Goswick Golf Club
Executive summary (English & local language)
Goswick Golf Club is a long-established classic links course in northeast England, and has occupied the same site for the whole of its 125 years plus of existence. It lies in a very sensitive location, immediately adjacent to extensive wildlife sites of international importance, but its traditional low intensity management has ensured that the habitat continuity between the golf course and the protected areas has not been compromised in any way. The club are rightly proud of their high quality bent/fescue playing surfaces, which provide excellent golfing conditions, and their management of these surfaces is designed to ensure that their character is fully retained. They do this in ways which provide a very good exemplar of sustainable management, utilizing low quantities of water, fertilizer and herbicides/pesticides, and their greenkeeping team is knowledgeable and committed in doing this. The club’s management and members are fully on board with this environmentally sensitive approach, and have a good appreciation of the high quality course which results.
The club are committed to applying good environmental practice across all aspects of their operation, with an impressive recycling system for re-use of spent course materials such as bunker sand, old revetting, aeration cores and grass clippings, which is subsequently used for root zone and divotting work. The club also demonstrates real commitment to wider environmental good practice through investing in two hybrid ride-on mowers, and incorporating energy efficient lighting and heating systems in refurbished areas of the clubhouse. They have a strong commitment to the use of local suppliers for as much of their purchases and supplies as possible, and make good contributions to the local community through the provision of dedicated golf facilities for local youngsters, through voluntary maintenance of the coastal footpath which crosses the property, and through encouraging visitors to the area to make use of their clubhouse facilities.
Goswick is a classic British links golf course, created in 1890, which lies behind (and partly within) a coastal dune system in the far northeast of England, and which occupies an area of just under 70 hectares. The adjacent dune system, and the marine environment to its seaward side, are of international importance for their wildlife. The club are very well aware of the importance and significance of their property, and the adjacent areas, for biodiversity, and accommodate this within their golf course management operations. The part of the dune system within the golf course property lies at the landward edge of the system, and is part of the fixed dune component of the system. The natural grasses in the roughs are a mix of marram and fescue, whilst the semi-roughs and fairways are fescue dominated as a consequence of decades of golf course management. The low-lying areas between the dune ridges lie close to the water table and are thus damper, and still retain floral elements of the dune slack elements of the system, where these areas are managed as roughs. Ground-nesting birds, especially skylarks, are common on the site and clearly are well-supplied with insect food through the presence of vegetation types which support rich invertebrate populations. Scrub habitats are represented by locally extensive stands of well-managed sea buckthorn and gorse, and add to the natural character of the dune system. Wetland habitats are also present, in the form of small ponds and ditches, and support good assemblages of wetland plants and breeding bird species.
Goswick is a very good example of a traditionally managed links golf course, with retention of the native grassland habitats on the site being a priority. The only “high” maintenance areas are tees and greens, with activities on the fairways and semi-roughs being kept to the minimum needed to retain the playing character of the areas. The semi-roughs are cut and collected annually, to retain the open nature of the sward, and the roughs are left uncut. The roughs also contain stands of gorse and sea buckthorn, many areas of which were planted by the club to provide more diversity and context to the course, and these areas are managed carefully to ensure they do not become excessive. The club is aware of the value of such scrub for nesting birds, and are committed to the retention of this habitat. The wetland areas contain species such as marsh orchid and early purple orchid, and the importance of such areas are accommodated within the club’s management of the site.
The club use STRI for their agronomic and ecological advice, although they have not yet commissioned a full habitat and species survey of the site. They confirm that this is planned. The club are aware of the significance and sensitivity of the adjacent SSSI, SAC and SPA, and of the responsibilities which fall to Natural England for these sites.
No statutory designations fall within the area occupied by the golf course, although they are immediately adjacent to the Lindisfarne SSSI, the Berwickshire & North Northumberland Coast SAC, and the Northumbria Coast SPA. The habitats present on the golf course, however, do make an important contribution to the wider context of these sites, and their good management is to be commended. The main habitat type is fixed dune grassland, with small areas of standing water and running water.
There is good connectivity of habitats across the course, through ensuring that habitat patches are kept as large and un-fragmented as possible. Paths are mown out wherever possible, rather than installing artificially surfaced walkways, and rough and semi-rough carries have been retained in many places. The roughs are in close connection to the adjacent SSSI, the only separation being a wire fence, which does not act as a significant barrier to species movement.
The property lies within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The turfgrass species present across the course are those which are native to the site and are extremely well managed, with minimal inputs. The greens are a mixture of browntop bent (60%) and red fescue (40%), tees are a 50-50 mix of browntop bent and red fescue, fairways re 60% red fescue and 40% browntop bent, and the semi-roughs are 60% red fescue and 40% sheep’s fescue. The well-managed surfaces provide authentic links golf playing characteristics, and the club is deeply committed to retaining this. The Course Manager and his team are knowledgeable and skilled about the management requirements of these turfgrass species, and receive the full support of the club’s management team in securing this objective. STRI are the club’s agronomists, and their regular reports confirm that they are satisfied that the course is being managed in the most appropriate way. Greens are cut at 5mm throughout the summer, and kept at 6mm over the winter. Tees are cut at 8mm in summer and 10mm in winter, with fringes and green surrounds cut at this same height, whilst fairways are kept at 13mm in summer and 15 in winter.
Pure sand top-dressing to greens is carried out between February and May, with about 60 tonnes per annum being applied. Greens are over-seeded each August, with tees being divotted continually throughout the growing season. Some sand dressing and overseeding is also delivered to fairways.
The club is signed up to the STRI Programme, which delivers regular reports on playing performance and agronomic condition, which are assessed using a series of objective measurements. The STRI reports record that the club’s course management activities are delivering surfaces which fall appropriately within the target ranges set for the golf course.
I was very impressed by the quality of the surfaces produced, and by the clear commitment of greens staff and management to retaining the authentic links character of the golf course. They have an excellent understanding of the principles and practice of sustainable golf course management. There is also an effective process of keeping club members informed about course management activities, through a monthly newsletter to members, and a greenkeeping blog on the website.
The club’s sustainable management of the golf course delivers seasonal variation in the colour and texture of the course, which mirrors the landscape context within which the property lies, and their mowing patterns reflect the subtle variations of the topography of the site. Consequently, the golf course sits easily and appropriately within the dune landscape. This naturalness is accentuated by the discreet approach which has been taken towards course furniture and signage; this has been kept to a minimum, and locally sourced materials have been used for signs.
Areas of botanically-rich semi-rough grassland are maintained by means of an annual cutting and collecting programme in the autumn, which reduces the productivity of these areas and encourages the retention and spread of herbaceous plants. The roughs are left uncut, particularly on the dune ridges, but are monitored for scrub encroachment. Marginal vegetation within wetland features is encouraged, to diversify habitat opportunities, and is managed by cutting on a regular basis.
Nest boxes have not been installed on the course, since there are few trees and those which exist are not native to the dune grassland habitat. I consider this to be the right decision, as retention of habitat character is more important here than attracting bird species which are inappropriate. Log and branch piles have been created in some areas to diversify habitat opportunities for native mammals and invertebrates.
The water used by Goswick Golf Club comes from two sources – potable water from the mains supply is used in the clubhouse and maintenance facility, whilst irrigation water is abstracted from the river at the southern end of the site. The permanent irrigation system on the golf course is very limited, only supplying water to four greens (4th, 8th, 12th and 16th) which have pop-up sprinklers. All other watering is done by either hand watering or by use of travelling sprinklers which are connected by hydrant points adjacent to greens complexes. The Club is considering upgrading the irrigation system so that pop-ups are installed around every green, but no decision has yet been made on this. My judgement is that the club are well aware of the desirability of retaining the existing character of the greens, and that even if a new system was installed they would continue their policy of minimizing water inputs; the main benefit would be to improve efficiency of the greenkeeping team by allowing them to spend more time on other aspects of course management.
The club use a soil moisture probe to monitor soil moisture levels on the greens, and to help them decide when irrigation is needed. The probe is used on a weekly basis, with a trigger point set at between 20-25% moisture. If levels go below 20%, a decision is made to apply water. Experience has shown that these levels are appropriate to keep the turfgrass alive and healthy, but without making it excessively green and fleshy.
The club’s philosophy is to maintain and enhance the fine bents and fescues at all costs, and so inputs of water are kept at levels which encourage these species. The overseeding programme also focuses on these species. Organic matter levels are managed through aeration and sand-dressing programmes, which promote a favourable environment for deeper rooting and facilitate the capture of moisture and nutrients. Organic matter levels are measured annually to inform the kinds of management needed to retain the fine grasses. A weather station on site is used to gather data which enables transpiration rates to be determined, and this information also feeds in to decisions on irrigations needs. The data is recorded using the TurfKeeper software.
In 2016, only 360 cubic metres of potable water were used by the club, 320 in the clubhouse and 40 in the maintenance facility. 1879 cubic metres of water abstracted under licence from the nearby river were used for irrigation of the golf course. The quantity used on the golf course is small, due almost entirely to the club’s commitment to retaining the fine grass bent/fescue swards across the golf course, but nonetheless produces the high quality playing surfaces which characterise Goswick. All of the irrigation water goes to just greens and tees, with no water being applied to fairways semi-roughs or roughs. Detailed data for previous years is not available, due to inadequate recording systems in the past; the installation of new management within the golf club and the greenkeeping team has ensured that data will continue to be recorded from now on.
Sprinkler heads are checked and set at the start of each year, to ensure that the arc and directions are correct. They are then checked again periodically throughout the year, to check and ensure that the water being applied is effectively targeted and efficiently used. In addition, the system operating pressure is checked regularly, a further check on efficiency. If the new irrigation system is installed, it is anticipated that its more advanced pump system would further improve efficiency. At the same time, consideration would be given to using the most up-to-date nozzle technology, which would be another efficiency benefit.
Wetting agents are used during the spring and summer to ensure that irrigation water take-up is maximized, thereby reducing wastage from over-watering. They are also used occasionally on localized areas of fairways which are known to be vulnerable to drying out. Use of the soil moisture probe ensures that water is only applied where necessary, thereby reducing the overall area irrigated; the fact that most watering is done by hand also contributes to this.
Further contributions to reduction of water usage derive from the installation of low-flow toilets and urinals in the clubhouse, along with the use of automatic flush technology. In addition, water efficiency is considered when new appliances are being purchased for use in the clubhouse, so that machines designed to reduce water demands are preferentially chosen.
The club are continually looking at ways to improve their energy efficiency, and take this consideration into account when looking at all new purchases and initiatives. No formal energy surveys have yet been undertaken, and this is an area which needs to be addressed in the next three years.
The clubhouse is a very old building, with much character and charm, but is not energy efficient. The club have decided that addressing this is a key goal for them, and it would be wise for this to be moved forward significantly over the next three years. Some positive actions have already been taken, with recent upgrades to the entrance hall and locker rooms incorporating modern standards relating to water usage and the efficiency of lighting and heating. Further potential improvement areas would emerge from the results of an energy audit.
Volumes of fuel for greenkeeping machinery are not excessive, with 1356 litres of diesel 140 litres of hydraulic oil and 794 litres of petrol being used in 2016. The clubhouse used 7964 litres of heating oil and 1193 litres of propane/butane in the same year. 79,424 kWh of electricity were used, split about half and half between fossil and renewable sources; 49% came from coal and gas, 24% from nuclear, and 24% from “traditional” renewables. Detailed data for previous years is not available, due to inadequate recording systems in the past; the installation of new management within the golf club and the greenkeeping team has ensured that data will continue to be recorded from now on. Part of the electricity consumption relates to the fueling of six electric golf buggies, all charged from the mains.
The possible installation of a biomass boiler is being considered by the club, and would be a good move towards significantly increased use of renewable energy if implemented.
Whilst most of the greenkeeping fleet is powered by traditional fossil fuels, the club have started to invest in more environmentally friendly hybrid machinery. Two of their triplex ride-on mowers are hybrid machines, using a diesel engine, but with electric reel motors driven by alternators. Consideration of hybrids and electric machines will continue to be a key part of the procurement process for all new machinery in the future.
Biodegradable hydraulic oils produced from a renewable source are already used by the club in their greenkeeping machinery, and this will continue.
In addition to the observations made above thermostatic valves are used on some of the refrigeration and heating equipment in the clubhouse and maintenance facility. No air conditioning is installed, natural ventilation being used instead in the form of windows and doors. The newly renovated part of the clubhouse is fully insulated in line with modern regulations, and low energy lighting is widely used although some further upgrades are desirable. Motion sensors and timers are used to control the lighting in the renovated parts of the clubhouse.
Goswick’s philosophy is to use local suppliers as much as possible for their purchases, although this is never easy for a golf club situated in a rural area. They fully appreciate the benefits of local purchasing in respect of reducing their carbon footprint, as well as maintaining relationships with the local community. Their major purchases relate to materials for use on the golf course, and their practice is to bulk buy as far as possible, to reduce transport and packaging costs, as well as to secure better prices.
There is a very strong local community ethic at the heart of the golf club, which continues to drive the use of local suppliers across the full spectrum of their business wherever possible. This is particularly true of their food and beverage supplies. However, the club does not have a formal ethical and environmental purchasing policy, which is a significant gap in the sustainability process, and this needs to be addressed over the next 3 year period.
In terms of food and beverage, catering supplies, trade and contractors, and the supply of course materials, more than 60% of the club’s suppliers lie within a radius of 10km, which is impressive. The only area in which most of their purchases do not have a significant local element is that of equipment and items sold from the Pro Shop. This issue is common to all golf clubs.
The sustainable management principles which underlie the management of the golf course mean that acquisition and use of chemicals are kept at low levels, thereby reducing the environmental costs of producing such substances. The club are committed to a programme of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and do it well. The decision to retain the fine grass species, which are naturally more disease resistant and drought tolerant, means that inputs of nitrogen, herbicides and water are low, and this is well managed through the use of an observational monitoring programme to assess when remedial action may be necessary. Use of seaweeds and other organic based feeds stimulate soil microbial life, and aeration and sand dressings further help to optimize the growing environment. Removal of dew from greens every morning helps reduce the risk of turfgrass diseases, and this careful maintenance also means that low levels of attack from diseases such as red thread and anthracnose can be tolerated, which also assists with preventing less desirable grasses such as annual meadow grass from invading the sward. No fungicides are used, and there has been no need to usa a worm treatment for the last 18 months.
Fertiliser use in 2016 was low, reflecting the commitment to sustainable turfgrass management. In total, only 26kg of inorganic nitrogen was used on fairways; 24 kg of inorganic potassium and 13 kg of organic potassium was used on greens; 39kg of inorganic nitrogen and 17kg of organic nitrogen was used on greens; 6kg of organic phosphorus was used on greens; 18kg of inorganic nitrogen was used on the semi-roughs; and 27kg of inorganic nitrogen was used on tees. Detailed data for previous years is not available, due to inadequate recording systems in the past; the installation of new management within the golf club and the greenkeeping team has ensured that data will continue to be recorded from now on.
Pesticide use is low, and conscious decisions are made to minimize it as far as possible. For example, the least toxic and persistent products are selected where possible; products are chosen which are specific to the pests concerned; spot treatment rather than wide area spraying is preferred; sprayers are calibrated and tested before each use; shrouded sprayers and anti-drip nozzles are used; and non-chemical weed control is carried out when appropriate.
Recycling of waste materials generated on the golf course is a strength, with grass clippings, aeration cores, spent bunker sand, and old revetted bunker faces being composted together to create a material which is then used for root zones and for divot mixes. In addition, food waste from the clubhouse is also incorporated into this, a novel approach which works well.
Waste separation from the maintenance facility is split into waste streams and removed by specialist contractors for recycling or disposal, as appropriate. Waste separation into recyclable and disposal streams from the clubhouse are just being introduced, but further development of an effective policy is needed. The club are in discussion with the local authority about how best to do this, and these discussions need to be concluded and converted into an effective set of working practices.
The club is committed to carrying out all its operations and activities in ways which reduce the risks of pollution as far as possible, and have good risk assessments and health and safety policies and procedures to ensure this is given clear priority. These are implemented well in most areas as far as I can judge, although there are a small number of matters which need to be addressed. These are highlighted in the continual improvement section below.
Appropriate procedures for storing, handling and disposing of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals are in place and adhered to. The chemical safe is secure and internally bunded, as are the fuel tanks. Some bunding work to retain potential leakage from large containers of Porthcawl and other fluids is necessary in the greenkeeping shed.
There is a state of the art wash-down pad, with a closed microbial system, for cleaning machines, which was installed relatively recently, and there is also an on-site treatment plant which takes all liquid wastes from the clubhouse and greenkeeping shed. The latter is tested annually, dredged twice a year, and has a consent for discharge of treated water to the adjacent river.
Water quality in the adjacent water course is measured periodically by the water authority, with salinity and other environmental parameters being measured. I recommend that the club makes contact with the water authority to clarify what is being measured, and to ask for copies of the result, which can be input to TurfKeeper. There are no suggestions that there are any non-compliance issues, but nonetheless it would be wise for the club to make sure that they are clear about what is expected of them, and how they are performing.
All waste water deriving from the clubhouse, maintenance facility, and washdown pad goes into the on-site treatment plant, located between the clubhouse and the maintenance facility. The clean effluent flows out to the stream at the south end of the golf course via a feeder pipe and is the subject of a discharge consent. At the time of my visit, this could not be located, and I recommend that a copy be obtained from the water authority if it cannot be located. The fact that the water authority monitor the river close to the outflow, and have not raised any concerns, implies that there are no issues at present, but this is a topic on which it is wise to be aware of one’s legal requirements.
All hazardous materials are stored safely, both in the clubhouse and the maintenance facility, and there are safe working procedures for mixing, fueling and using them. All equipment and hazardous products are stored on a covered, sealed and impervious area, and all maintenance is carried out on the same area.
Mixing of pesticides and fertilisers takes place on the covered, sealed and impervious area within the maintenance facility, and all fuel tanks are above ground and bunded.
Applications to the turf areas are both timed and undertaken in ways that minimize the potential risk of leaching or run-off. This includes both calibration of equipment and application during appropriate weather conditions. Vegetative buffer strips exist along the sides of watercourses (ditches, ponds and rivers), to intercept any potential surface runoff to water courses. There is currently no emergency spillage plan in place at the club, and this should be remedied as soon as possible; the Health & Safety Advisor should be able to assist.
The club have an excellent relationship with its immediate neighbours and the local community in the nearby town of Berwick-on-Tweed, and understand how important it is that such a relationship is nurtured.
The Northumberland Coastal Footpath runs through the golf course, and attracts a lot of users. The club has signs welcoming walkers and cyclists into the clubhouse, and encouraging them to use the facilities. They also allow visitors to use their car park when going to the nearby beach, or when going walking, cycling or riding. This is both good business, and also influences non-golfers views of golf clubs and their members. In addition, the club maintains those parts of the coastal footpath which run through the course, and also repair potholes on the public right of way which runs across the course.
The club has 11 full time members of staff and 3 part-timers, and is committed to their continuing professional development. Formal occupational training, in activities such as spraying, is provided through professional bodies, and records are kept in the office in the form of a training log. Three members of the greens staff are fully qualified in spraying, and they are fully responsible for pesticide application, storage and disposal.
All staff are made aware of the importance of using water efficiently, both in the clubhouse and on the golf course, and the General Manager and all greens staff are fully first aid trained, including in use of the defibrillator. All accidents are recorded in the Accidents Book. All staff are also informally educated on waste minimization and separation, especially the greens staff, as well as on energy saving (both in the clubhouse and on the golf course).
As yet there is no formal Sustainability Working Group, although there are informal meetings between the General manager, the Chair of Greens and the Course Manager. The club are aware that this needs to be formalized, and have undertaken to address this in the near future.
The club is a strong supporter of local charities, including the Berwick Rotary Club, through hosting charity golf days and providing courtesy of the course. In addition, they always seek to use local tradesmen, products and services whenever possible, including providing recommendations on local hotels, bars and restaurants to visiting golfers.
Encouraging youngsters into golf is at the heart of the club’s philosophy, and they have created a 6 hole short course for them to use as they are starting the game. They have recently received Grass Roots funding to help assist youngsters into the game by providing free junior coaching in the summer, and also work with local schools to host golf days intended to attract more young people into the game.
The club have decided that it would be appropriate for them to raise the profile of the environmental benefits of their site, and in particular it’s ecological and environmental qualities. They are considering whether this is best done through a brochure, their website, or social media.
The club have a dedicated noticeboard on which environmental information about the course is displayed, showing plants and animals which may be seen on the course. It is also used to advise members of course management works which are planned or on-going. Divotting groups are arranged from time to time, and greens staff use this as an opportunity to raise their understanding of course maintenance and ecology. Consideration is being given to holding members evenings or course walks to raise awareness of environmental issues and course management activities.
The club is considering producing a guide or brochure on the wildlife and ecology of the golf course, for visitors and members. Achievement of GEO Certification would also offer a significant opportunity to promote the good environmental practice and credentials of the club to local people through local media outlets – press, TV and radio – as well as through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Certification Report
- Environmental Data
- Register of Accidents
- Training Log
Goswick Golf Club is a well-managed facility which manages a high quality links course which is highly regarded for the quality of its playing surfaces. The management of the golf course is exemplary – the club appreciates its bent/fescue swards, which are managed to keep them lean and fast. Chemical inputs are low, water is used sparingly, and the roughs are well-managed to blend in with the internationally important dune habitats which lie immediately adjacent to the course. The greens team is knowledgeable and skilled in managing these surfaces, and dedicated to maintaining them to the high standard which the club requires.
The maintenance facilities are clean, tidy and well-organised, with good attention being given to safe management of potentially hazardous substances. Recycling of spent course materials to create valuable rootzone and divotting mix is impressive, and the recently installed washpad ensures that potential groundwater pollution is avoided.
A number of energy efficiency initiatives have been taken in the clubhouse, and the club is aware that they would benefit from the extension of these as the clubhouse is upgraded.
The main area which needs to be addressed is in ensuring that past weaknesses in records keeping, under a previous management regime, are overcome, so that there are comprehensive and easily accessible data on all environmental inputs and activities at the club. A number of policies need to be formalized and approved by the club’s management, to ensure that good sustainability practice becomes the accepted norm.
The club has been managing sustainably for many years, and continues to do so at a high standard. I recommend strongly that they receive GEO Certified status.
Goswick Golf Club manages its’ golf course to extremely high standards, maintaining high quality fescue/bent swards extremely well. The club is an exemplar of how excellent playing surfaces can be produced and maintained using traditional low input methods. In addition, the use of composting methods to recycle materials from the golf course, as well as organic waste from the kitchens, stands out.