STRI’s Bob Taylor, discusses ecological and environmental preparations at Royal Portrush leading up to The Open Championship.
The 2019 Open Championships
Never before have we seen such an Open; from the hype around the creation of two new holes and staging of the event, all the way through to Shane Lowry’s magnificent win. The Open Championship is one of the largest events staged along the UK coastline.
This year’s event at Royal Portrush was subject to restricted ticket sales and the limited accommodation and infrastructure needed to house the many thousands of would be spectators hoping to attend.
The staging of The Open is truly massive in a logistical sense with the various teams of The R&A liaising with so many outside organisations to ensure that all aspects are covered and fall into place at the time of this great event.
With so much going on during the lead up to The Open it would be easy to overlook factors such as ecological protection and sustainable staging, but these aspects are increasingly being given equal recognition and weighting before, during and after the event with discussion thereafter regarding continual developing improvement.
Given the scale of the event, The R&A employ outside contractors including STRI and have done so for well over 20 years. It is a role I have taken on from the outset and which has now expanded to cover all of the major events hosted by The R&A.
It is important that everyone involved understands what ecological sensitivities are likely to reside on the course. At Royal Portrush for example, from 2014 until present, surveys have been undertaken for otter, Irish hare, narrow lipped whirl snail, birds and flowers and this has provided the club and I with a detailed account of the types of wildlife that exist on the course.
Visiting annually, I have become very aware of where the different wildlife lives and this is clearly important if one is to consider protection through the lead-up to The Open.
Site protection involves cordoning shelters to prevent swallows returning from their migration from nesting. The grasslands for the spectator routing were cut out in the autumn before the event and the grass was maintained at a relatively low height simply to dissuade birds from nesting.
Cordons were placed alongside each routing to direct spectator flows and this helped maintain the more sensitive grassland with a associated wildflower interest.
Through some areas where vegetation was more lush, cordoning was directed so as to achieve a thinning from the high level of trampling, and going forward, this will allow additional wildflowers to establish.
The greenstaff at Royal Portrush
The greenstaff are fully aware of the ecological importance of the site and have maintained contact with me throughout.
Just before the event for example, two skylark nests were located, one unfortunately was attacked by a fox, the second one was fairly close to one of the spectator routes but was successful in establishing a full brood.
The greenstaff remained active throughout the period monitoring for such interests and indeed were extremely keen to do so.
My role at The Open was to monitor each hole and ensure all protection measures remained in place and were effective. Whilst walking the 4th hole, for example, grasshopper warbler was noted nesting within the low level scrub.
Meadow pipit were noted nesting behind the 17th carry and right of the 17th hole. All grandstands were effectively screened but still were checked with nesting birds – none were found.
One thing that did strike me whilst walking and monitoring each hole was just how sport and wildlife do co-exist, indeed golf facilitates this by the extent of land present for the playing of the game and management i.e. the resources put into managing the rough for visual, landscape and ecological gain.
Something else I always think of, and was again brought home to me during the event, was “what would the land at Portrush hold if it were not a golf course”. The golf course at Royal Portrush has been in place since 1898 and no doubt the dunes would be lost, caravan parks and extension of the town would dominate.
Golf and nature
Golf here at Portrush and elsewhere throughout the UK has effectively preserved some of our most important landscapes, the habitats and the species they occupy. Many of our courses support our most rare and vulnerable wildlife and our Statutory Regulators are now realising that golf courses are good because of this, rather than in spite of it.
My role will continue through August and September this year with the reparation work that may be required in certain places. Through most areas, a cursory brush to remove surface debris and verti-drain to relive surface consolidation, may be all that is required.
The greenstaff are already aware that seed collection from the retained rough will be preferred to reseed areas on the course, rather than relying on purchased grass seed. This will give a more natural recovery, reducing the extent of regimentation that would otherwise be visible.
If you have any comments or questions about this article, you can contact Bob Taylor on Twitter.
Watch Bob’s interview with Jo Scott, BBC Northern Ireland here.