Walk in the Park
centuries golf has been perceived as being a sport at one with nature. A healthy
outdoor pursuit allowing the participant to become lost in their surroundings,
often amongst a world of green fields and woodland, far away from the hustle and
bustle of modern city life. With this notion comes the attitude that sport must
inherently be ‘eco-friendly’. A notion that in many cases is true as most golf
courses provide havens for wildlife that would otherwise be threatened with the
increasing urban sprawl of business parks and housing developments.
facts show us that a land area in excess of 102,950 ha is occupied by golf courses
in Britain. If this is broken down further, it becomes apparent that approximately
36,000 ha of this total constitutes rough areas which compares to just 7,390 ha
taken up by greens and tees. In practical terms these areas divide into 1,800
potential wildlife sites each measuring between 5-50 ha in size. All these figures
serve to highlight the potential that golf courses have to enhance and add variety
to the British countryside.
this incredible potential for golf courses to provide sanctuary for our flora
and fauna continues to be limited. In harsh reality, many of today’s British courses
effectively amount to little more than ‘green car parks’, with minimal rough or
wild areas being utilised, allowing for the maximum through put of golf and fewer
lost balls. Many of today’s courses have lost valuable elements of their individuality
and much of the character exhibited by their more established predecessors. Most
are focused purely upon making money with little thought given to the adverse
effect their intensive management may have on the surrounding environment.
golf courses currently occupy a considerable percentage of our countryside, with
many of the older venues harbouring SSI’s (sites of Special Scientific Interest)
and other designated wildlife sites. Yet how many times do we hear golfers complain
that "the rough is too long" and "there are too many weeds on the
fairways", or worse still "the water is not blue enough!"
simple truth is that we as golfers have become somewhat guilty of being both spoilt
and complacent. We see immaculate courses on our holidays and televisions and
have come to expect the same when we play as members or visitors here in the UK.
Today, the technological advances within the industry mean that the greenkeeper
is more capable than ever before of attaining such high expectations. Unfortunately,
such technological benefits are often being abused, or used unwisely as we see
an increasing number of unsustainable, crude ‘American style,’ golf courses being
established throughout the UK, very often to the detriment of the surrounding
environment and the fragile eco-system within.
the last decade there have been a growing and perhaps justifiable concern amongst
many environmentalists that the once valuable habitats that were found within
many of our golf courses are now in danger of being lost or destroyed, be it through
neglect or mis-guided education.
must begin to look at measures to preserve the ‘roots’ of the game we allegedly
invented and not be tempted to destroy or modify our long established golfing
pedigree with the seemingly endless barrage of ‘target’ golf courses and the various
architectural ‘gimmicks’ they employ to draw in the customer. The long term future
of such developments is questionable. Time after time we read of ambitious projects
being put on the market (very often at a loss). It would seem that through the
pressures and demands of the media and large sections of the golfing public, we
are gradually losing sight of the game’s traditions.
golf is to argue its case against the environmentalists then we must look at the
way in which we perceive the game and its future development. Perhaps, a less
commercially driven and more sustainable approach to golf course management will
also have far reaching benefits to members who, throughout peak times of the summer,
find it increasingly hard o play on their own golf course. By redressing the balance
a little and opting more for quality over quantity, many of our courses will become
less booked up with societies, which at the moment many Clubs rely on to ensure
that the short-term unsustainable demands of their facility can be met! Undoubtedly,
there is huge scope for today’s contemporary designs to be of equal value in terms
of playing ability and conservation of wildlife as that of many of our ‘classic’
links and heathland courses. However, such potential will take sensitivity and
patience – two philosophies that are unfortunately becoming less and less tolerable
in today’s commercially driven industry.
use a classic example, for all its beauty the Augusta National creates a somewhat
false perception of how a golf course should be presented. A perception that all
too frequently ends in the golfer becoming disillusioned as it is simply not possible
to replicate such incredible attention to detail on their local golf course. However,
at the hands of a ruthless committee the attempts made to create such an artificial
environment can have disastrous consequences both in the overall aesthetic appeal
of the golf course and in the diversity and value of the various natural habitats
within its boundaries. This may result in the introduction of various alien flora
and fauna species over-riding the natural beauty of the plants and animals both
inherent and specific to a certain area.
industry as a whole must concentrate on moving away from this ‘Augusta National
syndrome’ and replace what amounts to little more than ‘theme park golf’ with
sound philosophies and an awareness that compromise is essential in ensuring a
sustainable and profitable future for our Golf Clubs. Whilst it is imperative
that our industry develops and progresses, from an environmental standpoint it
would also be wise to keep a realistic perspective on what is actually achievable.
Golf courses have more potential than ever to act as valuable sanctuaries for
a wide variety of flora and fauna (much of which is becoming increasingly scarce).
The development of more and more housing and business parks, plus extensions on
the road network means that the emphasis on golf courses becoming aware of the
expectations, and the increasing environmental awareness put on them, will increase.
our professional lives become more and more demanding and the pressures of the
‘rat race’ ever more stressful golf will provide the perfect tonic. A method of
total relaxation in amongst beautiful unspoilt surroundings, rich in wildlife
and as much a sanctuary for the golfer as for the wildlife within it!
is vital that we use such environmental interest and legislation as a catalyst
and motivational factor to make changes within our industry. We must get away
from the attitude that environmental restrictions and laws repress progress and
development. It is all too easy to romanticise about the past, as in years gone
by the expectations and pressures placed upon greenkeepers were incomparable.
The industry has developed beyond all expectations, however, this should never
alter our perspective on what is right, and perhaps sometimes by glancing back
to how things were, it will help us to appreciate the beauty and heritage of many
of the UK’s natural heathland and links courses and put the state of today’s industry
must lose our obsession to control and manipulate all that is natural and instead
decide upon a way forward or a compromise to be reached between producing a quality
golf course and protecting our natural environment. Such courses have been built
in the past and are being built in the present. These will remain in vogue far
longer than many of the commercially ‘synthetic’ courses we unfortunately seem
to have adopted from the resorts of Florida and the Costa-del-Sol.
should be calling for a move towards quality and not quantity, I for one would
prefer to play my golf surrounded by pasture and not park!