How Prince’s Golf Club in Kent achieved GEO certification

Tony Hanson
By Tony Hanson May 24, 2016 03:39 Updated

Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) sustainability associate Tony Hanson explains how Prince’s Golf Club in Kent achieved GEO certification following his audit – which shows the world the club is environmentally friendly

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Prince’s Golf Club, near Sandwich in Kent, to undertake an independent audit for the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) following the club’s recent participation in GEO’s OnCourse® sustainability programme.

I have now completed a number of audits for clubs applying for GEO Certified® and all the clubs I have visited have shown an awareness of the natural environment, together with a significant appetite to reduce their environmental impact within the built environment. Prince’s Golf Club has, along with the other clubs that have achieved certification, made a conscious effort to incorporate environmental, natural resource and social awareness in all of their management decisions.

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Prince’s provides a challenge for the maintenance of a golf course due to its location, geology, hydrology and the number of statutory designations requiring enhanced protection of both species and habitats.

It would be very simple for Prince’s to throw their hands up in horror and complain bitterly about all the onerous requirements for the operation of a golf facility in such a location. I am pleased to say that the management at Prince’s have taken precisely the opposite view.

The club has been closely involved with Dr Graham Earl of Canterbury Christ Church University to help and encourage a long-term study of the ecology and habitats found on this site. Statutory designations include Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC), RAMSAR and Special Protection Area (SPA) with numerous stakeholders for the site including Natural England, the Environment Agency and local wildlife groups. The club has taken the enlightened view that working with the stakeholders, to help study the habitat and ecosystems, was the sensible route.

This approach has not resulted in the site being preserved in aspic, but importantly for both players and the ecology, the management of the site has developed and evolved through closer monitoring and research.

One example of this consultative approach was the re-siting of the sixth fairway which had been problematic for the golfers because it was prone to waterlogging. Following consultation with Natural England the club discussed and agreed the possibility of moving the sixth fairway around 100 yards. In the waterlogged area the club designed and created a swale which during the winter period holds water to a depth of approximately one metre and in the summer is almost completely dry. This new wetland habitat has rapidly been adopted by a host of amphibians and insects together with an occasional stray golf ball.

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The club is also going through a process of reinstating natural habitats through the removal of plantations that were established during the postwar period. The removal of the non-native conifers and the reinstatement of naturalised habitats should encourage successional flora to continue the process of expanding the area of natural habitats across and beyond the course. This particular project has also involved the creation of an additional wetland area and some sand for topdressing the fairways.

The club has also made some land available to allow test comparisons of the most common management techniques to understand how they affect the native species and to understand which technique provides the most benefit to the natural ecology.

The result of the tests are interesting, in so far as the most beneficial to the natural species found across the site is to burn. The burning process would appear to have a greater effect on the invasive species than those being encouraged as part of the typical ecological makeup of grey dune systems.

This management style will form the basis of future tests on the main course providing a substantially less labour intensive system for achieving a thriving natural ecology.

Prince’s has gone well beyond the requirements of certification in terms of the studies undertaken and the time involved speaks volumes about the management and commitment. Importantly for the golf industry, Prince’s provides an overview of the potential benefits of the cooperation between the scientific community and the golf industry.

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Understanding the habitat we will be better able to identify the benefits to the natural environment provided by golf. Following the evolution in sympathetic management techniques and the continued reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilisers, we can hopefully move away from the caricature of the natural environment.

I know that many clubs will have undertaken various projects to improve environmental performance – if you have, please let me know.

For more information please contact: Tony Hanson MBIFM, AIEMA and GEO sustainability associate. Tel: 07786 435 010, email: thanson@esinternational.co.uk

 

Tony Hanson
By Tony Hanson May 24, 2016 03:39 Updated
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