There are six key action areas of sustainability - Nature, Water, Energy, Environmental Quality, Supply Chains, and Communities. Improving your performance in each is good for your business, good for the game, and good for the people involved with your club.
Nature - Great Golf Environments
An incredible variety of different landscapes and ecosystems cover the surface of our earth. These are the places in which we live, work, rest and play, and which we share with an awe-inspiring number of other plant and animal species. Golfing in such wild, rich and biodiverse living landscapes undoubtedly provides an added dimension and an extra enjoyment to the game.
The 2005 Millenium Ecosystem Assessment demonstrated the significant underlying and escalating impact that human development and activity has on the biodiversity of the world's ecosystems. Dozens of academic journals, peer reviewed scientific studies, and global indicators demonstrate how the Earth's 'life support' systems are feeling the strain. It's not too late to turn things around.
Last year, at events such as the UN Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development, Governments aimed to define new goals that would reduce biodiversity loss. Meanwhile, the importance of private sector, voluntary conservation of ecosystems, habitats and species has never been greater.
As a sport with large natural surface area requirements, golf courses are often located in interesting and sensitive places with high ecological value. Golf facilities can help bring a genuine, meaningful contribution to biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, as part of their stable and managed functioning of green spaces.
Golf for Good
A number of recent surveys have reaffirmed that golfers appreciate the quality of the landscape around them whilst they play. In addition, golfers emphasised their desire for courses to support and accommodate wildlife.
These findings are very important. They remind us that, whilst the quality of playing surfaces are fundamental to the game, these can be achieved and integrated into stimulating surroundings that stir the senses, as golfers enjoy an authentic outdoor experience.
The implications are also important in terms of golf's ecological contribution. Rather than restricting the amount of natural and semi-natural vegetation on and around the course, this view advocates that ecological richness can be embraced as part of the unique golfing experience that every course can offer.
This is how the most sustainably managed golf clubs, led by skilled, creative and professional course managers, are looking at their courses, asking how can we enrich the biodiversity of the course, landscape value, and the golfing experience at the same time?
Money does grow on trees
And, it's a winner for business too. A landscape and ecosystem led approach to course design, construction and management boosts the bottom line. Every small patch of turfgrass or vegetation that can be converted back into a more natural state saves energy, water, time and, importantly, money. People are increasingly associating natural environments with greater quality and, as a result, golf is a better product.
In this time of rapid urban expansion, we need to reconnect with nature for the good of our health.
Tips for a more natural course
1. Look at the areas currently being maintained. Are there any spaces where rough ecological grassland, shrubs and trees could be introduced or expanded?
2. Look out for non-native species. Could you introduce local indigenous species in their place for a more natural feel and a more unique sense of place? Native species (especially plants) require less water and are easier to establish and maintain. Foreign and invasive species can easily outcompete indigenous ones and severely restrict biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems.
3 . Look at the edges. The fringes of golf holes, individual habitats and the course boundaries are where some of the most visible, interesting and ecologically rich areas are. Could you design woodland, grassland and wetland edges differently to provide more colour, texture and ecological diversity?
4. Keep a close eye on the species and habitats around your site - monitor numbers and record their condition as an indicator of ecosystem health resulting from positive, sustainable land management. Knowing approximately what you've got, and where, can help in the assessment and targeting of specific improvement plans.
5. Think about the individual species of wildlife on your course - mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, wildflowers and other plants - and what you could do for each. The internet has a wealth of site-specific best practice examples to help you.
6. Think about the quality of habitats - woodlands, grasslands, wetlands etc - that allow the ecology to thrive on your golf course. Could you improve the diversity, structure, size and connection of each one for better functioning ecosystems? The GEO OnCourse™ programme also gives a number of examples of things you could do.
7. Create an environmental management plan with timescales, staff allocation and detailed conservation and enhancement activities based on current best management practices. This will increase the local biodiversity, allow it to cope better with sudden environmental changes, and adapt to climate change with fewer pressures.
8. Create maps of your site showing the major habitats and vegetation types. Understand any legal designations or protections that apply to them. Train staff to avoid or manage them appropriately. Educate members, visitors and the community on your site's ecological value and how this protects the quality of the golf course.
9. Ask for help. Who could better help you understand and record the biodiversity of your course? Consider your members, community groups, academic institutions, local and national government and non-government organisations (NGOs).