The threat to golf

The commercial revolution in professional golf with the rise of television money has encouraged the development of courses with fertilised fairways and over-watered greens. Quite understandably this threatens to create in the mind of the public that golf is un-ecological in its use of water, fertilisers and pesticides.

Golf must not hide from and needs to be aware that the extremist Extinction Rebellion type activists with their ‘anti-capitalist’ objectives already have golf in their sights, organising a demonstration at a Worthing golf club and their role at Coul Links in Sutherland has stopped American investment giving a filip to much needed jobs in the Highlands.

FineGolf’s  support for the ‘running’ game of golf in contrast to ‘target-golf’ is fundamentally conservationist, which is in line with wider Society’s wish to preserve and conserve.

Golf needs to prioritise this conservation for the healthy future of the game

Television golf calls for immaculate courses. But as Ken ‘on-the-course’ Brown said to me at Hoylake “running-golf courses are not meant to look immaculate”.

Their beauty lies in being a “wildness tamed with a natural roughness”

In collaboration with experts FineGolf has published a series of conservationist articles.  John Nicholson Associates, the UK’s leading independent environmental and habitat consultantcy has developed articles covering;  gorse, friend or foe?  downlands, and trees .

This positive education on conservation by FineGolf  goes alongside calling for, with clear recommendations,  environmental policy change by the government’s bodies on ‘sea defence’   and an important criticism of Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) which ignores the weed/fine grasses dichotomy and brings into question its own trumpeted conservationism.

Water is a scarce resource, fine grasses conserve it

Following the boom in golf club finances and the droughts in the mid 90s, even many Fine running-courses decided to install fairway watering systems and Jim Arthur Europe’s leading golf agronomist, who wrote the Bible of Conservation Greenkeeping “Practical Greenkeeping”  was not against this as they do usefully give greenkeepers more flexibility, even if it should be used sparingly to just keep the grass alive.

Green unfortunately became the buzz word

It did though seem that lush target golf was carrying all before it in the 1990s and the credo “if it isn’t green, it must be dead” pervading golf at many levels. If ‘weed’ annual meadow grass (Poa annua) with their shallow roots or rye with its tufted habit goes brown then it is likely to be dead, but perennial fescue/browntop bent grasses with deep roots often go dormant and brown in a normal dry summer but can survive droughts, unlike rye or Poa annua, and come back green with the first rain.

Nevertheless, they are cool season grasses and in exceptional times like 1976 and 2018 when Britain had hot weather of 30degrees for six weeks even the fescues struggled on courses that had no fairway watering.

Read the article of what happened at heathland de Pan GC and also the ‘Green illusion’ article by Norbert ‘the turf fox’ Lischka.

FineGolf’s ambition to rebalance this dangerous ‘green activist’ philosophy and give confidence to golfers to support natural conservationist greenkeeping at their local clubs.

Well-managed golf courses cannot be accused of being polluters.  Traditional, austere conservation greenkeeping minimises the need for watering and ensures that no pollution occurs from inorganic fertiliser and pesticide use. True greenkeeping sustainability means low inputs and it also lowers costs.

The rise in conservation consciousness in wider society should help this re-balancing but sometimes the ‘Anthropogenic global warming alarmists’ promote ignorant attitudes with – for example, ‘tree-huggers’  believing all trees are sacrosanct.

FineGolf  encourages clubs to have a clear conservationist policy that should be publicised, as for example Royal Ashdown Forest,  has done on its website.

Open heathland and downland ecology is worth fighting for

The biggest conservation headache on heathland and downland is the invasion of scrub and seedling trees which, if not cleared (as they used to be by sheep grazing), transform the appearance and nature of the course from an open, dry environment to woodland. The roots and shade of trees particularly near greens, creates an environment in favour of ‘weed’ grasses which helps them to out-compete the indigenous natural perennial ‘fine’ grasses that are best for golf.  Read   John Nicholson’s   article on Downlands.

This encroachment can takes place over a long time and, therefore, people live with it and many of our heathland and downland courses are now heavily wooded.  The visionary clubs know that they have to continuously work at heathland regeneration if they are to help keep the ecological balance and stop the heathland features degenerating into woodland and parkland.

Gorse and buckthorn are two other invasive plants that also need control. READ John Nicholson’s article on gorse.

Heather is killed by being fertilised: The deciduous leaves of oaks and silver birch in the autumn blow under the heather, mulch down and fertilise.  It is a phenomenon that the Surrey and Berkshire heathland courses are trying to counteract.  Ignorant tree huggers can do much harm to the ecological balance.

The work being done at some of our finest heathland courses, Hankley Common,  Notts(Hollinwell), Delamere Forest and Walton Heath, with the regeneration of the heath and the removal of hundreds of trees, leads the way.

They have achieved this progressive policy by involving local conservation groups and communicating coherently with their memberships.

Reader Comments

On March 27th, 2009 Chris Mitchell said:

Spot on. The tree huggers need to be educated. Trees are only a short term storage for carbon anyway. When the leaves fall they return any CO2 back to the atmosphere as well as when the tree dies it gives back any CO2. Carbon neutral.
Birds and other wild life do not live in woods, they live on the edge of woods, using the open land around them to find food and the woodland edge for shelter. Very few major species live in a wood (about 5) whereas over 250 species live in a heathland enviroment.

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