Golf Courses:Lessening the Environmental Impacts of Design, Development & Operation

Golf courses involve sensitive and controversial issues. This article offers guidance to those already operating courses, or considering whether to develop them. The presentation and management of golf courses involves a wide range of environmental issues. Golf courses interact with biodiversity, landscape and cultural heritage. Their management involves the use of water resources, chemicals and energy, waste disposal and noise considerations. There are also health and safety, working environment, training and education issues as well as community relations to take into account.

Los Suenos Marriott Beach & Golf Resort, Costa RicaLos Suenos Marriott

Set on the Pacific Coast adjoining 1100 acres of rainforest, this 18-hole championship golf course is designed to give the experience of travelling through the rainforest without disrupting the eco-system. It is landscaped to include exotic native plants, banana trees and orchids. Over 150 species of birds, as well as monkeys and other wildlife have been identified there.

Caddies are local Costa Ricans, fluent in Spanish and English who have undergone months of training including daily classes with a local biologist.

The Los Suenos is creating an annual Costa Rica Open Championship; the proceeds will go toward rainforest preservation.

1. Design
* Ecology
is now one of the key subjects in golf course development throughout the world. No new golf course should be developed without first undertaking an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
* Your guiding principle should be to protect and improve the natural amenity. Properly planned courses can provide valuable habitats for a variety of flora and fauna, especially birds. Wherever possible, make sure there is no net loss of woodland.
* Seek advice from organizations such as the “Committed to Green” Foundation, Audubon International and your national golf association which may be able to suggest proven designers with an established environmental track record. Determine the track record for environmental design for your preferred course designer.
* Design to connect areas that will form natural habitats. There should be areas of natural vegetation which is ‘out-of-play’ and extensive deep rough. Keep maintained and ‘manicured’ areas to a minimum.
* Golf courses generally require large amounts of water for irrigation. Choose varieties of turf grass and other vegetation which require less water are best adapted to the local climate. Limit irrigation to where it is absolutely necessary to maintain playing turf and avoid using mains water for irrigation whenever possible.
* Your design should incorporate various methods of catching and retaining water so that you draw as little off the grid as possible. Open bodies of water such as reservoirs or lakes are not necessarily the best option for climates with very high rates of evaporation.
* Consider whether grey and brown water from bathrooms, laundry or cooling towers (if associated with a hotel) can be treated and re-used for irrigation. Alternatively, find out if it can be brought onto the site from elsewhere.
* Ask your designer about soil amendments which will reduce water consumption.
* Associated facilities, such as the clubhouse, should be sited with care and built with traditional materials so that they blend into the landscape. Timber should only be used if it can be produced sustainably.
* Creating a golf course provides an opportunity to create walkways for non-players and to educate them about wildlife protection and nature conservation. It is an amenity for all guests and not just golfers.

Ihilani Resort & Spa, HawaiiIlihani Resort

A technique known as stolonisation was used for the nine-hole putting green. Grass for the course was propagated from cuttings harvested by a mower which combs the lawn, clipping just the tips. This method uses substantially less water as the cuttings take root and sprout twice as quickly as grass seed. To prevent soil compaction, the top layer of medium was specially created from a mixture of 60% sand, 20% compost and 20% crumbed-rubber from used car tyres.

2. Construction
* Construction is a critical time for damage to existing sensitive habitats. Safeguards should be taken to ensure they are not destroyed while work is in progress. For example, avoid felling trees and undertaking earth moving during the months when birds are nesting and rearing their young.
* Stop work whenever weather conditions deteriorate to avoid soil damage and control traffic to ensure there is no impact to non-construction areas.
* Plant indigenous trees and, for color and interest, use wild flower instead of bedding plants.
* Areas which must be left undisturbed should be cordoned off so that building contractors don’t enter them accidentally.

Chateau Whistler
Chateau Whistler Golf Club, British Columbia

Owned by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ and opened in 1993, this course was designed to allow the natural landscape dictate its path. Environmental features include log weirs that enable fish, such as rainbow trout and dolly varden, to swim up-stream and spawn. Use of pesticides is kept to a minimum by spraying only the greens. It is certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program.

3. Day to Day Management
* Establish an environmental management programme. Not all facilities will be able to make major improvements immediately but each can make a start.
* The principles of energy and water conservation and waste management are important on the course and in facilities such as the clubhouse.
* Staff should be trained and guests, golfers and walkers informed about ‘no go’ areas so that wildlife can thrive. Make sure they are signed. Establish a communications programme to advise guests of your environmental achievements.
* Chemical use should be kept as low as possible, carefully controlled and confined to greens and tees. Adopt a cultural and biological rather than chemical-based approach to keeping down pests. Explore organic options. Strive to achieve a year-on-year reduction in the amount of pesticides applied while maintaining or improving the quality of your course.
* Golf carts should be solar or battery powered rather than petrol-fueled.
* Evaluate the possibility of using solar-powered lawnmowers for the greens.
* Composted waste from turf clippings and restaurant kitchen can be used as a soil amendment in planted areas.

Centres of Excellence
Audubon International
During the past decade, Audubon International has been actively involved in the development and implementation of conservation programmes which provide a comprehensive approach to environmental planning for projects in the design, construc
tion and management phases of development.

The Audubon Co-operative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses (ACSP) promotes ecologically sound land management and the conservation of natural resources and provides an information service about how to conduct proactive environmental projects for golf courses. It was created in 1191 in partnership with its sponsor, the U.S. Golf Association.

The ACSP operates a certification process, designed to recognise and support those who work to ensure a high degree of environmental quality on their golf course. There are six ‘Achievement Categories’ in the certification process:

1. environmental planning
2. wildlife and habitat management
3. integrated pest management
4. water quality management
5. outreach and education
6. water conservation

Committed to Green
The Committed to Green Foundation promotes environmental awareness and responsibility. The project was launched by the European Golf Association Ecology Unit in 1997. Recognition is given to clubs that achieve high standards of environmental performance, similar to Audubon’s list. Over 150 European golf clubs from 14 countries have registered.

The golfing world recognised its duty to strive to preserve and enhance the natural resources with which it is entrusted in the Valderrama Declaration, signed by the golf authorities and leading environmental organisations in November 1999. There has been close association with the US Golf Association, which has led the way in recent years with its in-depth environmental research programme.


From The Green Hotelier magazine, a Content Partner.

Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Programme for Golf Courses
Case studies:

Committed to Green Foundation:
(See their publications)

US Golf Association: [sorry this link is no longer available]
List of certified courses: [sorry this link is no longer available]

European Golf Association Ecology Unit:

Neighborhood Network is a Long Island, NY. non-profit that is successfully working toward organically managed golf courses: [sorry this link is no longer available]

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