Golf is getting greener, but it could be doing better: that’s the message which came out of a conference organised by the R&A to look at the environmental impact of the game.
The conference, entitled “The Course for Europe”, was attended by over 100 people, including representatives of golf authorities, greenkeeping associations and research organisations from across the continent.
Impressive presentations were made by representatives of the golf unions of France, Denmark, Scotland and Germany, giving details of some of the efforts already being made both to improve golf’s impact on the natural environment and to communicate those efforts throughout the game and beyond. These presentations were underlined by further contributions from the floor, with representatives from every corner of Europe speaking passionately about the steps that are being made to make golf as green as possible.
Yet despite this undeniable progress, stark warnings were given by delegates from outside the game about both the impact golf is having and, just as importantly, the impact that it is perceived as having on the environment.
Nick Hanley of the European Commission’s Environment directorate was the first up. “I get a lot of stick from colleagues who ask me how I can be an environmentalist and yet still play golf,” he said at the beginning of his first presentation, in which he discussed the water shortages that climate change is expected to bring within a few generations. His second presentation, about the use of pesticides, was equally thought-provoking.
Later in the day the general issues of golf’s social responsibility were brought up by Gordon Shephard, director of international policy for WWF. “We are living in a fragile world,” he told the audience, highlighting dozens of unsustainable practices from across the world and the consequences that they might have. “Is golf going to be significant in a world facing problems on this scale?”
These provocative comments ensured a lively debate about golf’s progress in becoming increasingly sustainable – and at the heart of the conference lay an explanation of a new tool which will help golf courses across Europe move towards that goal.
The R&A’s new benchmarking system was explained by Nick Park, of the Golf Course Committee Panel, who gave details on how the system will help golf courses throughout Europe to compare the impact they are having through the way they are managed, from staffing levels to the use of irrigation and pesticides.