"Doing your best in each is good for your business, good for the game, good for the people around your club, and further afield"
There are six key action areas of sustainability - Nature, Water, Energy, Environmental Quality, Supply Chains, and Communities. Doing your best in each is good for your business, good for the game, good for the people around your club, and further afield.
As 'living landscapes' and stable green spaces, golf can play a vital role in contributing to functioning ecosystems and environmental health. This is a key indicator of sustainable land management, which all golf courses should aspire to.
Golf is often unfairly accused of being a major consumer, resulting in pollution from its waste and energy bi-products (water, fuel, turf applications, supply chain emissions etc). This negative public image can be shed by ongoing positive contributions to environmental issues and promoting your club as a 'Great Golf Environment'. Sustainable stewardship of the land - restoration, regeneration, protection, conservation - is one area that golf is ideally placed to deliver.
Air, water, soil
Air, water and soil are the three main natural resources most at risk of pollution from course maintenance activities. Detrimental changes to the quality of these life-supporting substances can cause knock on effects throughout food chains and reduce biodiversity significantly. However, all three can be improved by careful planning, design, construction and management of golf facilities.
It is worth considering that noise, light or vibrations from machinery and buildings might also affect local residents and breeding species of wildlife at certain times of the year. Innovative hybrid and electric technology is being introduced to the market all the time, which is quieter, cleaner, more efficient and safer to use.
Sustainable turfgrass management
Turfgrass playing surfaces are central to the game of golf and require intensive management without disregard to the many environmental considerations. It is becoming increasingly important to players and public that the provision of turf, and its maintenance, should not only lead to high quality surfaces, but also with minimal negative impacts on the environment.
This is one aspect of sustainable golf - that the more intensive the management, the greater the need for environmental good practice. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a well established approach based on the principles of setting acceptable pest levels, regular observation, utilising preventative cultural methods and best practice mechanical controls, natural biological controls and responsible pesticide use as a last resort at specific times in a pest's life cycle.
Tips to improve your environmental stewardship
1. Train staff to frequently scout the course for signs of weeds, pests and diseases. Set threshold levels for all these different categories in each area of your course - greens, fairways, tees etc. Many plants, insects, fungi etc. are not harmful (some are beneficial), and small populations or environmental conditions don't always require controlling. Daily monitoring and identification will reveal much information about specific sites and can prevent minor local issues turning into threats.
2. Regularly analyse plant tissue and soil chemistry content to ensure you apply the correct rates of essential nutrients (NPK) and trace elements (Fe, Mg, Ca, etc.) to maintain turf health. Excessive applications cannot be taken up by the plant and have no benefits to long term sustainability. Be very careful not to waste products (ie the club's budget!), and risk them transferring to areas where it might adversely affect the environment.
3. Consider the oil-based, synthetic products you use and the 'embodied' energy required in their manufacture and distribution. Could you transition to biological alternatives? Carbohydrates, compost teas, biostimulants, hormones, amino acids, enzymes, microorganisms etc, all have essential roles to play within the plant and the soil for optimal growth and development.
4. Consider the product's toxicity and persistence when making purchasing decisions. Are there alternative choices that would be safer to operators, non-target organisms, the general public and the wider environment?
5. Select the most appropriate products for defined issues, follow the instructions and make sure you understand the legal requirements in your country. Material Safety Data Sheets are always provided and contain full guidelines about the product, how to use it and what to do in case of accidents. Dose rates, frequency and timing of applications are explicitly recommended and identify the area a certain amount of active ingredient mixed with water will treat.
6. Use the best technology available in the right weather conditions - well calibrated and tested sprayers, non-drip nozzles, drift-guards, personal protective equipment etc. Spot treatments based on threshold tolerances instead of blanket, preventative coverage will help your bottom line and reduce potential pollution risks.
7. Ensure no spray/no application zones are mapped and staff are well trained. Water bodies, wildflower meadows, ecological grasslands and other sensitive habitats should be clearly avoided by the minimum legal distances. A tiny amount of active ingredient can sometimes be extremely hazardous to certain species and can be very easily transported in windy or wet conditions.
8. Storage, maintenance and preparation of equipment and hazardous substances - secured, clearly labelled, well lit and ventilated, sealed, impervious and covered areas are hugely important considerations. Double walls, bunding, above ground fuel tanks, secondary containments, absorbent materials to control spills are some current examples of measures to prevent pollution at the maintenance facility.
9. Keep accurate records - knowing exactly what you use, how much, and where, will help in the assessment and targeting of specific areas for improvement. This kind of data can also be shared with other industry professionals and colleagues to help pass on best practice examples.
The simplest and most widely accepted methods always go a long way.
Great Golf Environments
Four golf courses getting it right
Moon Palace, Mexico - An abundance of wildlife shares this golf course with players and a highly trained management team. 25% of turf nutrition and control products are biologically based and the IPM programme is strict but flexible. 7.5 metre buffer strips and aquatic bio-filters exist around all water features, and out-of-play areas (over two thirds of the property) are preserved, native flora.
Machrihanish Dunes, Scotland - Located in the middle of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the weather beaten west coast, Machrihanish Dunes is a perfect example of a golf development working alongside nature rather than against it. In 2011, the management decided to enhance their sustainability objectives by going chemical-free.
Jinji Lake, China - Located within an industrial estate, Jinji Lake provides a 'green lung' for this highly urbanised location. With over 100 hectares of green space, wildlife habitat and wetland to enhance the environmental quality of the site, Jinji Lake shows that golf has an outstanding opportunity to reclaim and rejuvenate degraded land. Consumption and waste production are strictly controlled, as government legislation dictates, and the course is regularly inspected by local environmental departments. State of the art mechanical filters are used to treat waste water, and the courses now provide habitats to many species of birds and animals.
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, United States - The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club strives to have a positive and sustainable impact on the quality of air, water, soil and biodiversity. Using the best cultural management practices allows them to utilise a vigorous IPM programme to act in the most environmentally sensitive way, but still provide a world class playing experience. Treatment of weeds, pests and diseases is curative rather than preventative, buffer zones are well mapped and communicated to the crew. The modern maintenance facility is environmentally sensitive and mixing/storage area is well enclosed with secondary measures throughout.
About the GEO
GEO is an international not-for-profit, stakeholder funded organization dedicated to helping the golf community embrace sustainable golf and provide practical solutions to issues of environmental, social and economic improvement.
GEO Certified™ is golf's ecolabel - the international mark of sustainability that golf courses and new developments can promote with absolute confidence, letting members, visitors and the wider community know that their golf club, renovation or development has met comprehensive sustainability criteria.
To find out more about GEO, or to put your golf club OnCourse™ for sustainability and the GEO Certified™ ecolabel, visit: http://www.golfenvironment.org