The STRI’s senior consultant for ecology and environment, Bob Taylor, explains why clubs should get involved with the Golf Environment Awards
(THE GOLF ENVIRONMENT AWARDS, ENDORSED BY THE GOLF CLUB MANAGERS’ ASSOCIATION, ARE NOW OPEN TO APPLICATION UNTIL JULY 27.)
The Golf Environment Awards were set up in 1995 to provide a platform where individual golf clubs could demonstrate environmental excellence. At that time, golf clubs were repeatedly castigated as a selfish use of land, one that provided little value other than to the privileged few. They were also seen as areas of over manicured and over managed grassland – using too much water, too much fertiliser, herbicide and pesticides.
Working at STRI, I had the opportunity to develop an ecology service that would challenge, and hopefully overturn, these views and although they are still present today, we have significant counter arguments based on extensive research (STRI, STERF and USGA), to show that golf courses with appropriate and responsible management are, in fact, nature reserves.
Proactive greenkeeping with the support and understanding of the club is making a real difference. Walking around golf courses with NGO representatives, such as natural England, I hear phrases to the effect ‘this golf course is good because’ rather than ‘despite it is a golf course’.
Such has been the change, and this is benefiting the industry as a whole, which brings direct and indirect benefit for wildlife conservation.
Golf courses over the last 10 years have certainly become much more inclusive, rather than exclusive, and many have become more accepted within their local communities.
At the Golf Environment Awards celebrations held in Harrogate in January, most of the finalists demonstrated very clearly just how much effort they had put in to building and gaining greater acceptance and engagement within the community.
A number included enabling projects for school children, ranging from pond dipping to community projects such as plastics recycling.
The Golf Environment Awards still provide a platform from which golf can demonstrate all that is good about the sport and the benefits that it can deliver.
More importantly perhaps, and by growing massively in popularity, the awards are fast becoming a pinnacle to which individual greenkeepers and golf club officials alike can aspire.
They are fast becoming a benchmark for ecological, environmental excellence – something I simply refer to as responsible management. Golf clubs entering the awards soon come to realise the very positive marketing opportunities they can bring. They are advertising the club through positive recognition on the radio, local TV and other news media and, of course, this will disseminate out to the local community.
Each year, three golf clubs are selected for one of three awards. These are Environmental Golf Course, Conservation Greenkeeper Award and Special Project Award.
There are a further nine finalists, three from each category. Running alongside this are the Operation Pollinator Awards, which recognise an additional four clubs for their achievements with respect to habitat management for pollinators.
The recipients of the awards are treated to a trip of a lifetime to the Algarve to visit some of the most sustainable and responsible golf clubs.
This year, the recipients visited Onyria Palmares, just outside Lagos. This course is quite mature with three loops of nine named in accord with the direction they face (Lagos, Alvor or Praia).
The golf course runs between more open grassland, with scrub and tree cover, through montane scrub and coastland.
The praia course (beach course) offers some stunning vistas and technically challenging golf holes. The coastal holes play amid large areas of open sand dune with low-level scrub vegetation and very natural bunkers.
This club is a very proactive and responsible golf club, managed by one of Portugal’s top greenkeepers, Joel Nunes, who this year is President of the Portuguese Golf Federation and is a board Director of FEGA.
Espiche Golf Club has only been open for five years but it did take more than 20 years to secure all environmental consents required. This course is set within an upland inland position, with 18 holes playing among the garrigue (montane scrub vegetation). Espiche boasts one of the most sustainable clubhouses, which has been voted one of the top three clubhouses in the world. Indeed, it is recognised as the top clubhouse in Europe – only beaten by two clubhouse developments in America.
Espiche is well worth a visit as it demonstrates environmental responsibility and sustainability at its best, something that joint owner Peter Thornton is extremely proud to demonstrate.
On subsequent days, the recipients visited San Lorenzo, which is one of the oldest golf courses in the Algarve and one that acts a barometer to all others.
It is a vision of the future, demonstrating how turf condition is likely to change given maturation and a change in climate in addition to golf waste. Again, San Lorenzo is one of the more sustainable clubs. The course director, Antonio Santos, is always keen to demonstrate the native use of vegetation on and around the golf course.
The green staff work hard to remove alien weed species. For most visitors, the lakes and water features will provide long-term memories. The water feature running along the 18th, for example, almost creates an island green.
The hole, given the proximity of the water, is challenging but the entire course boasts naturalness and is alive with birds and other wildlife. The water features are regularly used by bird-watchers and hides have been installed to create a more multifunctional facility.
It is unusual to see such an exclusive golf course accommodating local visitors with other interests outside of golf. On the last day, the award winners were treated to a visit to Monte Rei Golf and Country Resort.
This is without doubt one of the most exclusive facilities within the Algarve, demonstrating another side of best practice management. The rough is viewed with almost the same importance as in-play areas.
Even the green staff are not allowed to track through the rough grasslands. Access to the greens is limited and normally from the back. Buggies are provided with GPS tracking to ensure no deviation from the routes. All of these golf clubs are well worthy of your time in visiting the Algarve.
All give their time freely to accommodate British greenkeepers that have the options to visit each year and STRI are indebted to the clubs for providing such a unique and memorable lasting impression. Information so freely given will provide viable food for thought, much of which can be applied to their own clubs on return to the UK.