Date: Wed 06 Jul 2016

The Open Championship and the environment – natural bedfellows

By Tom Mackenzie, EIGCA President and Senior Member

The courses used for The Masters and The Open have their distinct differences. Augusta has a unique appeal as it marks the start of the new season for golfers in Northern Europe and most golfers know the course well after years of television viewing, recognising its lush greens and fairways. The Open Championship moves venue each year yet all these courses have something in common … golfers recognise their natural look, which to some is not as visually appealing as Augusta.

Green is not great

Irrigation could have been used to keep the course green but it was not.

Irrigation could have been used to keep the course green but it was not.

What makes The Open Championship unusual is that the aim is to let nature dictate the conditions. If it is warm and wet, then the rough will be thick, the fairways green and the greens soft. If there is a dry spring and a hot spell, then it can be played on surfaces that some believe are dead. Good native grasses just go dormant and the surfaces are brown, dry and bouncy. Far from dead, they soon rebound when the rain starts to fall again.

It would be easy to throw on fertiliser and water to make The Open courses green, lush and stripy as is the case on virtually every tour course around the globe. The aim with The Open is to send a message to the world that there is golf beyond Augusta with its verdant meadows.

The public perception of golf is that courses use too much water and fertiliser, so playing the world’s greatest championship on a course with all shades of green and brown shows the world what is possible.

The art of shot-making

The R & A, who run the tournament, prefer it to be hard and fast. They want players to show their shot-making skills and it is rare for The Open to degenerate to a putting competition. Hoylake, in 2006, was amazingly dry and Tiger Woods blew the field away with a masterclass of course management and shot-making. In fact, the details that golf course architects design around greens become magnified as the ground becomes firmer and the ball runs more.

The spectator effect

It has been shown that the damage to the vegetation during The Open is beneficial to the dune habitat if carefully managed.

It has been shown that the damage to the vegetation during The Open is beneficial to the dune habitat if carefully managed.

Every Open venue is mapped through detailed ecological research so areas of environmental sensitivity can be identified and protected, such as the areas of rare lizard orchids which thrive at Royal St. George’s and are found almost nowhere else.

Contrary to some expectations, spectator damage has often been found to be good for the dune systems as sand is exposed which adds to the diversity of otherwise stable dune systems. The condition of natural habitats is monitored before and after the championship and this increased understanding has encouraged more links courses to expose areas of sand, often by removing areas of scrub. All of this work is usually done in close cooperation with government wildlife agencies and under the guidance of experienced ecologists.

Environmental policy

The R&A’s commitment to the environment extends to helping fund an accreditation scheme by the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) and introducing a policy that every course which hosts an R&A event must hold GEO certification. As many of these are Europe’s top courses this sends a powerful environmental message to the golf world.

This strong top-down leadership will serve to inspire clubs with ambitions of hosting an R&A event to become GEO certified. As the top clubs earn certification, the domino effect will see others following suit as momentum gathers pace. Golf’s eco-certification is a long-term project and we are proud to be the first sport to have this in place.

The circle of EIGCA – GEO – R&A

The EIGCA played a major role in helping GEO to succeed. We contributed funds to help the cause and members donated countless unpaid hours to help formulate GEO’s Golf Development Guidelines . In turn, the GEO helped set-up EIGCA’s Raising the Standard of Sustainable Golf Course Development member CPD programme to elevate the standards of sustainable golf course development, and it remains the only course of its kind in the world. The R&A funding for the programme helps make EIGCA members leaders in sustainable golf course design.

The Open is more than just another of the golf majors. It is a force for good in the game.

Click here to read more about Tom.

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