Drentse Golfclub De Gelpenberg
Executive summary (English & local language)
Golfclub De Gelpenberg lies in the very heart of the province of Drenthe, near the rural village of Aalden. The club’s history goes back to 1966, with the establishment of the De Gelpenberg Golf Course Foundation. The club proper was founded in 1970, making it the oldest golf club in the province. In 1972, the first nine holes were constructed, based on designs by Frank Pennink, in a rolling landscape of heath and a sand drift, bordered by mixed woods (approx. 60 acres). The club expanded to 18 holes in 1992, based on designs by Donald Steel, bringing the total surface area to its current 128 acres. The golf course now includes a driving range and par-3 practice holes. It is a compact course that still manages to exude a spacious atmosphere thanks to its ingenious design. A striking feature is the large natural bunker on hole 18, where a sand drift is incorporated into the design. The club intends to extend the bunker to the forest edge to further boost the appeal of landscape, game and nature.
Frank Pot led an important course renovation project between 2008 and 2011, lifting the entire course to higher levels of landscape and game. There are currently no plans for further expansions or large-scale renovations. Maintaining and nurturing the identity are the central tenets for this ‘natural forest and heath course’. Practically speaking, this mostly means managing the unwanted spreading of grasses and trees on the course.
The GEO workgroup comprises 8 people, including the club manager and the head greenkeeper. The workgroup is characterised by knowledge and passion. The decision to participate in Committed to Green was not motivated by strategic considerations but purely by honest involvement and commitment. The club likes to be ahead of the curve when it comes to the huge environmental efforts that are expected of a golf club nowadays, and adheres to its motto: “Together toward a new perspective”. GEO is used to engender support for this objective.
De Gelpenberg ligt in het hart van Drenthe, nabij het esdorp Aalden. De historie begint in 1966 met de oprichting van Stichting Golfbaan De Gelpenberg. De Golfclub werd in 1970 opgericht en is daarmee de oudste Drenthse golfclub. De eerste 9 holes zijn in 1972 naar een ontwerp van Frank Pennink aangelegd in een golvend landschap met heide en een zandverstuiving, omgeven door gemengd bos (25 ha). In 1992 werd de uitbreiding naar 18 holes gerealiseerd naar een ontwerp van Donald Steel waarmee de baan tot de huidige oppervlak van 52 ha werd vergroot, met inbegrip van een driving range en pars 3 oefenholes. De baan is compact maar geeft dankzij een uitgekiend ontwerp sterk de indruk van ruimte. Bijzonder is de grote natuurlijke bunker op hole 18 waarbij een zandverstuiving is het ontwerp is geïntegreerd. De wens is deze uit te breiden naar de bosrand, zodat landschap, spel en natuur nog aantrekkelijker wordt.
Van 2008 tot 2011 werd onder regie van Frank Pont een belangrijke baanrenovatie uitgevoerd, waardoor de baan landschappelijk en speltechnisch naar een hoger plan is gebracht. Er zijn geen wensen om uit te breiden of verder grootschalig te renoveren. Behouden en verder versterken van de identiteit staat centraal bij deze ‘natuurlijke bos- en heidebaan’. Dat betekent vooral vergrassing en bosopslag tegengaan.
De GEO werkgroep bestaat uit 8 personen, waaronder de clubmanager en de headgreenkeeper, en wordt gekenmerkt door veel kennis en passie. Er is niet vanuit strategische overwegingen gekozen voor deelname aan Committed to Green, maar puur vanuit betrokkenheid. Graag loopt men vooruit op de grote inspanning ten aanzien van het milieu die maatschappij-breed verwacht wordt en hanteert hierbij de visie: ‘samen naar een nieuw perspectief’. GEO wordt ingezet om het draagvlak hiervoor te vergroten.
Golfclub De Gelpenberg lies on the flanks of the Hondsrug ridge; a push moraine dating back to the penultimate Ice Age. This moraine forms the core of GEO Park De Hondsrug (Unesco). The course was built around small sand dunes on an otherwise flat and relatively barren boulder-clay plateau covered with a layer of fine sand. This part of the large Witte Veen peatlands was not exploited until the early 1950s, and only the sand dunes and the surrounding forest were left unaffected. These parts were the first to be developed into the golf course, with the sand dunes and the heath swathes being integrated into the very design. When the second set of nine holes was built, more height differences were created in the flat agricultural area, using soil from the large pond on-site and by shipping in large quantities of class A sand from outside the course. The natural seed bank layer was put aside and later used as covering layer, which explains how the heath managed to return to quickly. Dug-up boulders were used to build a geological monument on the embankment. The heath landscape is the common nature denominator connecting the two course parts and infusing them with a sense of unity, but the mutual differences are acknowledged and maintained. The old nine holes are characterised by drifting sands, old oaks and juniper scrubs. The newer part borders on the stream valley landscape of the Aelderstroom creek (National Ecological Network). Maintaining and reinforcing this variety supports a maximal biodiversity. The area is particularly relevant for reptiles, butterflies and breeding birds.
The SOVON (bird research institute) breeding bird monitoring programme is executed by two enthusiastic volunteers who live in the neighbouring village. The monitoring has shown the area to house a tremendous amount of birds. The club participates in the annual national Bird Watching Day. There has also been a study into all the mosses that grow here; the particularly clean air in the region has led to a remarkable variety of moss species. A professional inventory of all groups of species will be performed in 2017.
The old nine holes were built around an existing natural core of heath areas and drifting sand, home to many kinds of lichen and moss. Remarkable features include the forest edges, the knotty oaks that (often) grow on earth dykes, the juniper scrubs, the broom scrubs, and the natural bunkers. The heath is also busily developing on the newer part of the course, while the more eutrophic sections offer plenty of room for flowery grassland (sown on rough with applied soil). Heath currently dominates an area of about 12 ac, but this can easily be increased to 17-20 ac. Spread out over the premises we find four pools with widely varying depths and locations. The pool between holes 2 and 3, with its natural context and slowly sloping banks, is certainly the most striking one. The GEO workgroup has a justified sense of pride regarding the rejuvenation of the juniper scrubs – something that conservationists elsewhere are consistently failing at. It is likely that the course has just the right (soil) dynamic thanks to grazing, and there is less acidification caused by atmospheric deposits than elsewhere in the Netherlands. Other noteworthy elements are the lichen-rich and high-structure heath vegetations, which are currently home to the viviparous lizard, but could provide a habitat to two or three other species of lizard as well, depending on the ecological connections to core zones in the surrounding environment. One can find many birds here, including many species characteristic to farmland and tree heath: the barn swallow is breeding in the machine shed, the common house martin, house sparrow and stork forage for food, and the common redstart and tree pipit are breeding in the open forest edge, possibly accompanied by the extreme rare wryneck.
The dominant types of grass used here are bentgrass species (Agrostis tenuis/capillaris). These grasses require little nutrition and are highly drought-resistant. Meadow grass pops up now and again but is not considered a nuisance. After droughts or strong winters, the area of Poa annua shrinks because the open spots in the greens and foregreens are sown with bentgrass (Agrostis); English ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is used on the tees and fairways. In the new part of the course, the fairway is still showing a share of Lolium perenne that the holes were sown with during construction. Festuca does not stand a chance here because the low acidity and the lack of openness.
The main course management guideline is the Multi-Year Course Working Plan (2016). The plan is adjusted every other year. GIS and EMS are important registration tools. Heath management is considered a priority, with due observance of the Recommendations Heath Management (1992). Emphasis is put on avoiding grasses, mosses or trees from taking over the course. The excess spreading of moss obstructs open sand areas, which prevents the desired heath plants from budding. This also affects fauna. The club uses two flocks of sheep to manage the soil and remove nutrients, which are mostly still found in the applied soil used for the newer holes. The small flock (6 ewes and 12 lambs in 2017) is overseen by the course commissioner (formerly the head greenkeeper) and is guided to the appropriate sites using movable wires. The club also rents a flock of about 300 sheep at the end of the summer, for short and intensive grazing. Urine and grazing pressure combat a part of the excess moss, but these do not seem to suffice at all.
The club greatly values trees, in particular the old oaks and the junipers. The club has drawn up a register of prominent trees, a tree plan vision, and a tree protocol, which will allow course management to take properly-motivated decisions and to provide additional protection for monumental trees. The future view will be dominated by birch and pedunculate oak forest, with transitional zones toward dry sessile oak and beech forest. The Japanese larch is being cut down in phases in order to provide more light, which will benefit the biodiversity and make the turf less susceptible to fungi. Young trees around the pools are removed periodically.
Additional bands of heath are created by sodding the grassed-over parts and then applying litter from the old heath. This is intended to reinforce the ecological cohesion. Other measures include increasing the rough at sites where no game takes place, such as directly adjacent to the tees. As a result, the fairway is limited to a mere 27 ac.
Sprinkling on the premises of the Gelpenberg golf club is done using groundwater that is pumped up at two sites from a depth of approx. 60 m. The water quality is high, although the water is quite ferruginous. There are no natural bodies of surface water but several were installed when the course was expanded to 18 holes. The large pond is fed by rain water and groundwater; the pools were created on naturally occurring, impervious boulder clay. Runoff from paved areas and the roof is not drained to the sewer but to the groundwater through a filtering ditch. This prevents the sewer from being overburdened in heavy rains and retains the water within the local water cycle.
The European Water Framework Directive obliges the golf club to ensure that the water has a proper chemical and ecological condition. This implies a reduction in groundwater consumption and efforts to prevent overburdening the groundwater with fertilisers. The Gelpenberg golf club is well underway with compliance.
Water consumption figures are registered four times a year. In 2016, sprinkling water consumption dropped over 50% compared to preceding years. This can in part be explained by the perfect summer conditions that year, but is in large part truly the result of the restrictive policy enacted by the new greenkeeping contractor. Public water consumption in the clubhouse is low, but the greenkeeping tap water consumption is high. The latter figure is due to the fact that machines are cleaned using tap water, because the ferruginous groundwater is unsuitable for this. Compressed air is hardly used.
Groundwater is used for sprinkling in dry periods. The fairways are only sprinkled incidentally during times of intense drought. The turfgrass species are drought-resistant.
The sprinkling system dates back to 1972 and is kept going by two interlinked pumps. This is a temporary solution to counter the high iron levels in the water. The oldest pump can be removed at a certain point. Wetting agents are applied on the drought-sensitive mounts. The sprinkling is attuned manually per sector on basis of soil moisture measurements.
The toilets have been fitted with half-flush buttons and the club is open to consumption-reducing technologies when elements need replacing.
In 2001, the old wood accommodation was replaced by a new energy-efficient building. The clubhouse is shaped like a green and even has the flag at the hole. The building’s circular shape was a great idea: there a maximal exposure to daylight and a minimal contact surface with the outside air, limiting the thermal loss. In 2016, an external consultant issued energy-saving suggestions. The club will follow up on this in 2017 by investigating the solar energy opportunities.
The clubhouse and the greenkeeping facility are fitted with their own meters. A part of the consumption figures is missing due to the switch to a new greenkeeping contractor and a new energy supplier. Natural gas consumption is remarkably low and electricity consumption is average. The heating boiler dates from 2001 and it is cleaned and has its settings checked every year. Radiators are used to heat the buildings; these work quickly and allow for finetuning the heat for each individual room.
The club does not use power from renewable energy sources. The opportunities for generating power on-site will be investigated in 2017. The driving range roof is the most suitable location for installing solar panels.
Heating and lighting efficiency were already considered when the clubhouse was built. The interior receives a lot of daylight through the large windows and the central light dome. There are also windows in the greenkeeping facility roof. The club is vigilant about preventing unnecessary lighting. The parking lot lights are connected to a time switch; there are motion sensors in the locker rooms; the driving range is unlit, and the outdoor terrace in unlit and unheated. The hospitality section only turns on appliances and equipment when necessary. Traditional light bulbs have been replaced by LED lights wherever this was possible without modifying the fixtures.
Due to the low population density in the Drenthe province, most players do not live nearby and they hardly ever use their bicycles to travel to the club. There are plans for an electric car charging station.
The surface area that requires intensive mowing measures a mere 32 acres. The mowing intensity is scaled back further wherever possible, which yields all kinds of benefits. Mowing uses a hybrid machine, among other tools.
The Gelpenberg golf club pays a lot of attention to corporate social responsibility. The most important club suppliers are encouraged to do so as well; sustainability is discussed when parties are in contact with each other. The club and the hospitality contractor have signed declarations of intent regarding sustainable and ethical purchasing policies. Great steps can be made in reducing the energy consumption and the amount of waste that is generated by taking matters such as recycling into account in purchasing.
The flows and volumes of waste are meticulously registered. The waste management company aims for a maximum of recycling. The greenkeeping contractor applies the principle of Integrated Turfgrass Management (ITM).
Central purchasing allows the club to minimise the number of deliveries. The hospitality branch uses a single, central supplier. The club prefers buying large packages, or in bulk. Some advantages of outsourcing the greenkeeping activities are that every kind of machine can be used, that machines can be used more efficiently, and that the machines can be replaced by technologically more advanced machines or machines that are more sustainable in their fuel consumption or environmental impact.
The total number of suppliers is 26, but there are only eight core suppliers. The club has investigated the options for engaging mostly local suppliers, but these are highly limited due to the low number of cities in the area. There are frequent deliberations with the hospitality contractor, who puts local and seasonal products on the menu.
The company responsible for greenkeeping applies Integrated Turfgrass Management (ITM), which it has had a lot of experience with at several other golf courses. The principle of ITM is to minimise the amount of chemical products used in management. The grass mixture is carefully attuned to the soil and the climate, the soil structure is kept at an optimal quality through aerating and applying sand rich in humous, and the course climate is improved by allowing plenty of light and air onto the turf. In order to prevent diseases and pests, greenkeeping tracks the condition of the turf day by day, encourages the conditions for growth, and uses a list of alternatives for fighting diseases and pests. Only fungicides were used in 2016. The Merit Turf granular insecticide is used very rarely to combat leather jackets. As an alternative, greenkeeping tries to attract parasitic wasps by sowing wild carrot.
Fertilisers consist of a mixture of organic and inorganic substances.
Virtually all waste is collected separately and recycled by the waste management company. The volumes are properly registered. Fairway clippings are left where they fall; clippings from the greens and tees, and the clippings from flail mulching are moved to a temporary, concrete-slab depot for later use as green manure on surrounding farmlands. Logs are sold as firewood, branches are shredded and a part is sold as well.
The Gelpenberg golf club strictly adheres to the applicable environmental laws and regulations. The NGF’s ‘my environmental care’ questionnaire has been filled out meticulously in order to gain a proper insight into the state of affairs regarding all important environmental aspects. There is no environmental care plan as such, but the GEO objectives and actions do include a number of relevant action points. The greenkeeping contractor uses a work protocol for handling hazardous materials and chemical substances, which provides sufficient environmental protection safeguards.
In 2014, there was a groundwater quality study, which will be repeated every five years. The groundwater turned out to have a high iron content, which has not caused any sprinkling issues yet.
The clubhouse, the greenkeeping facility, and the wash pad are all connected to the sewer. Kitchen waste water is drained through a grease trap, water from the wash pad is first led through a gasoline and oil separator. These are cleaned and checked annually. The residue is run through a processing facility. The cleaning company pays attention to environmental aspects and uses eco-certified cleaning agents.
Storage and disposal of hazardous waste materials is done in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. Waste oil is disposed of by the contractor responsible for the central heating system. There is a continuous registration of the application and stocks of chemicals.
The wash pad has been fitted with a concrete floor with an impermeable floor certificate (annual visual inspection, and four-year statutory inspection by external inspector). An installation certificate has been provided for the double-walled fuel tank, which complies with all regulations. The same goes for its location vis-à-vis the buildings and collusion prevention. Grass clippings are stored temporarily in a depot with a concrete floor that prevents the leachate from leaking into the groundwater.
There are no on-course sanitary facilities because the game leads players past the clubhouse four times. Greenkeeping with small machines uses Motomix fuel, which is environmentally and human-friendly. Poor experiences with organic alternatives have led the club to switch back to regular lubricants. Any possible damage that might be caused by chemicals has been minimised by declaring a 10-metre buffer zone around the bodies of water and the nature areas, as well as by always taking wind conditions into account.
Several communication tools are used to pay attention to sustainability and nature management, communicating both to members and staff and to wider society. Increasing the support is turning out to be rather slow and difficult, which can certainly not be blamed on the club manager and his highly positive attitude. The population in the area is certainly focused on nature and the environment, but as this is the least densely populated region in the Netherlands and nature is all around people all the time, it is turning out to be difficult to engage people in further actions.
The golf club employs 9 people, some of them on part-time basis. There are also several work groups. The club attributes great importance to safety, which is made clear by the lucid instructions on the website and the shelters that can be used in the event of lightning storms. Several staff members have emergency response certificates and attend the necessary refresher courses.
The GEO work is thoroughly embedded within the club. This workgroup comprises representatives from the clubhouse committee, the course committee, computerisation, public relations, golf course management, and nature management, as well as several external advisors and the club manager. There are fixed and properly-documented meetings with the course commissioner, committees, head greenkeeper, contractor, restaurant owner, suppliers, club manager, the board, and the members, of course. All documents relevant to GEO have been filed in an EMS system; there is plenty of background information on all kinds of subjects.
The golf club is very hospitable. The course is free of any fencing and the hospitality services can be used by members and non-members alike. The parking lot has several spaces for campervans. Unfortunately, the course premises are too small and compact to be opened up completely or to build a public path in, but the region already provides ample hiking and cycling opportunities. The club has an excellent relationship with the neighbouring Aelderholt holiday village, sustaining the mutual interests. One example is the flock of sheep, which moves between the holiday village and the golf course.
The most striking landscape elements are the heath and remains of the old earth dykes (possible former property boundaries or sheep dykes), where one can find knotty, picturesque oaks. These elements are truly cherished. The tree protocol and policy are properly communicated to all members. The shelters and all course furniture are unobtrusive and fit in with the general view.
There are currently no legal disputes or active planning procedures.
The internal communication between management, greenkeeping and work groups has been properly structured. The members are involved in the course, management, and the natural values in a number of ways, using the website, Facebook, news flashes, videos, pictures, and the clubhouse foyer. Members also actively contribute by participating in workgroups or in removal of young trees invading the heath.
The club generally uses the website, press releases, and flyers. Outsiders can get acquainted with the golf course during the Open Golf Days and nature walks. The club launched a biodiversity campaign in collaboration with the nature preservation foundation Het Drentse Landschap and the NGF. The NGF has invited all Drenthe golf courses to meet at the Gelpenberg course to inspire each other and to exchange knowledge and experiences. Thanks to the Geo Park De Hondsrug, it is possible to combine several forms of recreation in this area.
- Action Plans and Project Proposals
- Awareness Raising Materials
- Certification Report
- EIA Statement
- Environmental Data
- Environmental Policy
- External Surveys and Reports
- Internal Reports
- Minutes of Meetings
A golf course with a strong, unmistakable identity: we are surely in Drenthe now! The sand ridge along the stream valley, the sand drifts, the boulders, the fens, the juniper scrubs, the knotty oaks, the sheep roaming the heath… All that’s missing to complete the picture are a traditional hay barn and a small field sown in with nectar sources for future honey bees. The club has a clear vision in mind: maintaining and strengthening this natural forest and heath course. Heath is justifiably prioritised, with a clear decision to keep remarkable trees, groups of trees, and strips of forest. The club is characterised by a strongly practical approach, constructive collaborations, and involvement. The GEO workgroup has great ambitions. The club can continue on this road and there is no doubt about further improving the nature and landscape values and reducing the environmental pressure. The golf course managers consider themselves to be guests in nature.
The Gelpenberg golf club has a large, highly involved GEO workgroup. All sustainable golf facets are represented here and the club can draw upon a great repository of expert knowledge, in particular on nature management. The club manager and the course commissioner – who is a former head greenkeeper – show a lot of passion and are intimately familiar with the extraordinary parts of the premises. It is clear from every detail that this place is very dear to them.
The work group member who represents the clubhouse committee is also the clubhouse architect: the well though-out, highly functional design deserves a wealth of praise! The design looks so very simple, but it is founded on an ingenious concept. The building’s circular form is compact but looks spacious. Daylight can enter the building from all sides, making it largely unnecessary to use artificial lighting. The round, compact design around the central hall provides the maximal heating efficiency possible, which is reflected in the gas consumption figures.
Expert and differential management has yielded a wide range of different biotopes: old heath with a lot of lichen, young heath on former farmland, open sand areas, old oaks, dense woods, juniper scrubs, and a variety of open bodies of water. Experience and proper observation allow the club to maintain this abundance and even to increase it further.
Greenkeeping has been outsourced to a specialised golf course management since 2016. This company uses a tried and tested, certified system that is based on sustainability (ITM). The centralisation of the activities allows the greenkeepers to use specialised machines and specific knowledge without requiring the club to purchase or develop these itself.