuttard is a Consultant with the STRI's Ecology and Environment Unit. He can be contacted on 01274 518903 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information regarding all matters discussed in the above text.