In discussion with Stella Rixon, senior turfgrass agronomist

It’s time to settle the debate.

For years, golf has been battling a perception that it’s just not good for nature. But are golf courses actually bad for the environment? With 38,000 golf courses located across cities and coastlines across the world, many believe golf courses are negatively impacting on the environment due to use of chemicals, water wastage, and the decline of certain plant and tree species.

Golf courses represent 33% of the UK’s open space and when managed properly, can significantly enhance biodiversity, conserve rare habitats, and be one of the leading sectors in promoting positive environmental practices.

Across the UK, population growth and the need for more housing means many habitats are being disturbed. This means many urban golf courses have become a sanctuary for wildlife and are responsible for enhancing biodiversity in ecologically simplified areas.  Courses have an abundance of out-of-play areas which do not have regular chemicals applied, and this equates to approximately 75,000 hectares allowing wildlife and nature to flourish.  Similarly, the thin, wispy rough which frames the golf holes are only cut annually or every few years with pesticides rarely, if ever, used.  Far from being devoid of nature, around 60% of a golf course is thought to consist of natural habitats.

It should be noted that these habitats can only thrive when golf courses are properly maintained by professional greenkeepers with a high level of understanding of the soil, grass and wildlife living on the site.

Stella Rixon, senior turfgrass agronomist at STRI Group explained, “Many are quick to brand a greenkeeper as lazy if an area of land looks like it hasn’t been maintained, but it’s all about getting the right balance.  At a time when golf clubs are facing rising costs of materials and fuel, there is no better time to assess what areas need minimal maintenance and let mother nature take care of the site”. Continuous improvement and monitoring of the ecosystem present is so important and can create vital steppingstones for these urbanised landscapes.

Habitats of any kind need maintenance.  Heathland and link dunes require grazing and mowing to stop dominant species taking over.  Greenkeepers are there to create a mosaic of habitats, helping to encourage strong biodiversity across the courses.  Through studies, it has been proven that golf courses are even superior to farmlands for supporting the diversity of tree species and therefore bird diversity as well.

Nature conservation bodies are now increasing their efforts and funding into establishing ‘wildlife corridors’, which improve the capacity of species to move between remnant areas of good habitat.  They have recognised golf courses as having important roles in the success of this mission. Numerous courses across the UK are involved with safeguarding rare species and re-introducing those which are declining.  These incredible efforts are helping revive wildlife which may have been lost and creating eco-systems with longevity.

Attitudes towards golf courses needs to change.  From a survey of 94 clubs in the UK, 90% of course managers considered that golf courses were important to wildlife, with over 60% wanting to do more to promote wildlife on their courses.  In addition, over four million people a year register as golfers within Europe.  The influence golf courses have on members is massive and through education can show how they themselves can have a positive impact on the environment in their own back gardens.

Stella Rixon continued, “Expert education can help groundskeepers fully understand the environment they manage so they can confidently make decisions on preservation for certain areas.  For example, tidying up a pond may seem like good practice, however this can ruin a natural ecosystem.  Strong communication with club members can bring understanding as to why certain measures have been carried out on the course and all the benefits this will have on the environment.”

STRI Group is passionate about creating sustainable spaces for people to enjoy and working alongside companies who share this vision.  For the past five years we have been running the Golf Environment Awards to promote the incredible work of golf clubs across the UK, and internationally.  Celebrating sustainability, conservation, ecology and caring for the environment; each year golf clubs share their journey into plans and practices they have, continually encouraging wildlife and biodiversity.

The annual awards ceremony will be held on 24th January 2024, during the BIGGA Turf Management exhibition in Harrogate. Click HERE to visit the Golf Environment Awards website.




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