Carnoustie Golf Links

GEO Certified® 12/2013 GEO Re-Certified 11/2016
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: +441241802270

Executive summary (English & local language)

Carnoustie Golf Links is renowned primarily for its Championship Course, one of only five in Scotland currently on the R&A Open Championship rota. The facility also includes two further high quality 18-hole courses, the Burnside and Buddon, together with a recently-added 6-hole junior course. The courses in total cover an area of over 300 hectares, forming part of an important natural dune system at the mouth of the Tay estuary.

While the history of Carnoustie as a site for golf is said to extend as far back as the 16th Century, its current prominence relates primarily to its status as an Open venue; beginning with the Championship of 1931, and held on six subsequent occasions, the most recent of which was in 2007. The Open will return to Carnoustie in 2018 and the process of preparation for the event is already well under way.

The site is ecologically significant as part of a wider network of habitats on the Barry peninsula and in the Tay Estuary, with the golf courses forming a buffer between semi-natural dunelands protected by multiple nature conservation designations to the south, and modified agricultural and urban landscapes to the north. Baseline survey work over a period of more than 20 years supports a comprehensive ecological management programme overseen by the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI).
Close relationships between the Links and its community, both town and region, have always been an important part of the identity of Carnoustie and they remain exceptionally strong and close. The courses are laid out on public land, owned by the local authority, Angus Council, and their open-ness and multiple use is a key aspect. Management was the responsibility of the local authority until 1979 when it transferred to a joint body, the Carnoustie Golf Links Management Committee (CGLMC). CGLMC moved to Charitable Status in 2014 and this change will enable further reinforcement of its community partnership role through direct financial support for local projects. CGLMC have progressed plans for infrastructural improvements during the re-certification period, including a major extension contract to the Golf Centre, to begin within the coming months.
The 2016 OnCourse report update provides solid evidence of the continued commitment by CGLMC to wider sustainability issues. The key strengths identified in 2013 have been upheld and indeed enhanced in specific areas, clearly meeting the certification standard and renewal priorities. The Continual Improvement Points were either satisfactorily progressed or addressed in good faith within the wider context of economic and operational constraints.

The most important areas of achievement identified by the OnCourse report and the verification procedure are:
Landscape restoration work to achieve a well-balanced mosaic of predominantly grassland and heathland habitats;
High standards of maintenance of turfgrass swards continuing to meet STRI agronomic and playing quality targets, with significantly reduced nutrient and pesticide inputs overall;
Adoption of a formal Energy Policy Statement, commissioning of further more detailed auditing reports, and progression of recommendations identifying specific areas for reducing electricity consumption;
Further refinement and adjustment of an upgraded irrigation system operating system to improve targetting and efficiency;
Continued routine testing by SEPA of water in the Barry Burn, with a supplementary fish survey indicating no major problems with quality;
Strengthening of direct partnership with the community through adoption of Charitable Status by the Links Management Committee;
Completion of a new six hole junior course (‘the Nestie’) situated on the old first fairway of the Buddon Links and opened in May 2014.


Carnoustie Links consists of relatively subdued fixed dune topography with a dominant landcover of grassland and scrub, punctuated by isolated small areas of plantation woodland and a few scattered trees. The course of the Barry Burn meanders through the northern part of the site, reaching the sea to the south of the Hotel, and there are also several ponds on the eastern margin of the golf courses. The significance of the landscape and ecology of Carnoustie Golf Links derives mainly from its wider context as part of the Barry peninsula. The margin of the dune system coincides approximately with the line of the railway: to the north lies agricultural land and urban development, to the south are the golf courses of Carnoustie Links, and Monifieth to the west, which although not themselves designated, create an important buffer at the transition between the more modified landscapes and an assemblage of protected habitats to the south.

Since 2007, all three courses have been covered by a comprehensive Ecological Management Plan prepared by STRI. The plan was updated in June 2013 to run for a further 5 years, it is understood that this may be extended to 2019 to accommodate the 2018 Open. The Championship Course receives an annual Ecological Assessment by STRI on behalf of The R&A in accordance with its position on the Open rota. An Assessment Report was also recently undertaken by STRI for the Buddon Links (September 2016), to provide specific management recommendations to update and supplement the 2013 Plan.

Together these reports provide a well-structured hierarchy of strategic objectives and detailed prescriptions on a compartment-by-compartment basis, supported by an appropriately detailed baseline. The principal ecological and landscape management issues identified in the 2013 plan include:
achieving an optimum balance between scrub and tree cover and open grassland and their overall relationship with the landscape character of the links;
maintaining the health and quality of the key component habitats - fixed dune grassland, gorse scrub and heather
maintenance of water bodies, including erosion and flood control of the Barry Burn, reducing resource inputs in the management of turfgrass surfaces.

A Woodland Management Policy was prepared by Angus Council in 2006, based on a detailed survey and resulting compartment map and spreadsheet. The policy and database were updated in 2011 and will be subject to regular 5-yearly review. The Policy includes an overall aim to enhance the biodiversity and amenity of the site through removal of non-native species and judicious planting of new native species. It recognises the distinction between the landscape character of the “true links” and the “heathland” parts of the site, and includes clear policy guidelines corresponding to these areas.
Other surveys reported in 2013 included:
Pond surveys undertaken by David Lampard and SGEG Ecologists;
Breeding Bird surveys undertaken by Tay Ringing Group;
A series of baseline surveys undertaken as part of the planning process for the 2013 construction project on the Buddon Links. These included:
Phase 1 Habitats;
Breeding birds;
Great Crested Newts;

Additional surveys undertaken since 2013 include:
Baseline surveys by STRI in association with proposed redevelopment works to main practice ground in preparation for 2018 Open, including;
Phase 1 Habitats (2016);
Botanical Survey (2016);
Breeding and Wintering Birds;
Fish Survey of Barry Burn by SEPA (2015);
Breeding Bird surveys undertaken by Tay Ringing Group. These have been ongoing since 2002 and detailed results from the 2015 survey are available;
An update to the Woodland Management Policy in November 2014 detailing proposed woodland and tree related works

There are no statutory nature conservation or landscape designations covering the area managed by CGLMC. As noted above, the courses are located in immediate proximity to a number of designated areas associated with the Barry Peninsula and the Tay Estuary. These are:
Barry Links SSSI: designated for both biological and geomorphological reasons. Its citation includes reference to the plants, invertebrates, and birds of the peninsula, as well as the dune landforms themselves;
Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary Special Area of Conservation (SAC): Important habitats include dune heath and grassland, mobile dunes and “slacks” – the hollows between the dunes (for which the site is considered to be one of the best areas in the UK); and
Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA) and RAMSAR site, which supports internationally important numbers of wintering waders and wildfowl, including bar-tailed godwit, sanderling and eider.
The EU Habitats and Birds Directives require SACs and SPAs to be protected to ensure that there is no deterioration of natural habitats and disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated. This remains the primary responsibility of the Landowner, Ministry of Defence Estates (MOD), overseen by SNH.

The species composition of the playing areas as reported in the 2016 OnCourse report shows percentages averaged across all 3 courses, with again a very clear dominance of Fescue/Bent assemblages of between 65-90% on greens, tees, and fairways. The extents of the different playing areas show minor adjustments in comparison with 2013; it was confirmed at the time of the visit that these relate to a more accurate survey method (GPS mapping) rather than to any material changes. As noted in 2013, some subtle variation in species composition occurs between courses, related to a range of factors including local conditions, management history, and playing requirements.
Ongoing maintenance issues regarding species composition continue to be monitored and addressed with the support of STRI. In the period from 2013-2016 these focussed primarily on consistent topdressing, a continued programme of fescue overseeding, and attention to the overall species balance and integration of the Poa component. The STRI results for playing quality parameters on The Championship course remain consistently high. Consultancy support has also obtained during the period from Martin Ebert of Mackenzie and Ebert for the projects on the Burnside (new 16th green), and the new practice area for The Open.
Improved communication between the greens staff and Pro Centre staff regarding playing conditions and day to day maintenance operations is noted, providing enhanced customer service for all players.

The 2016 OnCourse report again notes multiple valuable conservation activities addressing landscape ecology, habitats, and biodiversity issues. The standards attained in the original certification have been upheld, and with respect to one key measure, the overall landscape balance between open grassland and scrub and tree cover, have been significantly enhanced. This is considered to represent a very important environmental milestone for Carnoustie, reflecting a consistent focus on enlightened habitat management.

As reported in 2013, the key habitat conservation and enhancement activities remain:
the progressive long-term continuing restoration of the “true links” landscape character; ,
maintenance and enhancement of heathland patches;
maintenance and enhancement of wetland;
new native woodland planting as part of the established woodland management policy.
Priority actions as detailed in the most recent (2015 and 2016) assessments for The Championship and Buddon courses include:
continued grassland management to enhance habitat for ground-nesting birds;
innovative reopening and creation of several bare sand areas, providing additional habitat diversity and allowing further colonisation of rare species including the Sea Pea Lathyrus japonicus;
continued control of naturally regenerating scrub, particularly where encroaching on important coastal heath, including targeted gorse management;
further tree removal, primarily for thinning, or aesthetic/landscape reasons;
further scrub planting to screen maintenance compound;
bulrush control in ponds and wetlands.
Other detailed enhancements for the period include improved signage to the “Operation Pollinator” areas, and monitoring of egg numbers in nesting boxes.


CGL uses a series of 5 groundwater boreholes for the course irrigation, with abstraction licenced by SEPA. Mains water is still used for the Maintenance Compound and Golf Centre. Facilities reported as “Other” in 2016 refer to Burnside Course Starters Box, supply to tournaments, and a new on-course toilet. All surface drainage at Carnoustie Links is part of The Barry Burn catchment basin, which is partly tidal at the extreme eastern margin of the site. The SEPA River Basin Management Plan classifies Barry Burn as a small lowland river, part of the larger Dundee Coastal catchment, associated with the Carnoustie bedrock and localised sand and gravel aquifers. It drains mainly arable and mixed agricultural land, although the lower reaches clearly have a high proportion of urban development, with a large proportion of hard surfaces leading to rapid run-off in high rainfall events.

Irrigation consumption is measured via the borehole meter, which is linked to the abstraction licence from SEPA. Irrigation of the 3 golf courses consumed on average approximately 34.9 million litres per annum for the two years 2014-2015, representing a significant increase over the previous period (more than 50%). This is not however considered to be significant, reflecting both drier conditions in 2015 and the fact that the previous period included 2 particularly wet years. Annual average consumption at the Maintenance Centre showed a very slight decrease from the previous period (2%), despite what is regarded by the Links Superintendent as an anomalously high figure for 2014, (possibly due to useage to top-up the irrigation reservoir at the transition point of an Abstraction Licence period). Activities to reduce overall consumption include low-flow showers and low-capacity urinal cisterns in both the Maintenance Centre and Golf Centre as reported in 2013.

One borehole was decommissioned during the re-certification period due to lack of productivity. (Previously 3 pairs were reported, or 6 in total). Further refinement and adjustment of the upgraded operating system reported in 2013 is still ongoing to improve targetting and efficiency.


Recommendations included in the 2013 audit by TwoDegrees Consulting are being progressed. A further Energy Audit Report and Electricity Logging Report were commissioned from consultants Orchard Energy and were completed in 2015. These identify specific areas of savings including various behavioural/operational changes and potential conversion from fuel oil to either gas or biomass for heating at the Maintenance Complex. Progress has also been made on identifying potential oil consumption savings, separating oil used for heating from machine and vehicle fuel. The proposed comprehensive redevelopment of the Golf Centre building should allow other relevant recommendations to be integrated including improved use of the existing Building Energy Management System and installing daylight/movement sensors below the main atrium and in the locker rooms.

All energy sources remain non-renewable, divided as before between grid electric, natural gas, heating-oil and petrol or diesel fuel. Total Grid consumption remains similar, the average annual figure having increased by a nominal 7% compared with the previous period. Electricity databases have been set up for the Maintenance Complex and Golf Centre.

As noted above at present there is no use of renewables. The 2013 OnCourse Report referenced investigation of wind power and solar power project opportunities. The feasibility of a wind turbine was considered but rejected on visual amenity grounds. Solar pv panels to the Maintenance Complex roof were also considered as part of the remit of the Orchard Energy Audit. Due to the uncertainty on government incentives these were not currently included in recommendations, although they could be revisited if incentives remain favourable. The Orchard Energy audit report also provided illustrative cost savings for conversion to biomass heating of the Maintenance Complex, currently under consideration.

The 2016 OnCourse report provides evidence of current activities which were observed on site. As noted above the major opportunities relate to the recommendations included in the 2015 Orchard Energy audit which are already beginning to be progressed.

Supply Chain

Turf products remain the dominant component of supply chains, in addition to golf centre supplies. Fertiliser and Pesticide use on the golf courses has been further reduced since 2013. CGLMC now have a procurement policy which includes ethical standards as a key principle, and there is continuing evidence of a satisfactory level of use of local materials, suppliers, and services. There has also been measurable progress in the implementation of more detailed recording systems.

CGLMC now have a procurement policy which includes ethical standards as a key principle.

Further detail is provided on the supplier network in comparison with the 2013 OnCourse report. Sand for general use is still obtained from a local quarry, with King’s of Ayrshire used only for agronomic specification top-dressing and rootzone sand. A total of 29 retail suppliers are reported for the Golf Centre professional’s shop (information which was not available in 2013). The Golf Centre café provides meals and refreshments and the franchise is still held locally by the Carnoustie Hotel. (This covers all Food & Beverage and Catering Supplies).

Comparison of the records with those for the previous Certification period indicates the following major points.
The most significant nutrient inputs remain Inorganic Nitrogen and Inorganic Potassium applied to Greens, Tees, and Fairways. The overall trend is a significant decrease in both nutrients (c.40%), with the only increase noted occurring to Fairways, where the average annual application was up slightly from c.17.1Kg to c.19.3kg, or around 12%. The course manager highlighted the reduced N application to Greens over the period, coupled with the change from granular to predominantly soluble applications, allowing more efficient and even application, (equipment was inspected).
Overall totals of active pesticide ingredients used have also been very significantly reduced for Fungicides and Herbicides. The total quantity of Insecticide active ingredient remains negligible over all areas (less than one application per annum on average). During the previous period, the most significant applications of active ingredient were of Fungicide to Greens, and Herbicide to Fairways and Roughs (including Semi-roughs). For 2013-16, Fungicide to Greens also represented a significant proportion of the total, Herbicide to Tees as well as Fairways was also noted. The total numbers of applications of Fungicide and Herbicide were dramatically reduced, to around 60% and under 40% respectively.

Evidence of bulk turf product use again includes a very significant proportion of materials recycled on-site, including soil reclaimed from a former organic waste dump which was screened and stockpiled in conjunction with the construction of the new golf holes on the Buddon Links. Significant quantities of this material were used for the recent new 16th green project on the Burnside course, together with re-cycled rootzone obtained from hollow-coring elsewhere on the same course.

Pollution Control

The importance of implementing the highest standards of pollution control is highlighted at Carnoustie by the proximity of the sensitive designated habitats and this responsibility continues to be clearly recognised. The systems in place at the maintenance compound and on the courses are substantially unchanged from the previous period and continue to fulfil the GEO criteria with regard to hazardous materials and pollution prevention.

SEPA continue to test water quality of the Barry Burn near the Maintenance Facility on a regular basis. A Fish Survey was also undertaken in August 2015 and the results were obtained by CGL. The report states that: “Overall the survey showed that all expected fish species were present during our survey, including relatively pollution sensitive species such as trout. From this we can conclude there are no major problems with water quality in the survey area”. This appears to contradict River Basin Management Plan information for the Barry Burn accessed via the SEPA website (October 2016), which classifies the overall ecological status of the watercourse as “Poor”. (, accessed 18.10.2016).

The Hydroscape wash pad system is still in place at the Maintenance Centre. All other waste water is disposed of to the mains sewer.

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.


The sense of community partnership at Carnoustie Golf Links is immediately evident and remains one of its key sustainability strengths. Its foundations are the public ownership of the site, and the direct involvement in the management of the clubs through CGLMC, providing continuity with the traditional use of the site. A total of six local clubs have playing rights over the courses, three of which own their own clubhouse properties on Links Parade. The number of season ticket holders remains stable at around 2500.
CGLMC Ltd is now operated as a Charitable Trust (Scottish Charity No.SC045236), the transition having been successfully achieved in 2014. Significantly, the objectives of the Trust as formalised in the Articles extend beyond the promotion of golf to include provision of general recreation activities, promotion of the arts, heritage, and culture, community development, and the advancement of environmental protection. Charitable status provides for direct financial contributions to be made to local projects which fall within the objectives as outlined above.

CGLMC provide direct employment for around 58 staff (a small increase from 2013) and self-employed caddying continues to provide good opportunities throughout the season, particularly on the Championship Course. The average annual total of rounds on all 3 courses over the period up to 2016 was around 108,000 (a reduction of less than 1% on the 2012 figure). The proportion of visitor rounds also remains very high, at around 26%.
The multiplier effect to the regional economy remains significant. The Open rota status of Carnoustie’s Links is a cornerstone of the regional tourism industry. While no updated figures are available ahead of the 2018 Open, an analysis of the economic benefits of the 2007 tournament found that the total value generated for the Angus region was £14.8 million, including employment of 204 FTE jobs. A study undertaken in 2015 also indicated that between 20% to 50% of visitors would spend on food and beverage in the immediate vicinity. The Carnoustie Hotel and Resort adjoining the links is the current catering partner in the Golf Centre as noted above. Many visitors playing at Carnoustie Links also choose to stay in the town. The numbers staying at The Carnoustie Hotel and Resort have remained stable over the period at around 550-650 per annum.
Environment and sustainability remain integral components of staff training as evidenced in the GEO OnCourse report.

Although this precise terminology is not used, the Environment Sub-Committee to the General Committee of CGLMC Ltd continues to fulfil this role and remains an active contributor to management.

A new six-hole juniors course on the site of the former first hole of the Buddon Links was completed during the current period. Charitable status now provides increased opportunities for direct financial partnership in a wide range of community initiatives as noted above.

Carnoustie Links has always been and remains a good example of a “multifunctional” golf facility. The extent of the site, its range of habitats, and the dense network of well-used formal and informal paths are the key components. The formal routes are predominantly tarmac and located to ensure minimum risk of conflict with golf:
Angus Council adopted Core Path: consists of a circular route along boundary,
NCR1 Cycle Route - on north boundary
“Angus Coastal Path”
Signage at the entrance to the course is welcoming and informative - overall there is a very open approach, conflict is minimised, and any occasional damage to bunkers or turf by dogs is accepted. Although there is a perception that some visitors may find the experience of sharing the course during their round rather strange, most seem to appreciate the “novelty” of the community atmosphere in contrast to an exclusive club.

CGL provide monthly newsletter material for all club notice boards.

The Carnoustie Golf Links website at is designed to a high standard and includes a dedicated Environment page. This embodies a significant new awareness raising initiative with the production of an Environmental Guide booklet in conjunction with the R&A and STRI, available in digital pdf format. The booklet has also been printed and distributed locally.

Documentation Reviewed


The Verification process confirms that Carnoustie Golf Links satisfies the GEO certification criteria. The comprehensive and accurate GEO OnCourse report, verified on site, provides solid evidence of the continued commitment by CGLMC to wider sustainability issues. The key strengths identified in 2013 have been upheld and indeed enhanced in specific areas, clearly meeting the certification standard and renewal priorities. The Continual Improvement Points noted in the previous Verification Report have been either satisfactorily progressed or addressed in good faith within the wider economic and operational constraints.

Certification Highlights

Landscape restoration work to achieve a well-balanced mosaic of predominantly grassland and heathland habitats;
High standards of maintenance of turfgrass swards continuing to meet STRI agronomic and playing quality targets, with significantly reduced nutrient and pesticide inputs overall;
Adoption of a formal Energy Policy Statement, commissioning of further more detailed auditing reports, and progression of recommendations identifying specific areas for reducing electricity consumption;
Strengthening of direct partnership with the community through adoption of Charitable Status by the Links Management Committee;
Completion of “The Nestie”, a 6-hole junior course promoting accessible and affordable opportunities for new players.