The Open is a huge operation bringing not only over 200,000 members of the golfing public onto the St Andrews Links, but also a wide range of contractors who are involved in setting up the grandstands, tentage, scoreboards, cameras etc. Many of these contractors are on site up to two months before play starts.
All of this adds up to considerable pressure on an extremely valuable and internationally renowned local environment and a sand dune system of some fragility.
For this reason, the St Andrews Links Trust and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews have decided to ensure that environmental issues are fully addressed at this and subsequent Open Championships. They see it as their duty to conserve and protect the very environment which has shaped and moulded the Old Course into what it is today.
Thus far the golfing authorities responsible for the management of the Links and those in charge of organising the event have done much to ensure The Open takes place with minimal long-term impact to the Links and the neighbouring Eden Estuary – a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC). These designations demonstrate how important the St Andrews Links are for wildlife.
All of the golf courses harbour a wide range of locally and nationally rare and declining species. Birds such as swift, skylark, whitethroat, song thrush, yellowhammer, linnet, bullfinch and grey partridge are all found on and around the golf courses, many in relatively large numbers in comparison with surrounding farmland. The golf courses provide a stable, managed habitat for over 45 bird species. A further 20-30 can be found at any one time on the neighbouring estuary.
There is also a great diversity of native flora, including colourful plants such as Lady’s Bedstraw, Harebell, Kidney Vetch, Common Centaury, Eyebright, Southern Marsh Orchid, Purple Milk Vetch, Burnet Rose, Devil’s Bit Scabious and many more. These plants provide a food source to an abundance of insects which in turn provide food to the large bird populations.
Among the most striking features of the courses are the outcrops of gorse, broom and heather. This mosaic of habitats provides a diversity of vegetation which is responsible for the wide range of wildlife found on the courses. The Links Trust is keen to maintain this balance and the health of these habitats, for the sake of the golfer as well as wildlife. Indeed, coastal heath such as that found at St Andrews is a habitat under real threat due to coastal development and agricultural intensification in recent years.
Given the environmental importance of the golf courses and the Eden Estuary, the golfing bodies have teamed up with national and local environmental groups to discuss how The Open can contribute to the stewardship of the Links. Careful planning of the event has been undertaken, stands and facilities will be located in areas of low ecological sensitivity and efforts are to be made to raise public awareness of golf’s relationship with the environment.
In terms of the Links Trust’s management, the greenkeepers take great care to minimise the use of water, chemicals and fertilisers in order to maintain traditional links qualities. Each greenkeeper is also involved in conservation of habitats through the management of heather, gorse scrub, grasslands, ponds and wetlands.
Those fortunate enough to be able to attend The Open should look out for information relating to the Old Course and its wildlife which will be available in the form of a pocket sized booklet.
The R&A puts a large amount of time and funding back into the environment. The Club contributes to a partnership in Scotland called the Scottish Golf Course Wildlife Group, which is also supported by the Scottish Golf Union, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Greenbelt Foundation. It funds the Committed to Green Foundation, an environmental programme for golf courses which covers the whole of Europe. Research into heather on UK golf courses has also been carried out with assistance from the R&A. A recent conference entitled “On Course for Change” has just been hosted by the R&A, designed to begin discussion on environmental issues affecting golf in the 21st Century.
It is the R&A’s belief that golf should put something back into the environment which has provided the setting for so many wonderful golf courses, typified by the Old Course at St Andrews.