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On the 27th October The Royal West Norfolk GC hosted a Seminar, in association with the R & A, at Brancaster to consider the implications of climate change and in particular its effect on coastal erosion. 

Invitations were sent to a number of Golf Clubs with links courses and 16 Clubs, see below, including the host Club and the R & A were represented at the seminar.  Apart from the speakers and five members of Royal West Norfolk, there were also three members from the R & A Golf Course Advisory Panel present, namely Nick Park, Michael Barratt and Dr Michael Schofield.

The Golf Clubs represented were Aberdovey, Ballybunnion, Formby, Hayling, Princes, R & A, Royal Aberdeen, Royal County Down, Royal Porthcawl, Royal Portrush, Royal St David’s, Royal St George’s, Royal West Norfolk and Seahouses.

The Seminar was opened by Charles Barratt, Chairman of RWNGC’s Sea Defence Committee, who advised that this seminar was intended to act as a catalyst for the R & A Conference, ‘On Course for Change’, in February 2000.  Furthermore, the ideas raised at this meeting will be reported back to the R & A Conference pinpointing the major problems being experienced due to coastal erosion.  He then outlined his five areas for consideration.

1.  Course problem - type of - suggesting that the R & A compare notes of other Clubs like for like.

2.  Civil engineering solutions - should the R & A retain a pool of information ?

3. Outside bodies - as far as RWNGC is concerned, the planners and Environment Agency have been helpful but English Nature, Nature Conservation, The National Trust, RSPB etc have been obstructive and unco-operative, and it was not until all these bodies were called to a series of meetings that they finally understood each other’s viewpoint.

4.  Finance - how to raise a sinking fund.  The Environment Agency only give grants for schemes that will last 50 years and Golf Clubs are not considered a worthy cause.  Advice from R & A to be sought.

5.  Experts ! - Will the R & A provide a recommended panel of experts in this field, for there are so few that can be relied on.

In effect the meeting was asked to consider how the R & A could help by providing a pool of information and acting as a lobbyist on their behalf with the various statutory bodies.


Dr David Viner, Climatic Research Unit, outlined the projected climate change over the next century.  Whilst this was all very interesting most of the delegates in the room were more concerned with the present than the future.  There were, however, a number of indications that should be noted:       

Temperature - is likely to rise 1.3 to 2.8 degrees C but will increase more rapidly in the South East.

Rainfall - only a slight increase seasonally with 15% to 20% decrease in South during the summer and a 20% increase in the South during the winter.  Thus a more stressful climate on existing water resources.

Wind  -  mean wind speed will change very little but there will be greater variability between summer and           winter. 

Sea Level - there will be a rise in the mean sea level of up to 250mm by 2050.  CO2 levels will rise, especially in the South, which means that excessive high tides will be more frequent.

Richard Nunn, principal Civil Engineer Environment Agency, stated that as a coastal engineer his job was the implementation of flood defence improvements, i.e. risk management, even though the risk of flooding could not be removed completely.  The role of a flood defence was no longer just a civil solution as there were now other environmental considerations and the balance between these two was vital.  As a coastal engineer he :

1. looks at coastal processes;

2. suggests solutions which must be compatible with the environment;

3. prepares shoreline management plans;

4. monitors shoreline movement;

5. considers the socio-economic aspects - these have tended to be ignored in the past.

The Governments view is based on the recommendations of the Agriculture Select Committee 1998 which suggests greater emphasis on re-alignment. 

To achieve sustainable development all schemes must :

1. avoid, as far as possible, committing future generations to improvement options for flood defence;

2. look at schemes which benefit coastal protection and the protection of wildlife habitats;

3. abide by the EU Wildlife Habitats Directive.

The future for Golf Clubs is bleak for they face restricted Government funding.  It is therefore essential that all applications for assistance include details of any environmental enhancement. It is vital that the R & A recognise the importance of being stakeholders in any relevant flood defence schemes for the EA, which has an annual budget of £135m, has no statutory right to go in and improve.

Cyril Southerland, member of the local Fisherman’s Society, outlined his solution to the erosion of sand dunes protecting the course at Brancaster.  The sea had undercut the dunes to such an extent that the 1st green was within one metre of a sheer sand cliff face, 6m high.  To prevent the cliff face collapsing it was necessary to take the power out of the sea and to stabilise the dunes. 

The method used was to construct a continuous ‘W’ shaped structure of 3m pine poles driven vertically into the sand, about 15m from the top of the dune, and draped with 1.5m geotextile mesh, which fits on both sides of the poles.  The poles are driven into the sand to a firm base leaving approx. 1m exposed to which the mesh is fixed with 0.5m of the mesh being buried below the level of the sand.  This 1m wall acts as a reservoir to wind-blown sand and also retains any sand forced over the defence by high tides.  Despite the ‘experts’ opinion that this solution was merely “sticking plaster”, the system is working and the dunes have stabilised.  Marram grass is now growing on the newly formed dunes.  The defence works extend for approx. 600m and the immediate danger to the course has been removed at a nominal cost.

Walter Woods, former Course Superintendent of St Andrews GC, recalled how the dunes at his course were stabilised.  Previously, the banks of the Eden estuary had very successfully been stabilised by the use of ‘waving mud grass’, spartina anglica, imported from East Anglia, and sleeper revetments.  Now, holiday makers and strong winds had broken down the sand dunes protecting the course and a simple solution using stone gabions was adopted. 

Initially, the gabions were placed vertically with sand pushed up against the base, however, the method was subsequently changed to mattress baskets placed in a line at an angle with marram grass and sea lyme planted alongside, which have thrived to give added protection.  Furthermore, the Council control the pedestrian access to the beach with the use of wooden slatted walks and alternate the protected areas to allow them to recover.

Mike Taylor, a member of the Management Committee at Hayling GC, illustrated the problems and threats to his own course and beaches over the last 5 years.  At Hayling Island they are two-fold, one of heavy scouring and the other of accretion.  The Council put in timber breastworks to the south beach and concrete groynes to the west but this caused heavy scouring, so stone gabions were added filled with beach gravel.  These were placed vertically but the beach gravel leached out and the vertical face became undermined.  The knock-on effect gave rise to concern by English Nature, other statutory bodies and the planners who had only given them a temporary permission for two years.  English Nature’s attitude has been appalling and unhelpful.  The planners have granted another temporary extension for shingle replenishment but it should be noted that licences have to be paid for the dumping of shingle.  The east/west drift is causing an enlarged promontory to be formed caused by the Council’s replenishment scheme further along the coast.  When the Council recently requested their stones back, the Club responded “Which ones were their’s ?”

Donald Steel, Donald Steel & Co Ltd, golf course architect, observed that man’s activities play an active role in coastal erosion - it was not always due to climatic causes.  Whilst prevention is always better than cure, contingency plans should be prepared.  He stressed that it was important to establish a friendly dialogue with the statutory bodies and confirmed that English Nature prove to be the most difficult.  He stated that the R & A are very committed to the cause of coastal defences and recommended that they convene a meeting with all statutory bodies to obtain a better understanding and awareness. 

He also suggested a national appeal be launched on behalf of all golf courses under threat and that a pool of money be held by the R & A for this purpose.  He later stated that it would be helpful if sources and conditions of finance could be identified and perhaps a Society for the preservation of traditional links courses could be formed.

Other points raised from the floor

Richard Tregarthen, Aberdovey GC, advised that his Club were suffering from dune erosion due to tourism and lateral movement of the sea.  The statutory bodies said “let nature take its course”, which meant the loss of the top end of the golf course.  A scheme for dune protection was therefore vital and with the use of elevated board-walks, as at Royal St David’s, the dunes have improved considerably.

David Morkill, Royal St David’s GC, stated that grants for such work were so important.  Having carried out the protection work, if it was not for the efforts of the Golf Club there would not be such a profusion of wild flowers that now exist and these points should be stressed as benefits to the environment.  He was concerned that the value of local issues to nature were not considered relevant by central Government.

John Johnson, Royal Aberdeen GC, stated that they had a problem with loss of sand dunes and would welcome any advice available from the R & A.

Joe Findlay, Royal Portrush GC, advised that they had pedestrian erosion of their sand dunes caused by their Local Authority encouraging the public to walk the dunes.  Stone armament was placed at the base of the dunes which has stopped the erosion and it has been suggested that the dunes should be re-contoured.

Frank Prescott, Royal Porthcawl GC, advised at his course the loss of sand was being replaced by stones and that the 2nd green has already been lost.

Peter Rolph, Royal County Down GC, stressed that Clubs to keep trying with the statutory bodies as in the end they gained their support.  He advised that the details of his case as presented is available, if required.

John Stevens, Seahouses GC, queried the term ‘managed retreat’ which was used by English Nature.  This in fact meant doing nothing and leaving nature to take its course.

Mike Schofield, R & A Panel member (formerly English Nature), stated that English Nature were aware of the problems being faced by Golf Clubs and believed that the experiences at Brancaster and Hayling were exceptional - this was not agreed by the meeting in general.  He welcomed the idea of the creation of an R & A database.

Nick Park, Deputy Chairman of the R & A Golf Course Advisory Panel, summed up the meeting and outlined the R & A’s position.  The R & A is not responsible for golf courses, their only mandate is for the Rules and management of the game.  However, they do have a golf course advisory panel comprising 15 people, which is currently being reorganised.

As he sees it there are three elements to be considered, the players, the equipment and the course.  The first two are already covered by the R & A and it is the third which needs to be addressed.  This can be done by defining and developing best management practices, promoting such practices and helping Clubs achieve these objectives.

The R & A will respond to the urging of its Members to take a more active role and letters must be written by Clubs requesting their help if the R & A’s mandate is to be changed.  The R & A have not been negligent over the years and the next immediate stage will be the Conference in February ‘On Course for Change’ which will show to the R & A that there is a whole sphere of the industry with which they need to be involved, as there is at present no official source of expertise. Furthermore, the Conference must be able to demonstrate what golf courses contribute to the environment.

He requested case histories of all Clubs represented at this meeting be forwarded to the R & A to commence a database and urged all to write letters of encouragement to the R & A.


The Seminar was highly successful and all concerned should send details of their experiences to the R & A.  It is clear that, despite the attitude of some, it is imperative when tackling these issues to have the backing of Local and National Bodies to ensure the preservation of our courses.  It is also clear that the long term ramifications for the R & A, arising as a result of this Seminar, could be very significant.

In 1897 the R & A was invited by other Clubs to take over the Rules of Golf and drew up a universal code, and to this day it has had responsibility for governing the game of golf outside the USA and Canada.  The R & A, through The Open Championship generates each year a substantial amount of money, their “External Funds”, which goes to assist the game all over the world and indeed to help many of the Club’s represented at the Seminar.  Possibly, after the Conference in February 2000, Clubs may once again call on the R & A to take a more direct role, this time in the preservation of our links, our golfing heritage, and the standards of golf courses in general.

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