Over the past 120 years golf has played an increasing part in shaping the historic parks and landscapes of England, yet, without careful management, golf courses can irreversibly damage the historic environment.
While the number of new courses being built has slowed to a handful a year, existing courses bear the burden of extension and modification that have resulted from technological advances in equipment, changing markets and the need to improve course designs developed in the boom period of the 1980s and 1990s.
In response to growing demand for authoritative advice on the subject, English Heritage has produced the publication, “Golf in historic parks and landscapes”, and announced the launch of new websites devoted to golf course development in historic parks and landscapes.
The publication and the websites – which can be accessed at www.helm.org.uk and www.english-heritage.org.uk/parksandgardens – are targeted at developers, golf course owners, local planning authorities, and conservation organisations. They provide invaluable advice and guidance on golf course proposals and related developments in designated historic parks and other historic landscapes in England.
They also include criteria for assessing proposals and design, management principles, and advice on full planning applications.
Illustrative of the comprehensive advice included on the websites are the detailed guidelines which cover ten key aspects of golf course design in the historic environment: course layout and density; landform; buildings, car parks and circulation; trees and new planting; furniture, paths and lighting; bunkers; grassland management; water bodies and irrigation; landscape management and maintenance; the wider historic landscape character.
While all historic sites have their unique significance and character, and there is no single solution or set of rules for golf course design, the websites makes it clear that alterations to existing courses can provide an opportunity for positive change in the approach to managing golf in parkland. The essence of a good golf course design in this context is that it responds to the constraints and opportunities of the individual site.
The websites also contain helpful links to further sources of guidance and advice, as well as information on the history of golf courses in England, the key characteristics of courses of different historic periods, and the impacts of golf course development on historic parks.
Jenifer White, senior landscape advisor at English Heritage, said, “Historic parks and landscapes can make fantastic settings for golf courses, but designing and managing these courses does require particular sensitivity. The new English Heritage guidance is intended to help plan and manage these courses and sets out our criteria of how we assess new planning applications.”
Ken Moodie, president of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) said, “The European Institute of Golf Course Architects welcomes the new policy guidance recently published by English Heritage in Golf in Historic Parks & Landscape.
“It presents a pragmatic and balanced view of the impact and potential contribution which golf courses can have on the protection of our historic designed landscapes.
“English Heritage recognises that, while insensitive or inappropriate golf development can be damaging, if designed well golf courses can also perform a useful role in providing an alternative income stream to help protect and manage the historic landscapes in the future.
“They also recognise that the skills of a professional golf course architect are essential in order to balance the need to create an attractive golf course while minimising the visual and physical impact the course as on the historic landscape.
“We were very pleased that one of our Senior Members, Tom Mackenzie, contributed to the document and the EIGCA was also consulted as a professional body. In fact, English Heritage also recognises the heritage value of golf courses in their own right and commissioned EIGCA produce a document entitled: “Golf Courses as Designed Landscapes of Historic Interest – A Statement of Significance” to provide some background information for the publication and to consider whether golf courses of historic value should be included on the “Register of Parks and Gardens” as valuable designed landscapes worthy of protection. English Heritage plans to publish extracts from the study in the near future.”
For Golf Environment Europe, chief executive Jonathan Smith said, “This report provides a comprehensive and balanced picture of golf and historic landscapes. It recognises that sensitively designed, constructed and managed courses can play an important role in conserving historic landscapes and protecting them from other forms of less sensitive development.
“However, it quite rightly points out that some golf development and management practices can challenge the integrity of such sensitive landscapes.
“Whilst it is strong, the guidance is not prescriptive and offers some very helpful practical ideas for developers, architects and course managers on how they can make sure their actions can help in the conservation of valuable historical and landscape assets.
“Overall, it is good example of collaboration between government agencies and the sector to establish a balanced policy on the future development and management of golf courses in such areas.”
“It is possible that this guidance will be shared with other central and north western European countries – who share a similar heritage of designed parklands and landscapes. As someone who always strives for a balanced outlook, I think this publication is a good effort – challenging perhaps, but fair.
“I don‘t see it as negating the possibility of future golf development in historic landscapes, but there is a now a presumption that any new proposals or proposals to re-model will have to take a very close look at the issues.
“In fact for existing courses you could view this guidance as helping clubs conserve the enviable open parkland and historic assets of their courses, which as we know are often under threat of being eroded by inconsistent course management policies.