Zuid Limburgse Golf En Countryclub 'Wittem'

GEO Certified® 06/2012 GEO Re-Certified 08/2015
Gulpen Wittem,
Netherlands
Telephone: +3143-4552370
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Executive summary (English & local language)

The Gulpen-Wittem municipality is home to the highest golf course of the Netherlands; situated on a plateau surrounded by old hillside forests (Schweibergerbosch and Kruisbosch). With its 50 ha, the course is quite compact, but still includes 29 ha of natural reserve. The Zuid-Limburgse Golf & Country Club began as a 9-hole course (Hawtree, 1954) and was later expanded into an 18-hole course with practice facilities (Rolin, 1991). Several renovations have been performed since 2004 (Steensels). 2013 saw the start of a large-scale renovation plan that is expected to be finished in 2018. The land is rented from the national Forestry Commission with which the club collaborates closely. There is currently no desire to expand. ‘Continual improvement’ is the club’s motto: proper stewardship. The ‘Ambition Plan Wittem 2020’ is the guiding principle. This plan includes the objective to contribute to the ecosystem of the surrounding ‘Geuldal’ valley Natura 2000 area. With its almost 2500 hectares, the Geuldal valley is one of the largest Natura 2000 areas in the Netherlands. Until recently, the course was troubled by ambiguities concerning the exact demarcation of the Natura 2000 area in 1990.

The motivated GEO committee has a wealth of knowledge and purposefully aims at increasing sustainability. The committee comprises board members, course committee members and the head green keeper. In recent years, the committee focussed on optimising the water system and meeting the objectives for the Natura 2000 area. The coming years will see additional focus on energy and chain management.

In de gemeente Gulpen-Wittem ligt de hoogste golfbaan van Nederland; op een plateau omgeven door oude hellingbossen (schweibergerbosch en Kruisbosch) . De baan is met 50 ha zeer compact maar omvat desondanks 29 ha natuurgebied. De Zuid-Limburgse Golf & Countryclub is hier gestart als 9 holes baan (Hawtree, 1954) en later uitgebreid tot 18 holes baan met oefenfaciliteiten (Rolin, 1991). Vanaf 2004 vonden renovaties plaats (Steensels). In 2013 is een grootscheeps renovatieplan gestart dat tot 2018 zal duren. Het terrein is in pacht bij Staatsbosbeheer, waarmee nauw wordt samengewerkt. Er zijn geen uitbreidingswensen. ‘ Continual improvement’ is het devies: goed rentmeesterschap. Het ‘Ambitieplan Wittem 2020’ geldt als leidraad. Hierin staat onder andere het bijdragen aan het ecosysteem van het omringende Natura 2000-gebied ‘Het Geuldal’ als doel beschreven. Het Geuldal is met een oppervlakte van bijna 2500 hectaren een van de omvangrijkste Natura 2000-gebieden in Nederland. Onduidelijkheid over de begrenzing van het Natura 2000-gebied in 1990 heeft tot voor kort de baan parten gespeeld.

De gemotiveerde GEO-commissie beschikt over veel kennis en zet zich doelgericht in voor vergroten van de duurzaamheid. De commissie bestaat uit bestuursleden, leden van de baancommissie en de hoofdgreenkeeper. De commissie is de afgelopen jaren vooral gefocust geweest op de optimalisering van het watersysteem en het voldoen aan de doelstellingen vanuit het Natura 2000-gebied. De komende jaren komt er meer aandacht voor energie- en ketenbeheer.

Nature

The course stretches over two quite dissimilar landscape zones, each with its own game challenges: the oldest part is a forest course, the newest part an open, rolling landscape course on the west. Due to the relatively high altitude and a careful harmonisation with the landscape characteristics, the course is truly embedded in the surrounding hill landscape. Another particular quality is the silence. The landscape holes were constructed on the former tilling fields of the Landsraderveld area, with an old field road to Crapoel and a view on Gulpen. Dry dales allow for beautiful lines of sight at two places, among others from the clubhouse. The original relief has undergone hardly any changes and has been included in the course, with the sometimes bumpy terrain being considered part of the game. Paths have been paved with gravel or flint.
The area vision plan and management plan together offer a good guideline for step-by-step measures, including for the forest edge, construction of a high-stem orchard with native species, flowery pastures and hawthorn hedges. The course’s location in hillside woods with a great variety of species and the facilities on the course contribute to the local biodiversity, although its position within an environmentally sensitive area also entails several restrictions and objectives.

The IKL (local landscape management organisation) makes an inventory of the ponds and maintains them once a year. In 2014, a bird watching group was founded which makes an inventory of the bird population once a year, assisted by a local bird expert. There are no structural surveys for other species.

The surrounding hillside forest type consists of wood-rush and beech forest, with the accompanying Natura-2000 goals. These forests are particularly unique because of the wealth of plants and birds. Forest maintenance is executed together with the Forestry Commission and is supported by the provincial government. Maintenance primarily consists of a phased transition from coniferous to deciduous woods and scrubs (for the lines of sight in the dry dale), overdue maintenance and forest edge maintenance. Maintenance of the forest edges – attuned to the old, native forest cores – has the highest priority, as the expectations are rather high there. Maintenance of the forest edges will have quickly recognisable effects on the butterfly diversity and the protection of the endangered hazel dormouse. A hazel dormouse package is planted to benefit the latter species. Other defining mammals are badgers and wild boards. The presence of badgers is tolerated, as potential damages are easily repaired. This does not go for the boar. Electric fences and concrete mesh have recently been installed and cattle grids will be applied to access roads in the near future. Still to be done. Tree maintenance is contracted to a tree surgeon who makes annual inspections with the green keepers, following the guidelines of the management plan. Save for larches, no invasive species are tolerated.

Poa annua is the dominant grass species on greens, tees, fairway and semi-rough. The club’s policy is to tolerate instead of combat this grass. Colouration is considered a normal occurrence, especially considering the natural context. Continual sowing with agrostis and festuca is causing a gradual transition of the turf. Using less fertiliser and water will further advance the latter species.

An extensive and thoroughly substantiated course management plan (2014) is the foundational document for the stewardship that the club aspires to. It is an integral plan, including annual reviews and updates. This management is tested against a selection of relevant codes of conduct; this makes is easier to make management choices. Green keeping is entrusted to the experienced hands of a contractor who maintains many golf courses in the area.
Management of the forest edge and development of the forest mantle (for which parts of the fairway and rough are sacrificed) and the construction of ponds strengthen the ecological coherence for all groups of species. There are all kinds and sizes of ponds, which greatly increases the chances of keeping and attracting amphibians. The pools are closely connected to the Crapoel core area, which houses among others the great crested newt. Because the loam soil is naturally eutrophic and the former tilling fields were fertilised, the soil atrophies slowly. In 2015, nesting boxes for a range of bird species (starlings, tits, brown owls) were installed on the course.

Water

The golf course’s plateau is an infiltration area. The groundwater lies dozens of metres below the surface, but the soil still retains moisture thanks to the loam layer covering the below limestone. One finds perched groundwater at some spots, which occasionally causes a water surplus. The nutrient-rich drainage water cannot flow into the surrounding woods (due to Natura 2000 guideline stipulations), but must be buffered internally, with a spillway into the sewer. Buffering is done using an ingenious system of ponds and pools (usually on loam, sometimes on a film) that is in a continuous process of expansion and enhancement. After 2018, the buffer will have such a capacity that the course will be able to provide its own water needs, eliminating the need for spillway. The aim is to prevent spillway and sewers completely in the near future.

Sprinkling requires no groundwater; the sprinkling needs can be increasingly met by the rainwater stores buffered in the ponds (65-100%). Public water (0-35%) is used to supplement the supply in case of long droughts. Public water is furthermore used to hose down machines (after using high pressure air). Sprinkling water consumption is low. The figures show normal consumption of public water in the clubhouse and the green keepers maintenance facility. There are not individual measuring points.

Starting 2018, the drainage water can be buffered internally with a system that drains the water to 4 buffers using ditches and pipes. A large, central buffer is used to pump water for sprinkling. In case of a water surplus, the water can be pumped into the other buffers.
Restrictive use means that the water consumption is very low. The loam soil retains a lot of water, which means that the fairways never require sprinkling. Wetting agents are used on the tees and greens. Colouration is not an issue. The ponds and pools (11 in total) have important ecological value, primarily as the breeding biotope for amphibians and dragonflies. Sprinkling is done semi-automatically, and the pump is necessary to retain pressure due to the relatively high altitude.

In contrast to the consumption reductions on the course, reduction initiatives for the buildings are very limited; the toilets have been fitted with half-flush buttons.

Energy

The clubhouse is old but striking and very much loved by the members. The 1950s architecture means that the structure is not adapted for low energy consumption: the rooms are high and poorly insulated. Energy consumption has not yet received a lot of attention. One committee member will investigate the buildings and the energy consumption. A basic energy scan was performed in 2012. An energy audit was held in 2015; at the time of writing this report, the results of this audit have not been released yet. The implementation of the recommendations can commence in the coming three years.

There are no individual measuring points, making it unclear what section of the club uses the most energy. Electricity consumption is average, but on the rise. Electricity is used in the buildings, for sprinkling, and to keep the public water pipes pressurised. There are no lights on the driving range, there are no air-conditioning or outside heating. The boiler uses natural gas; consumption is high, which the large boiler and considerable, out-dated central heating boiler can be blamed for. Diesel and gasoline consumption are normal.

The club uses non-renewable energy sources. The local circumstances for generating power on-site are not very favourable. The vegetation is far too high, and wind turbines are undesirable. Considering the amount of wood generated in forest maintenance, the most obvious alternative is powering a central heating boiler using pellets from the wood found on the club’s terrain.

There is a lot of daylight in the clubhouse, meaning that energy consumption for lighting can be reduced. Presence switches and energy-saving bulbs have been installed in both the cart shed and the clubhouse. There have been few other investments to reduce energy consumption. The restrictive water and fertiliser policy and the grass species mean that the mowing frequency is low.

Supply Chain

There is a limited overview on the inflow and outflow of materials. There is a definite awareness of these matters, but the focus has been on two other issues: completing the water system, and the 2013-2018 renovation.

Both the course maintenance and the clubhouse exploitation have been contracted to other parties. The obligation to comply with laws and regulations has been recorded in writing in the relevant agreements. Purchasing considers certificates and renewable products. They follow the current trends, especially since the GEO committee has announced the intention to review the buildings in the near future. There will be a master plan to guide future investments.

To the extent possible, all services such as catering, tree maintenance, course management, and the irrigation system are contracted to local professionals. The restaurant owner has a lease contract. The menu is rather conventional and little attention is paid to ecological and seasonal products.

Festuca and agrostis are used on new greens. Starting 2015, the old greens, with a poa annua dominance of up to 80%, will also be sown with these species. As these species of grass are more capable of surviving atrophic and dry circumstances, the poa annua will gradually disappear. One advantage is that these species are a lot less sensitive to mildew and require less fertiliser and water, yielding results on all fronts. There is less need for plant protection and the mowing frequency can be reduced. The nuisance from leather jackets and cockchafer larva is assessed every year. If necessary, legally allowed pesticides are applied. Herbicides are used minimally to combat clover and daisies.

The municipality picks up garbage from the course and the restaurant. Glass and paper are processed separately. Plastic is not separated. Chemical waste (energy-saving bulbs, batteries, etc.) is processed using the appropriate containers. Packaging is picked up by a certified company. Clippings from the fairway, semi-rough and (partially) the tees is left where is falls. Rough and nature-rough clippings are taken away. Branches are still largely taken away. Leaves are deposited in the forest edge, leading to roughening of the woods.

Pollution Control

The course management plan includes a paragraph on environmental care. The core principles are: (1) meeting requirements stipulated by rules and regulations, (2) following codes of conduct, and (3) striving for continual improvement. An annual environmental care action plan is drawn up to attain these objectives. The GEO committee has a proper, up-to-date grip on strengths and weaknesses, in part thanks to the use of www.ngfmilieuzorg.nl . The club has been granted all necessary renovation permits.

The IKL (local landscape management organisation) performs an annual visual check of the water quality in the ponds.

Waste water from the clubhouse, maintenance facility and the wash pad are led through an oil and grease separator and drained to the municipal sewer. The oil and grease separators are cleaned every year. All lubricants used are biodegradable.

The register of hazardous materials and fuels is sound and up to date. The chemicals cabinet is doubly locked and ventilated.

Large machine maintenance is performed at another location. Small maintenance and cleaning are done on an impermeable floor fitted with oil and grease separators, which are cleaned every year. Fuel and lubricants are stored outside, above an impermeable drip tray. Lubricants (used for the chain saw) are biodegradable.

The club adheres strictly to the rules and regulations related to the Natura 2000 area. Draining water to the adjacent natural reserve is prohibited. The club’s sophisticated water system already makes sure that water is drained to internal buffers. Spillway into the sewers occurs only in cases of very heavy rain, when the buffers can no longer handle the amount of water. A buffer zone of 1m is used around the bodies of water. Along woods the rough buffers sufficient. There are no sanitary facilities on the course.

Community

The Zuid-Limburgs Golf & Country Club is a members’ course, supplemented with guest players. The number of green fees is growing. Every board member has their own area of responsibility, for which there are individual work groups. The last few years have been very hectic due to the renovations and the efforts for attuning to the Natura 2000 policy. This intense period finally yielded a sound anchoring in the society. There is no communication plan.

The staff members are employed by different companies that the club has permanent contracts with. This creates a high level of involvement. Most employees live nearby. The club could not exist without the support of over 100 highly-involved volunteers.

The GEO is not a separate committee but part of the course committee, supplemented with board members and the head green keeper. The lines of communication are short, which is truly an advantage. There is a fixed deliberation structure. One course committee member coordinates, files, and initiates and manages plans. The committee has the required disciplines, and requests external advice where necessary.

There are several public paths running along or over the course, endowing the course with a sense of openness. A centrally-located wind rose shows the location in relation to surrounding landmarks.
The relationship with the municipality has been greatly improved since the council realised the scope of the economic effects, particularly for the restaurant and bar. The collaborations with the Forestry Commission, who leases the land, are fruitful. The club is also trying to involve two special-interest groups that sued the club in the past, and has extended invitations to both.

The course is beautifully integrated into the surrounding landscape and has all its characteristics, such as field paths, hedges and ponds. The cultural-historical values have been respected, and the paths and course furniture have been installed in a very inconspicuous manner.

There are currently no legal disputes or planning procedures. Disputes with two local special-interest groups have been resolved.

Members are informed by weekly digital newsletters. The course is one of the 7 pilots that were involved in the Committed to Birds programme that resulted in the ‘Birds and Golf Courses’ report that offered numerous ideas for the improvement of the birds’ habitat. An active bird club was founded in 2014, which organised lectures supported by the IVN, and coordinates the bird inventories.

The club website offers information on GEO, the Wittem 2020 ambition plan, the fauna and flora, and the Committed to Birds programme. There is frequent contact with four nature organisations. The club holds neighbour days and open house days. The club is an active participant in NGF programmes.

Documentation Reviewed

Conclusion

The Zuid-Limburgse Golf & Country Club enthusiastically started the GEO project in 2011. The course lies on a plateau and is surrounded by hillside woods, designated as Natura 2000 reserve. This does not merely offer many opportunities for nature, but also enforces restrictions on usage and management, to prevent any negative effects. The club has taken on this assignment with a lot of positive energy. Especially its water management and focussed nature management make the Zuid-Limburgse stand out. The club understands and acknowledges the weaknesses as well (purchasing policy, waste processing, and energy efficiency). The club does not hesitate to call on professionals for assistance.

Certification Highlights

(1)
The Zuid-Limburgse is the highest golf course in the Netherlands and offers beautiful views and lines of sight through the dry dales. The course’s landscape is greatly embedded in the environment; partially hidden in wooded hills, partially open and rolling along the plateau. This clear division will be further fostered in the coming years by restoring the characteristic landscape elements and the related fauna and flora.

(2)
The water system’s cascade-like construction creates an internal buffering and allows rainwater to be reused as sprinkling water. This system furthermore prevents water being drained into the adjacent natural reserve, avoiding any possible negative effects. This water, spread out over 11 ponds and pools, also constitutes an important additional value as habitat for amphibians and other creatures, and it strengthens the coherence between populations. Even now, this system is being expanded and it will in the future make any public water consumption unnecessary.

(3)
The club is positively disposed towards integral and creative solutions. These are also the most sustainable. For instance: not engaging in a pointless struggle with meadow grass, but encouraging a gradual transformation to greens and tees overgrown with grass species that require far less fertiliser and water, meaning that the meadow grass will be slowly pushed out. Since these grass species also grow less quickly, the mowing frequency can be reduced, which again leads to positive results. Another example: using the harvest of the apple orchard within the club.