Language & sea levels

Added on May 27th, 2019 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Greenkeeping

FineGolf  is by nature an optimist which thinks the best of GB&I’s golf courses, its history and its prospects and if golf clubs simply focus on enjoyment as their prime motivator of policy then all will end well.

With this attitude one must point out two inter-connected aspects of the latest doom-laden ‘Climate Emergency’ promulgated by fifteen and sixteen year olds (Erin from Scotland and Greta from Sweden) as far as golf is concerned.

Firstly, sea-level-rise of one metre by 2100 is predicted by some computer models, which the alarmists say will mean some of our finest courses will be flooded. There are unfortunately some indications that those in charge of golf policy are being misled by this, so in a moment we will clarify the actual scientific facts on which FineGolf  feels policy should be based and where is the real threat coming from.

Secondly, if a campaign for the greater enjoyment of running-golf is to be successful (although not requiring any need for golfers to understand the full technical depth of greenkeeping), it is vital that golfers appreciate why greenkeeping is so important and we must use the right key language to help build the respect between golfers and greenkeepers.

Gordon Irvine

In his excellent new article for FineGolf, Gordon Irvine, who is quite simply Europe’s leading course consultant for those intending to switch to fine grass, explains that the creation of fine grassed greens comes down to the ‘right’ greenkeeping management being pursued.

This in turn begs the question as to what this ‘right’ greenkeeping management should be called. There are many words that have been used by different very able people, all of them being committed to helping the enjoyment of running-golf down the ages. These words include: sustainable, traditional, real, practical, ecological, natural, minimalist, austere. Let us discuss them and draw some conclusions.

  • ‘Sustainable’ is used by the large golfing bodies which prefer to sit on the commercial fence between ‘fine grass running-golf ‘ and ‘weed grass target-golf’. They use what has become in reality a fudge word unless you remember to include the words ‘low inputs, lower costs’ as well after it. However, this then becomes too much of a mouthful and too technical for a headline phrase.
  • ‘Traditional’, as per Old Tom Morris et al, is acceptable but the chemical company sales reps find it easy to overcome that one by saying greenkeepers should keep up with modern products and that their particular snake-oil is just the thing to manage any weed meadow grass so why change to fine grasses?
  • ‘Real’. This was used by Eddie and Nick Park, the father and son combination who in the 1980s led the fine grassed greenkeeping campaign with in-depth articles in Golf Monthly. The word ‘real’ no longer flies.
  • ‘Practical’. This is the word used by Jim Arthur, the hero of fine grasses and used as the title of his book that became the bible of fine grass greenkeeping, namely ‘Practical Greenkeeping‘. Technically it is appropriate but as a marketing word it does not catch the imagination of the golfer and never forget that the golfer here is the customer.
  • Ecological’. This term is too scientific and technical to be the lead word in a broad approach to greenkeeping.
  • ‘Natural’. Over the long term this word is absolutely spot-on but as the key word it is weak in current campaigning terms within an environment where ‘science’ is more valued than ‘art’, particularly in comparison with the word FineGolf has eventually settled on using after pondering the issue for some time:
  • ‘Minimalist’ and ‘Austere’  are used by many and are bang-on nevertheless they do not have the width of meaning that the next word has in today’s society.
  • ‘Conservation’. This word sums up all of the above and resonates with today’s wider society trends and fashions.

‘Conservation greenkeeping’ is a phrase that golfers can feel proud to say is employed at their own club.

In FineGolf’s view this is the best word for describing fine grass greenkeeping and also conjures up the themes of protection, safeguarding, reduced expenditure, preservation, even saving-the-planet, all being positive concepts.

We have to be careful that our definition of conservation is associated with preserving the ecological balance. For example regaining the true open heathlands, downs and links where no longer do sheep eat the self-seeding trees and undergrowth, meaning the land needs to be actively managed.

In this context we should be careful not to allow the re-wilding movement’s use of the conservation word to confuse us. The golfing Joy-to-be-alive feeling comes from our balanced attempt to both live with, while also controlling nature’s wildness. It doesn’t come from forests taking over on the one hand nor from pristine, lush, over-management either. A bit of natural roughness around the edges is good.

It should be recognised that some wild flower areas and bird boxes etc are positive trends and can help defend golf against its envious (‘watermelon’) critics. But the majority of golfers want to play golf rather than smell the roses, so this word conservation needs to be used primarily in the context of how the course plays, ie the management of the type of grass, rather than the more fluffy aspects of ‘flora and fauna’.

Conservation has the positive low input connotations that fit with today’s modern world while recognising the need to preserve the best of the past.

It is this balance that makes ‘conservation greenkeeping’ so powerful a concept when contrasted with the phrase ‘Chemical greenkeeping’ which is what FineGolf uses to describe the management of annual meadow grass (Poa annua) with its requirements of so much extra water, inorganic fertiliser and fungicides to control growth and disease in the stressed weed grass.

Moving on to the facts of sea-level rise and seaside golf courses…

There is recent schoolgirl hysteria about an imminent end to the world with the sea flooding our finest golf courses, so it is worth us steadying ourselves by remembering the scientific facts.

In 2018 FineGolf exposed Natural England’s (NE) and Natural Resources Wales’s (NRW) threat towards the clubs of Royal North Devon (Westward Ho!) and Aberdovey/Borth & Ynyslas from their unhelpful policies. This in no small part is stimulated by the quangos’ belief that sea-level-rise is so catastrophic that it is a waste of time and money creating sea defences against high-tide storm-surge erosion and better to let the sea take the land back.

These quangos take no responsibility for the seashore but nothing legally can be done to protect some of our finest courses unless clubs gain their permission and they have actively stopped these clubs building sea defences. CLICK HERE to read the amazing full story.

With these historic courses and their vital economic tourist attraction under attack from these quangos, it is worth being reminded of the actual facts about the extent of sea-level-rise and whether we really are going to lose some of our finest running-golf courses if sensible action is allowed to be taken.

Land does rise and fall compared to the sea as a result of tectonic shifts in the earth’s surface, while Scotland is rising at about 1mm per year and south England has been subsiding since the weight of the glaciers of the ice-age 10,000 years ago was lifted from Scotland. So if we are to adapt in our sea defence policy to sea-level-change it is best to measure local tide level trends.

We are fortunate in having accurate measurement of tide levels taken at a few harbours around the world since the nineteenth century. The graph below from North Shields in northern England shows a steady average sea-level-rise of around 1.9 mm per year or seven inches per century, which conforms to long term glacial changes and indicates no recent acceleration.

If one analyses a 50-year moving average, which scientifically is normally considered the more accurate way of measuring a trend, the average sea-level-rise at North Shields has actually fallen since the 1940s.

FineGolf therefore suggests that the correct policy for The R&A to adopt would be to encourage the construction of golf course sea defences where necessary and help adaption to the slow rise of sea level, rather than capitulate to the alarmist climate modelling theories and thereby play up to fashionable hysteria. One should not rely on the likes of the Climate Coalition nor of Prof. Piers Forster, who has recently joined Parliament’s Climate Change Committee, both of whom predict a metre sea-level-rise by 2100.

Scientifically there is no evidence to deduce that there will suddenly be a seven-fold increase from the steady rise over the past 130 years. This view is supported by numerous ‘experts’ including world leading climatologist Judith Curry, former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology in her November 2018 report on sea level and climate change. Analytical comment on the latest BBC promoted study of catastrophy is HERE.

As ‘Global Warming’ increase was not predicted to pause since the end of the 1990s, it is now called ‘Climate Change’ though, as greenkeepers know, weather has always changed unpredicably in GB&I.  Scotland, where The R&A resides, has had some increase in average precipitation since the 1980s. Nevertheless, in other regions of the UK there has been almost flatlining in rainfall levels since 1910, as shown below by a UK Met office graph.

 

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), who do not seem to have quite the same approach as NE and NRW, (perhaps because golf tourism is seen as so economically important to Scotland) have invested in a detailed historical analysis of sea erosion around Scotland.

Interestingly their maps show that at ‘The Home of Golf ‘ where the Old Course and other St Andrews courses are sited on a shifting sand bar, the beach to the east of the New Course has over the past 120 years gained considerable land from the sea. The black dot line represents 1890, the yellow dot 1970, since when three metres have been gained each year, and the green line 2017. At the north west there has been a small amount of erosion.

In southern England similar gains in land have occured. Burnham & Berrow and Rye golf clubs have created new secondary courses on land naturally given up by the sea in the last few decades.

Golfers should press for the environmental gain from conservation greenkeeping. At the same time they should be prepared for continual weather change as this has always occurred, while being sympathetic and supportive of our greenkeepers in that predicting the weather is the most difficult aspect faced by their profession. Some use the catch-all excuse of ‘climate change’ as not being of help to them. The finest, like David Coull of Luffness New, use the right conservation greenkeeping and hope for luck from the weather. Sometimes it works at other times action has to be delayed.

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