Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

GEO Certified® 12/2014
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0) 1586 810 069

Executive summary (English & local language)

This report presents the results of the verification carried out under the terms of the Re-Certification procedure, which takes place every 3 years. The Re-Certification procedure conforms to the same comprehensive protocols as the original certification, but with a focus on changes over the period since original certification. It therefore has specific priorities, and applies explicit criteria which differ slightly from those used originally. In particular, the club’s progress in addressing any Continual Improvement Points (CIPs) is a key area of interest.

From the outset, Machrihanish Dunes was conceived as a development which would aim to embrace faithfully the philosophy and traditions of links golf, including its minimal impact on the environment. This goal was unquestionably achieved on opening in 2009, not least due to the exceptional spirit of co-operation and collaboration between the development team and the environmental and planning authorities, and its status as an examplar for sustainable management of golf on a protected duneland site was reinforced by the original GEO Certified award the following year.

The foundation of this original success was undoubtedly the preparation of the 2009-13 Management Plan, overseen and agreed the broadly-based Management Group, which incorporates national and community interests, and guarantees the highest standard of environmental management of the course within the protected Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Machrihanish Dunes SSSI, of which the course forms part. Machrihanish Dunes have continued to build on this initial achievement, broadening the scope of their management aims to embrace the wider sustainability agenda.

Key achievements and changes since 2010 identified by the OnCourse Report and verification procedure include:

• Continued in-depth regular consultation with Management Group, contributing to development of a revised 2013-19 Management Plan.
• Continued systematic quadrat-based monitoring providing evidence of significant improvement in habitat and species diversity since 2010.
• Adaptation to major challenges since opening, including storm damage, requiring measures which include adjusting position of the green at the par 3 6th hole.
• Continuing minimal water inputs for the golf course reflecting the very limited irrigated area.
• Owners Southworth have introduced a general set of environmental policies in the form of an overall Environmental Philosophy. This includes a Mission Statement, and an Environmental Management Strategy covering headings which relate closely to the original 2010 GEO reporting format, setting out company practice in each area.
• Course play continues to increase since full opening in May 2009. Current total rounds have risen from under 3000 in 2011 to over 7000 in 2013. The Management Plan anticipates 8000 – 10,000 rounds of golf will be played per annum, mainly during the months of May – October.
• Maintenance facility upgrade planned but a number of options still possible. These include extension of the existing lease of the MoD buildings, which will expire in 2016, or construction of a bespoke new-build facility on a site within the course, possibly to the south of the practice range.
• Community partnerships continue to be a major strength. The owning group’s highly visible hotel refurbishments since 2010 in Campbeltown and Machrihanish provide a symbol of the stimulus provided for wider economic regeneration of the South Kintyre area.


The revised 2013-2018 Management Plan, although still in draft form, is expected to be agreed and adopted in the near future with no significant further changes. It retains the same long term management aims for the coming 15-20 year period, but incorporates a number of refinements and adjustments to the objectives and actions, taking account of changes to the management issues which have influenced the measures adopted. The following are considered most notable in this context:

• Adjustment in the grazing regime in out-of-play roughs to include some mowing. The use of sheep grazing to develop and maintain the desired wispy roughs for golf and species diversity is a very visible symbol of the Machrihanish Dunes philosophy and is heavily featured in promotional material. Following a number of years of trial plot monitoring which showed loss of species diversity, it was agreed with SNH in winter 2011 to cut and collect some areas of rough mechanically. The balance between grazing and mowing and the precise stocking levels will be kept under review and may be adjusted depending on results of the previous winters grazing, growth over the summer, and the results of the fixed quadrat monitoring.
• Vegetation Monitoring. Related to the above issue but with more general aims is the monitoring of changes to sward composition across the SSSI to inform future management practices. A total of 26 fixed 2m x 2m quadrats were established following construction to sample the most important NVC communities, including areas of fairway, in-play, and out-of-play rough. These continue to be recorded in July each year and allow changes in sward height and species composition to be monitored, and appropriate adjustments to be agreed by the Management Group. The monitoring regime for the period 2013-15 has still to be incorporated in the draft plan by SNH. The monitoring regime is considered to be a key part of the success of the SSSI management strategy and has already demonstrated positive changes including:
o improvement in species diversity in dune slacks
o improvement in species diversity in former agricultural grassland areas.
• Responses to winter storms. The greens of holes 5, 6, 11, 15, and 16 are situated on the primary dune ridge and are very vulnerable to sand blow and salt spray damage. Significant damage occurred in 2012 and again in 2013, four greens requiring re-turfing. Green 6 was rebuilt on a new site further inland in opened for play in 2014. Measures have also been trialled to counter the negative effects of salt spray, including use of colonial bent in overseeding mixes, increased height of cut coupled with use of compost teas and micro bacteria, and experimentation with liquid sprays containing specific nutrients found to be deficient in rootzone. Chespale and other fencing continues to be used to counteract wind- blown sand.
• High winter water table and flooding requiring maintenance practices to be altered to reduce the use of transport vehicles whenever possible during the winter months. Winter flooding remains a problem in specific areas- notably the 16th fairway, which has required closure of the golf course for periods in recent winters.
• Continued reduction in rabbit numbers to the benefit of sward diversity.
• Small increase in overall area of wetland/dune slacks/transitional dune slack vegetation.
• Refining paths and circulation routes around the course. Routes and wear are continually monitored and areas have been reinforced with recyclable rubber matting framed with marram. 8 new boardwalks, plus additional bridges and improved signage have been incorporated to direct golfers to the most direct route tee to green and to divert them away from all sensitive habitat areas.
• Public access is another key element of the SSSI management agreement. Substantial improvement work has been undertaken to the path leading to the beach along the edge of the course; including:
o car park at inland end
o information boards and litter bins
o viewing platform with bench on coastal dune
o bridge to divert route away from a colony of early marsh orchids
• The monitoring and development of 18 wheatear boxes as a project in collaboration with local schools and colleges

The following new surveys were not included the 2010 GEO Certified Report:

• Winter Bird survey (undertaken in 2010 but not included in 2010 Report)
• Draft of Updated 2013-18 Management Plan made available to review on request via SNH
• Quadrat monitoring reports and spreadsheet data for the period 2007-11 made available to review on request via SNH

No changes. The following designations apply:

• SSSI – all of the course with the exception of a minor area on the east boundary – see Figure 1 in 2013-18 Management Plan
• Clochiel Standing Stones Scheduled Ancient Monument

Areas of turfgrass remain similar. A number of changes were noted to turfgrass areas including:

• The greens were originally seeded with a pure fescue mix - 50% chewings and 50% slender creeping red on to existing in-situ sand substrate – no rootzone imported. There has been some ingress by Poa annua, although this is regarded as inevitable, not an issue.
• Continued improvement in playing condition and sward maturity of fairways. In addition to the areas prepared from the in-situ swards, areas seeded with native seed have been significantly improved over the years since opening to achieve full sward coverage, and increase density and firmness.
• Improved sward quality on all playing areas has allowed heights of cut to be lowered in comparison to the first plan period.
• Significant reduction in the populations of creeping thistle, ragwort, nettle and spear thistle due to intensive hand weeding. This is a benefit both in terms of the visual golf experience and of grassland diversity.

The OnCourse Report provides significant additional detailed evidence of conservation and enhancement activities.


Water sources are unchanged from 2010. Recording of consumption in the Golf House and Maintenance Facility has been introduced since the 2010 certification (sourced from public supply). Groundwater for golf course use continues to be sourced from boreholes and monitored for quality by environmental consultants Greentech. Annual checking by SEPA against the agreed Abstraction Licence has continued. Machrihanish Dunes has a very low overall water consumption, reflecting the very small irrigated area of the golf course, frugal irrigation practices, and an efficient irrigation system.

• Continued extremely low overall consumption on the golf course; averaging around 1.1m litres. The irrigated area is limited to tees and greens, totalling only 2.5 hectares
• The figures show a reduced golf course consumption compared to grow-in (included in 2010 reporting), with a continued slight downward trend over the re-certification period (although this is clearly also influenced by weather conditions).

• An additional reservoir has been added since 2010 – with the storage capacity now increased to 180 m3
• The system has continued to be serviced and calibrated annually, a software and hardware upgrade from manufacturers Toro was in progress at the time of the visit
• A reported increase in species diversity within the quadrats on SSSI dune slacks reflects the effectiveness of run-off water quality management by natural measures (including extensive natural grassland buffering zones, swales, no spray zones)
• A current project to construct new swales and ditches carrying drainage from area around Golf House observed at time of visit


The 2010 GEO Certified Report included only a very brief section on energy with outline objectives and some incomplete data on consumption. Additional data are now available, and as noted above, Southworth now also have an overall mission statement and environmental strategy in place which includes an Energy section. Although this is referred to in the 2014 OnCourse Report as an internal audit, and the Energy section of the strategy includes a basic structure of proposed actions, a comprehensive energy audit has yet to be undertaken

• Non-renewable grid electricity is the primary source for all three years reported. Consumption rose from 34000kWh in 2011 and 2012 to 70000kWh in 2013.
• No significant renewable energy sources are reported.
• Other energy sources consumed consist of diesel fuel and natural gas.
• Natural gas was not reported in 2010 but diesel use had fallen by 50% in 2011 and 2012 relative to the 2010 consumption
• No figure for petrol consumption is reported although pedestrian mowers are reported as petrol fuelled.

• No measures in this area had been taken at the time of the 2010 certification. While a considerable number of efforts are reported, these currently relate to researching potential options rather than concrete changes.
• The course was conceived as a walking course, so caddies are predominantly used, although a very small number of electric carts have been introduced (4).

• A wide range of activities is included in the Report and these were validated on site. A concerted effort has been made to reduce energy use at the maintenance facility, particularly of grid electricity, through staff awareness. No quantification of the saving was available.
• More ambitious plans are currently on hold pending the decision on whether to renew the lease on the MoD buildings or proceed with a proposal for a new build facility. A draft plan for a new building was prepared in 2014 and was made available for review. It is envisaged that the new building will include a high standard of energy saving and efficiency measures including PV solar roof panels which are shown on the drawing.

Supply Chain

2010 included a short section on Purchasing Policy and Sustainable Supply Chains under the Energy heading in accordance with the previous format. The 2014 OnCourse Report now provides much more comprehensive information. Machrihanish Dunes is clearly very strong in this area, with evidence that substantial additional efforts have been made during the period. There is a particularly close tie-up to community collaboration and partnerships; purchasing policies are an integral part of the cooperative spirit shown by local businesses to support their local/regional identity in both the Campbeltown area and the wider Kintyre peninsula.

The Southworth corporate environmental strategy noted above is also new since 2010 and includes purchasing as a topic heading; a general approach is outlined, focussing on minimising consumption, minimising waste, and maximising local sourcing. General guidelines on fertiliser and pesticide use are also included. This was supported by more detailed information supplied on request.

All 19 suppliers included in the OnCourse Report information are located within the 100km band, of which 11 (57%) are reported as being within 10km. The relative remoteness of South Kintyre by road from the main supply centres in central Scotland may be contributing to this. (Measurement by actual distance travelled may produce a different perspective – eg although King’s Sand Quarry in Kilwinning is c.70km away as the crow flies it is over 120km by ferry and road.)

A more detailed statement on local purchasing policy was supplied on request. Local suppliers listed included a sawmill, tree nursery, fuel supplier, sand and gravel (for non top-dressing materials), electrical, civil engineering and machine servicing contractors, food outlets, bakery, newsagents, hardware, and promotion of the Kintyre Express Rigid Inflatable Boat service to Arran, Ayrshire, and Northern Ireland.

Additional more detailed quantitative data is provided in comparison with 2010, particularly on pesticide use. Day to day records and annual spreadsheets were available and were inspected. There is an overall integration of turf maintenance practices in line with the SSSI S.75 Management Plan, with continual oversight by the Management Group, and generally low overall inputs in the context of other recently constructed links courses with fescue-dominated swards. The endemic low light levels associated with prevailing cloudy conditions are being addressed sensitively and holistically – seeking to improve and promote the efficiency of natural photosynthetic processes of the grasses, rather than “blanket” treatments with nutrients.

Fertiliser inputs are applied to greens and tees only - a major positive factor. Overall nutrient application is very low, with slight fluctuations over the reporting period. Inputs have marginally reduced since 2010, including for the grow-in period, but significant reductions are not considered likely at such low levels. All fertilizer products are now organic only.

Comparison with figures available from the 2010 GEO Certified Report include the following points:

• Fairways and roughs continue to receive zero inputs of fertiliser
• Greens: small decrease in total N applications, increase in total K, similar very small input of Phosphate
• Tees: slight reduction in total N application, substantial reduction in K, similar very small input of Phosphate
• Pesticides: in 2010 the only data available was regarding herbicide application to roughs (spot application of 2,4-D and Dicamba)
• Currently still no pesticide applications to roughs or semi-roughs – limited hand pulling of larger species including ragwort, thistles (spot treatment by weed-wiping permitted under Management Plan but is very rarely used)
• Fairways: only two herbicide applications reported per annum, with total quantity stable at 40kg.
• Greens: hand weeding is now the predominant practice. Very occasional small quantities of Insecticide (chlorpyrifos for leatherjackets )and Fungicide (strobilurin for fusarium) have been used, which were stable over period
• Tees: very cccasional herbicide and insecticide use recorded (one and two applications respectively, 2-3kg, stable over 3 year period)

Bulk buying of turf products is included in the general Southworth Environmental Strategy. Rootzone sand is sourced from King’s of Kilwinning, Ayrshire, as a topdressing.

The Southworth Environmental Strategy as noted above includes an overall waste management aim. To date no formal waste audits have been produced. Although significant additional quantitative detail on waste management is now available, as for the 2010 GEO Certified Report, quantities are not recorded for each waste stream. Machrihanish Dunes were STRI Waste Award winners in 2010, roughly coincident with GEO Certified, although this was not referred to in the 2010 report. The STRI Report contains no additional detail on quantities or waste streams. Local company “Kintyre Recycling” is noted as the destination for majority of bulk recycling of glass, paper, plastic, and cans. Clippings from amenity turf must be collected under terms of management plan – greens and tees separate from fairways, these are stored in a designated composting area, and re-used as mulch/soil material, again separately, within corresponding fine turf areas (not roughs or habitats).

Pollution Control

A chemical analysis report for the irrigation intake for 2011 was available. There were no chemical analyses included in the 2010 GEO Certified Report, although it is known that the quality of the source was investigated prior to construction.

No significant change in activities noted. No records are available of water testing: - outflows from Golfhouse, Maintenance Facility, and golf course are to mains sewer, septic tank, and ditches and wetlands respectively. The wash pad system at the Maintenance Centre continues to be discharged to the mains sewer via filter/interceptor (previously ditch)

No significant change in activities noted. Reported activities in handling hazardous materials meet criteria and were verified on site.

Reported activities in preventing pollution at the clubhouse and maintenance area meet criteria and were verified on site.

Reported activities in pollution prevention on the golf course meet criteria and were verified on site. As noted above, the improved biodiversity status of the dune slacks and transitional wetland habitats is a clear indicator that measures in this topic area are proving very effective.


Although community partnership is undoubtedly a key strength of the overall resort business, this represents a new area of reporting since 2010, and therefore no direct read across comparison with the earlier report is possible.

13 full time jobs were confirmed at the time of visit, plus 24 part time; the resort overall with over 100 new jobs supplied is undoubtedly a significant employer in the Campbeltown area.

Environment and sustainability are integral components of staff training as evidenced in the OnCourse Report.

It is worth noting that the continuity in staff involvement in the GEO Certified process in the person of Keith Martin undoubtedly brought added value. I was also impressed to note that new Head Greenkeeper Simon Freeman, formerly of Machrie Golf Club, brings very considerable experience of traditional links management techniques which are entirely in harmony with the Machrihanish Dunes philosophy.

The SSSI Management Group provides specialist expertise from SNH, Argyll and Bute Planning, and ecology and agronomy consultants in addition to the clubs representatives which now also include an owner’s representative.

Although not included in the Certification process, the refurbishment by Southworth of the Royal Hotel and Ugadale Hotel since 2010 are likely to have been key contributing factors to improved economic multiplier effects within the community.

In addition to the playing profile reported in 2010, a new members’ club instigated in early 2014, currently with around 80 members, provides increased access for local golfers. The overarching partnership ethos of the resort across a number of areas is well evidenced in the OnCourse Report. Some interesting unique features include The Kintyre Club, a local charity group established in 1825, best known for supporting local educational activities, and a project with local schools to monitor wheatear boxes set up on the course.

Existing community access to the beach at Machrihanish Bay for walkers is maintained. Improvements to the public access path have been undertaken since 2010 under the Management Plan. These include a new bridge constructed to direct the route away from sensitive orchid habitat, and a new boardwalk required after storm erosion in 2012.

Strangely, given the course concept and underlying ethos communicated in the headline messages about the course, the otherwise excellent website has no explicit environmental or sustainability content. GEO Certification is not included in the list of “Accolades and Awards” although clearly course management staff are very proud of the achievement. A FaceBook page has occasional environmental and greenkeeping content. There is no GEO branding material on display at Golfhouse (although it is displayed at the main clubhouse in Machrihanish village).

Documentation Reviewed


The Verification process confirms that Machrihanish Dunes satisfies the GEO Re-certification criteria.
The evidence from the OnCourse Report, verified on site, is that the management policies and procedures continue to be commensurate with the original certification, and indeed demonstrate significant areas of improvement, reflecting a formal process of regular monitoring and review of the SSSI Management Plan. The course, clubhouse, and maintenance facility infrastructure have been maintained in accordance with the criteria, with a number of additional projects implemented since 2010, and options for maintenance facility upgrade are currently under consideration. Progress has also been made in data recording and monitoring across wider sustainability issues. It is recommended however that a comprehensive suite of sustainability audits and policies should be put in place over the re-certification period.

Certification Highlights

• Overall increase in data recording procedures and detail provided
• Continued in-depth regular consultation with Management Group, contributing to development of a revised Management Plan.
• Continued systematic quadrat-based vegetation monitoring provides evidence of significant improvement in habitat and species diversity
• Adaptation to major challenges since opening, including storm damage, requiring measures which include adjusting position of the green at the par 3 6th hole.
• Continuing minimal water inputs for the golf course reflecting the very limited irrigated area.
• Overall Environmental Philosophy introduced by owners
• Options for planned Maintenance facility upgrade under consideration.
• Community partnerships continue to be a major strength.