Executive summary (English & local language)
The Golf Club Domaine Imperial is an exclusive private club sitting on 70 ha of privileged property on the north side of Lake Geneva. It lies within a natural forest reserve with a very high biodiversity of both flora and fauna. The head greenkeeper, closely seconded by the assistant greenkeeper, is the key figure in pushing the club toward a more sustainable future, committed to solid best practice management and trying to find that important balance between environmental responsibility and providing a first class product to the members. The greenkeeper is responsible for a number of important projects in recent years which spearhead this charge toward sustainability, most notably through the increased out-of-play prairies, the investment in a highly efficient pump and water filter to guarantee good quality irrigation water and the construction of an efficient self-designed bio-filter for the washpad area. The club works from a new environmental management charter and there is a new committee in charge of sustainability affairs to help maintain continuity. The team has a solid IPM programme in place, with a preference for additions of algae, micro-nutrients and bacteria to create a healthy growing medium and strong grass plants better resisting invasion of pests or disease. This choice has allowed the club to use rather minimal inputs and still offer an excellent playing surface. Furthermore, the club is also engaged in the certification process with the French environment body Ecocert which demonstrates the seriousness of their commitment toward improving the clubs sustainability and communicating their efforts to the greater community.
The golf club is dominated by the presence of a designated natural forest reserve that surrounds most of the golf course property. This forest is lining most fairways and it is responsible for creating a natural feeling and seclusion to the site, sometimes directing views of certain fairways up to the Alp peaks across the lake. The forest has a very high biodiversity and the club is aware of its important responsibility for the correct management to maintain forest health.
The greenkeeper follows a Forest Management Plan in place from 2013-2023. A previous bird survey was done in 1997 by the UICN which will soon be reviewed. The club is in process of engaging an apprentice to undertake a wide spectrum ecological survey of the golf course site which will include focus on existing landscapes, natural areas, birds, amphibians, insects, etc. This will be done by a student in ecology over a period of 6 months. Another survey is already in process to look at habitat corridors (RégionNyon Pilotage Contrat Corridors) which will provide them with a more exact image of the existing landscape situation and some guidance for how to manage the natural corridors in the future. As well, a survey of all the specimen trees on site is to be undertaken, some more than 100 years old.
The 20 hectares of designated native woodland that surrounds the golf holes provides large areas of habitat for native bird and animal species. Native deer were seen during the on-site visit, which is apparently very common. 5 hectares of rough “ecological” grassland is also a hard-rough area that provides valuable habitat for birds, small mammals and insects. These meadows are being improved by seeding with a mix of indigenous grasses and are neither watered nor given any additional inputs. A river meanders through the property providing an important wildlife corridor for many land and water species. In addition, numerous nesting boxes have been placed throughout the site and wood or stone piles built up to provide micro-habitats for small animals like hedgehogs.
The golf course playing surfaces are mainly composed of a mix of bent grass and annual meadow grass. The bent grass is appropriate for its resistance to drought and disease and despite the tendency for thatch production the greenkeeper has been able to maintain good fairway surfaces with relatively little machine maintenance. However, about 50% of the playing surface is maintained rough which receives much less irrigation and no fertilizer. Increased out of play areas are left to grow naturally without any fertilizers or pesticides at all and maintenance is restricted to swathing once a year. Many areas of hard-rough were originally planted with a long tufting grass species (Erigrostis curvularia) that requires no inputs or water and is only cut once per year.
The landscape is a mix of this dominant native forest and a more open parkland feeling of the rolling golf holes spotted with old specimen trees. Forest management follows the official Forest Management Plan from the canton and the greenkeeping staff’s main forest management activity is to maintain the extensive forest edge, keeping this edge as a rather solid impenetrable wall to protect the flora and fauna inside from disturbance from golfers and other walkers. An invasive shrub species (Rhus typhina) had been planted extensively throughout the golf course property before the arrival of the present greenkeeper and there is an ongoing project to eliminate all of these plants to make room for more indigenous pioneering species. There is a project in place to create an official “reserve intégrale” of about 7ha of forest near the lake’s edge in order to better preserve this natural area. Another project is also in place for the re-naturalization of certain areas of the forest which had previously been encroached upon with illegally built hangars. A large biotope was created years ago by the head greenkeeper as an alternative to a more artificial lined basin with fountain. This biotope is maintained without the use of chemical products and the reeds along the edge are cut once per year. As other enhancement, an old army bunker has been converted into a cavern for bats and an existing line of anti-tank concrete blocks “Toblerones” that dissect the golf course have been preserved, in some places covered with nets and vines to “green” this military remnant.
The club has a seemingly unlimited supply of water for irrigation but until recently the quality was poor due to the position of the intake pipes in the shallow water. Recent investment in new pumps and a highly efficient filter system has considerably improved the water quality making turf grass maintenance much easier. Irrigation efficiency has been maximized with a fully computer controlled monitoring system.
The water used at the club comes from three different water sources. The lake water is pumped and used for all irrigation on the golf course, there is an underground well which serves as drinking supply for the clubhouse the restaurant and the fountains, and potable water from the public water supply is available for the maintenance buildings. The greenkeeper has installed a highly modern filter system within the last 2 years including a few different kinds of centrifugal filters and most importantly an electro-magnetic filter which removes nearly all impurities, sediment and calcium ensuring a very high quality of water for irrigation. Previously there were many problems on the course requiring fungicide treatments etc., many likely due to a pure water quality. Consumption is kept to a minimum on the course with modern irrigation equipment that can control the exact quantity needed for each area of the golf course. Despite a cheap and basically unlimited source of water from the lake, the greenkeeper is conscious of the need to minimize water use, especially with regard to maintaining firm dry playing surfaces.
The irrigation system is a fully controlled computer monitored system that maximises irrigation efficiency. Each sprinkler head is monitored individually and can be controlled separately based on the needs of that part of the golf course. The greenkeeper consults a nearby meteorological station in order to have complete weather forecasts and anticipate the water needs based on local conditions and needs of the club on the day. Water application is variable and dependant on the hydrostatic pressure measured daily.
About 50% of the playing surface is maintained as unirrigated rough and the creation of many out of play prairie areas has reduced the area needing irrigation. The golf course is watered almost exclusively at night which minimizes the evaporation/evapotranspiration. Wetting agents are used every month to increase irrigation efficiency and regular soil de-compaction and thatch management is undertaken to maximize water infiltration. Some low-flow urinals and chemical toilets have been installed to reduce water consumption on other areas of the golf course.
There is less to say about the energy use at the club. They have provided energy consumption information for all areas of the golf club and are aware of energy sources and main consumption areas. Energy consumption is not excessive and slowly being reduced through small but effective solutions such as low energy lighting and motion sensors. Alternative energy sources are apparent but not yet fully exploited.
Energy comes from a number of sources including the green tariff grid supply and vehicles are a mix of diesel, petrol and electric. Energy use is slowly being reduced every year. The club has invested in hybrid mowers for greens and offers electric buggies for golfers. Some toilets are run by solar panels.
They have adopted the green tariff grid supply but besides that there are few initiatives to diversify energy supply at the moment. The greenkeeper has investigated the possibility of installing solar panels but the building roofs are not ideal and the club itself is not yet decided on alternative energy options.
A small second water pump has been installed at the same time as the new pump and filter were installed. This pump, working off very low energy consumption, can maintain the pressure in the system when there is no irrigation (during the day time) and only when the course requires irrigation does the main large pump kick in. Passive solar lighting in some areas of the maintenance building keeps artificial lighting to a minimum. A project to improve building insulation is in process with the clubhouse windows already replaced. Further actions to save energy include the construction of a cold room cooled by water in the restaurant, the use of a programmer on the ventilation system for the kitchen and showers and some other small energy efficient methods with low energy lamps in the parking lot and motion sensors in the caddy master. The greenkeeper also uses growth regulators to reduce the frequency of cutting which then reduces fuel consumption.
The greenkeeper tries to buy all materials for the golf course locally and Swiss suppliers are privileged at all times. The greenkeeper maintains a very well organised list of stock and purchases with a clear knowledge of suppliers.
There is no official written ethical and environmental purchasing policy yet. This is actioned informally throughout the club at present. However, an official purchasing strategy document is being drafted in the short term to guide the club going forward. Certification is being recommended on the basis that this document is produced within 6 months and communicated to GEO and to club staff and members.
The greenkeeping team has a clear inventory of all greenkeeping supplies, looking for local suppliers and products wherever possible. Almost all products are Swiss. They buy all their sand for topdressing from a local supplier only a few kilometres away. Less is known about the supply chain within the clubhouse/restaurant.
The greenkeeper uses a strong IPM approach to course management and has a very high knowledge of turf grass maintenance. The team is a member of a monitoring group that helps them anticipate disease outbreaks and stay efficient for any chemical and water inputs. With the preference for organic fertilizers and addition of turf plant supplements and bacteria his focus is on creating a healthy soil and strong growing environment which promotes strong grass plants and guards against invasions of pests and disease. Twice yearly aeration and sanding of fairways, together with regular boxing off of all grass clippings helps to reduce thatch build-up and the greenkeeper can limit pesticide treatments on fairways to spot treating with hand-held sprayers and sponges. Alternatively, the rough is treated once per year with herbicide to avoid spreading to the other playing surfaces. Thermic treatment of weeds around the base of some specimen trees is being tried instead of herbicide applications or even hand-weeding to limit soil disturbance. Brushing to remove dew/water on the grass surface helps to keep the grass plant dry and limit problems due to disease, minimising need for pesticides.
Due to the greenkeepers precision and rigor, orders are very accurate and little waste is created due to extra material shipment. At the moment the golf course already sorts and recycles most garbage including glass, paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, metal, wood, other plastics etc. There is a project en-route for a more complete sorting and recycling for both employees and players with garbage cans offering both garbage and recycling containers. All natural materials from the golf course like cores or sand are re-used or recycled. Grass clippings are boxed off all main playing surfaces and given to a farmer to mix with other compost. Wood cut from the forest is chipped for mixing with compost or used by the clubhouse or given to local people for home wood-burning stoves.
The club is clear on where waste water is going. All water from the clubhouse, restaurant and maintenance facility is collected and directed to the municipal treatment plant. The water from the wash pad is all filtered through a particle filter and then an on-site bio-filter before flowing off site.
The inflow, outflow and on-site water is regularly analysed 2 times per year, especially to ensure the underground aquifer is in no danger of contamination.
Water from the golf course, clubhouse and maintenance facility is all treated by the municipal treatment plant. The water from the washdown area is collected and pumped into a large filter basin composed of a build-up of gravels, sands and volcanic stone which provides a growing medium for some reed grasses. The entire system filters and cleans this water before it exits the site however starting in January it will become a closed loop system pumping the water back into the bio-filter.
All fertilizers and dangerous chemicals are stored in a very clean, ventilated, locked room that can only be opened by the greenkeeper or assistant greenkeeper. The chemical use is organised in a very methodical manner with a solid knowledge of all suppliers. Only the head and assistant greenkeeper are allowed to decide on fertilizer or pesticide applications. The person responsible for applying these products is specialised uniquely in the manner of mixing and application and all applications are precisely noted in the books.
All fertilizers and chemicals are mixed in secure impervious areas of the maintenance area. A project is in process to build a new covered area for mixing chemicals. All of the bio waste produced by maintenance activities is mulched and composted before being reused on site or given to local farmers. Crushed charcoal is available at the maintenance building in case of any potential oil or chemical leak. Pollution prevention at the clubhouse is not yet a priority but the greenkeeper is encouraging better communication and steps should be made through the environmental commission.
The greenkeeper’s IPM approach generally keeps chemical inputs to a minimum with most inputs limited to greens and tees. Use of organic fertilisers and fractioning minimises risks of overdoses and eventual leaching into groundwater. Any outflow water from the course is well filtered through the heavy turf surfaces. Proper pesticide-free set-backs are respected from forest edges and near to the biotopes.
The golf club is very private and due to its exclusivity and physical separation by the forest reserve, it has little relationship with the surrounding community.
The greenkeeper team has a very clear tasks register and schedules for work are very clear and well organised. The staff are regularly trained for accidents and briefed about environmental issues, and there are signs through the maintenance facility in case of an emergency. The greenkeeper regularly organises a full day of education for the entire greenkeeping staff, giving courses on safety, course management and environmental management.
The sustainable working group at the moment consists of the head greenkeeper and a number of members from the golf course committee.
The club remains very private and has limited regular interaction with the local community. The course nevertheless has a well used public footpath that winds its way through the golf course and the club has planned to create more paths that will be safer for pedestrians, interacting less with in-play areas of the golf course. Signs are clearly visible warning both golfers and pedestrians of the danger of flying golf balls. An emergency helicopter pad has been installed in case of the need of urgent evacuation.
The name Domaine Imperial comes from the Napoleon Bonaparte family and the land used to belong to the princess Bonaparte. It has many old trees which remain and add much to the landscape character. The club has begun an inventory of all the trees on the course and works continually to eliminate invasive plants and animals which could endanger these heritage trees. Also, the line of anti-tank blocks “Toblerones” adds a particular character to the site. The golf club is a member of the “Association du Sentier des Toblerones” which has some cultural importance in the region. A local architect is consulted for the conservation/renovation of the Château clubhouse which is also a heritage building formerly owned by the Bonaparte family.
The club organises “soirées” in the maintenance building to discuss the maintenance technics with club members. Educational videos have also been made by the greenkeepers to help explain the importance of their work to the members, helping to manage the playing quality expectations.
While the golf club remains private, they do communicate with the local community via signage on the walkway with regard to flora and fauna, interact with a local association for the protection of indigenous birds and occasionally give interviews for the local newspaper. The greenkeeping team also hires an intern every summer.
- Action Plans and Project Proposals
- Awareness Raising Materials
- Certification Report
- Emergency Incident Plan
- Environmental Data
- External Surveys and Reports
- Internal Reports
- Minutes of Meetings
- Training Log
The Golf Club Domaine Imperial, designed by Pete Dye, is one of the top courses in Switzerland. With a solid knowledge of turf grass management and best management practices, they are making positive moves towards becoming a major sustainability leader in the region. This is mainly due to the commitment of the head greenkeeper who has already implemented a number of important projects and who is putting more in place to create a strong environmental programme for the future. Overall the head greenkeeper demands a very high degree of precision and organisation when it comes to organising the team tasks. Many tables have been set up to outline the tasks to do and what was accomplished whether this be for general weekly maintenance tasks, fertilizer or pesticide applications or more long term renovation projects for the course or clubhouse buildings. This includes a management system to look after punctual tasks and keep track of them even via an iphone application. This impeccable organisation makes for a very clear and efficient working environment. If the greenkeeping team continues to apply the same efficient organisation to a more sustainable management plan, they will be well on their way to accomplishing great things.
The self-designed bio-filter for the wash pad.
The modern pump and filter system to guarantee good quality irrigation water combined with a high tech computer monitored irrigation system that keeps irrigation efficient and optimises turf grass needs.
The unique fungicide spot-treatment on fairways to reduce chemical inputs.
The golf course is dominated by an extensive natural forest reserve which provides great biodiversity and quality habitat for many bird and animal species.
The reduction of intensively maintained turf grass with the addition of wildflower meadows and other hard-rough areas requiring zero inputs and saving on energy consumption.