Aldeburgh Golf Club

GEO Certified® 02/2018
Aldeburgh,
England, United Kingdom
Telephone: 01728 454412
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Executive summary (English & local language)

The audit of Aldeburgh Golf Club was carried out on 29 January 2018, for the initial certification of the facility. Secretary David Wybar and course manager Mark Broughton were present, holding in-house discussions with both before walking the course and touring the maintenance facility with the course manager.

The golf course was opened in 1884 and during the early part of the twentieth century was remodeled in part by Willie Park, J H Taylor and Harry Colt. It has 27 Holes; the 18 hole Championship course, which measures 6603 yards off the championship tees, is a true test of golf with the SSS exceeding par by 5 shots; whilst the 2015 yard River Course provides opportunities for a wide range of players from beginners to those wishing to warm up before taking on the main course. The whole site lies within the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is also listed as a County Wildlife Site because of its habitats and species. The overall area of the club's ownership is around 120 hectares, with about one-third of this being grassland and woodland outside of the playing area and managed for environmental objectives.

The Championship course has largely managed to retain its' original acid grassland character, and has an impressive on-going programme of gorse management which seeks to retain the natural setting of the golf course without compromising the golfing experience. The botanically diverse acid grassland is also well-managed, through a rolling programme of cutting, scarifying and removal of arisings which keeps the sward open and botanically rich. The club's commitment to good environmental management is further emphasized by their having sought and secured ELS and HLS grants to enable them to manage areas of grassland outside the playing areas of the golf course, and which lie adjacent to the RSPB North Warren Nature Reserve, which support good quality grasslands characteristic of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB, as well as rare species of birds. The club's property also includes some significant areas of woodland around its' margins, and these plantation woodlands are being managed by a programme of thinning and selective felling to enhance the dominance by native tree species. The River Course is separated from the clubhouse by the main road into Aldeburgh, and shares the acid grassland character of the Championship Course, being managed in a similar way to maintain its semi-natural vegetation as the context for the golf course. It lies adjacent to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Hazlewood Marshes Nature Reserve, and became significantly more linked to it as a result of a major tidal surge in 2013 which inundated part of the River Course, requiring rebuilding of some tees and greens. The acid grasslands of the golf course provide some ecological continuity with the nature reserve, and there is a good working relationship with the wildlife trust. The clubhouse is of traditional construction, and fits well with the character of the other properties in this part of the town.

The club is a traditional members golf club, managed by committee, and has hosted many prestigious amateur championships and events; the Jacques Leglise Trophy will be held here in 2019. The championship course is restricted to 2 ball play and is a popular but challenging track. Good course management over the years has ensured that the fine grasses originally existing on the site have been retained, and the club is firmly committed to keeping the fine grasses through a programme of sustainable management which is clearly set out in their Course Policy document. Their fertilizer inputs are very low (only 35 - 40 kg/ha of nitrogen being applied to greens annually), and fungicides have only been needed twice in the last 20 years. It is also clear that the club appreciates the environmental and financial benefits which come from managing their broad range of operations in a sustainable way, and are committed to developing this continually.

Nature

The club fully understands and appreciates the ecological importance of their site, and the course manager provides very strong leadership in maintaining and enhancing this. Whilst there are no statutory wildlife designations on the land the club has engaged closely with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, who have carried out species surveys for them, and helped them identify a number of bird species which the club monitors annually (nightingale, woodlark, turtle dove). The course manager uses the Birdtrack website to record monitoring data. The good management of the acid grasslands and gorse scrub roughs has ensured that plant and animal species characteristic of the area are retained, and as a consequence the golf course has been identified as a County Wildlife Site. The course manager gives a strong lead on ecological work on the site, and the club regularly enter the annual Golf Environment Awards, reaching the final in 2018. As a result the club receive annual visits from STRI ecologist Sophie Vukelic, who provides site-specific advice on species and habitat management. The acid grassland roughs and semi-roughs are very well-managed, through cutting and collection, scarifying and other cultural management practices, to produce tall wispy vegetation which provides strong definition to the course during the growing season. Gorse management is also an ongoing priority, and is done on a 10-12 year cycle, as set out in the club's Scrub Management Plan, in ways which are sensitive to the needs of golfers and the environment. As a result, there is a good range of gorse stands of varying ages, usually fringed by acid grassland semi-roughs and roughs. Small patches of heather remain locally, and the club has a programme of work to expand these, largely through use of brashings to broadcast seed into cleared and scarified areas. Some impressive mosaics of heather, acid grassland and gorse have resulted, with some lichen assemblages characteristic of the Suffolk Heaths area. Several large stands of bracken have been removed through cultural management, enabling a mosaic of acid grassland, gorse and heather to re-establish. Whilst a habitat map of the property has not been produced, the course manager is thinking about drawing up a broad level plan showing the approximate location and extent of broad habitats such as acid grassland, heather, gorse and other scrub vegetation, and woodland.

A new pond has recently been established, and an existing one enlarged. In both cases, littoral shelves were created to encourage marginal vegetation to develop, and the bases were varied so that open water areas could be retained.

The club has worked with FWAG to prepare successful applications for ELS and HLS funding, which enables them to manage about 20 hectares of acid grassland within the club's ownership but outside the playing areas. These areas are managed by seasonal sheep-grazing, and cutting, with the objective of increasing botanic diversity of the acid grassland and increasing heather extent, and the work is progressing well. The agreement is for a 10 year period, and runs until 2022. In addition, the club is managing about 20 hectares of plantation woodland along the edges of their property, through a programme of selective thinning and felling intended to return the area to native woodland. This commitment to enhance the ecological quality of non-golfing areas within the club's ownership is commendable.

The club are aware of the importance of the site for reptile species such as adder and grass snake, and the course manager has put in place several "tins" to enable some monitoring of these species; he also includes information on their presence on the course within the greenkeeping blog which appears on the club's website.

Several owl boxes have been erected on the golf course, along with various nest boxes for smaller birds. Two of the owl boxes were occupied in 2017, with two chicks being fledged from each, and these birds were ringed as part of the Suffolk barn owl project. A bird feeding station has been erected in a patch of woodland near the greenkeepers mess room, and has helped raise awareness amongst the greenkeeping team of the bird diversity of the site. In addition, several "insect hotels" to provide nesting opportunities for pollinating insects have been created from cut logs, along with log piles to provide micro-habitats for other species.

The overall approximate area used for golf is about 80 hectares, but only 27 hectares are intensively managed turfgrass, with another 20 being occupied by semi-rough. The remainder of the area is woodland, scrub, acid grassland, standing water, and built land. As is very clear from the section on habitats and biodiversity, the club is committed to good ecological management of the out of play areas. Sustainable management of the turfgrass areas has been fundamental to the club's management of its' golf course from the start, with the result that the tees, greens and fairways have retained their original fescue/bent character, the proportion being about 60/40 on tees and greens, and 70/30 on fairways. In recent years, regular over-seeding with fescue has been done on greens and other areas as necessary. There are some local problems from time to time with Poa, but these are dealt with effectively using minimal intervention. Thatch levels are kept extremely low (currently organic matter is at only 7%, and the target is to reduce this to about 5%) through regular aeration work, and through minimal inputs of fertilizer and water. In addition, about 100 tonnes of top dressing are applied per annum to greens. Fertiliser input (done only on tees and greens) is very low (about 40 kg/ha of nitrogen), and pesticide use is extremely low, being applied only if absolutely necessary. Only 2 applications of fungicide have been made during the last 20 years. This classic approach to sustainable golf course management has ensured that the high quality fine grass swards which are characteristic of sites such as Aldeburgh have been retained, and continue to deliver high quality playing surfaces through predominantly cultural management.

Detailed records of turfgrass inputs and management activities are maintained by the course manager on a spreadsheet, enabling him to produce information on fertilizer, pesticide, fungicide and water inputs, as well as on cultural activities undertaken, enabling links to be made between inputs and outcomes. In addition, members are kept informed of when intensive course maintenance is scheduled through use of email messages, newsletters, notices in the clubhouse, and the greenkeepers' blog.

Water

Most irrigation water is drawn from the old Aldeburgh town well, which had been out of use for many years before the golf club began to use it, as the water had become non-potable. The abstraction licence is held by the Essex & Suffolk Water Company, and the golf club has a contract with the company to use this water source for irrigation of the golf course until 2021. Some water is also drawn from a well and seepage pond on the course. There is a fairway irrigation system, necessary because the golf course lies in the driest part of the UK, but this is used only to keep the grass alive, rather than keeping it bright green. The club's philosophy is to allow seasonal variation in the colour of mown areas of the course, including allowing the fairways to turn brown in drought conditions. Over the past three years, annual irrigation water consumption has ranged between 16,000 and 24,000 cubic metres per annum, depending on weather conditions. The club has a good relationship with the Essex & Suffolk Water Company and there are no legal disputes. All water used in the clubhouse and maintenance facility is drawn from the mains supply, and the club are well aware of the environmental and financial imperatives to minimize use as far as possible. Over the past three years, consumption has ranged between 764 and 879 cubic metres per annum. The irrigation system is serviced and calibrated annually, and upgraded sprinkler heads are installed whenever replacements are needed.

A moisture probe is used to monitor soil moisture levels, and a trigger level of 10% has been set for deciding when irrigation water needs to be applied. Most watering is carried out at night, with some hand watering during the day, with the aim of raising moisture levels to between 15 and 20%. Wetting agents are used on the greens, and some other areas, to maximize efficiency of take-up.

Water-saving practices are encouraged in the clubhouse, by means of notices and reminders, and as kitchen machinery is replaced, more water-efficient models are acquired. Low flow urinals with sensors have been installed in the clubhouse, and modern showers which use efficient shower technology are now in place. A water usage audit is recommended, to identify what additional opportunities may exist for savings across the clubhouse and maintenance facility areas. This is likely to produce significant savings in costs, as well as reducing the club's environmental footprint, and should then be translated into an action plan for increasing efficiency of water use.

Energy

The club recognize the environmental and financial benefits of maximizing the efficiency of their energy usage, and have commissioned a number of energy audits. These include an energy and green procurement report and action plan from East Coast Carbon Efficiency; a renewable energy feasibility review from SABRE, and the club has been awarded the Suffolk Carbon Charter Silver Award by Suffolk County Council. A new boiler was installed in 2017 and energy savings are already becoming apparent. Heating in the clubhouse is thermostatically controlled, and a programme of replacing all lighting with LED bulbs is in place; motion sensor lighting is used in the car park, Pro Shop, and Men's toilets.

A mix of fuels and energy sources are used on site, with the golf course management activities largely being fueled by diesel and petrol (7398 litres and 1450 litres used respectively in 2016), with non-renewable grid electricity being used in the clubhouse, greens sheds and Pro Shop (92,600 kWh in 2016). Natural gas is used in the kitchen area, with 141,782 kWh used in 2016.

Most of the maintenance team's machinery fleet is diesel or petrol fueled; there are three electric trucks. All of the greens mowers are hybrid machines, insofar as the cutting reels are electrically-driven; one fairway mower is also of this type. Consideration of the environmental and cost benefits of acquiring electric or hybrid vehicles when replacements are required should become a key part of the decision-making process in future.

A comprehensive energy audit of all aspects of the club's use of energy is recommended, as a way of identifying the costs and benefits of moving to more environmentally friendly sources of energy, and of reducing costs by improving energy efficiency.

Supply Chain

Whilst the club does not have a formal Ethical Code of Purchasing, it clearly appreciates the advantage of maximizing the use of local suppliers, and minimizing transport costs and impacts. One of the club's office staff is personally committed to sustainable approaches being taken wherever possible, and exerts a strong influence in this area. However, the geographic location of Aldeburgh makes local purchasing more challenging than it is in some other parts of the country, so that most of their suppliers are located between 10 and 100 miles from the club. They purchase in large quantities, wherever possible, to avoid excess packaging and reduce fuel consumption, and due diligence checks are carried out on significant suppliers.

On the golf course, organic materials are composted, for subsequent use as bulk fill and construction material. Glass, metal, plastic and paper waste from both the clubhouse and the greenkeeping complex is separated for collection and recycling off-site, with general waste being collected by an authorized waste collector for disposal. All activities are legally compliant. They have a strong reuse and recycling ethic, with paper used on just one side being re-used, and double-sided printing done whenever possible. Plastic packaging and batteries are collected by the Secretary's PA and taken to the local tip for recycling, whilst used toner cartridges are sent to the Dogs Trust charity for recycling. All staff are encouraged to reduce waste, and recycle when possible.

Pollution Control

The club understands their responsibilities to prevent pollution through operation of good practice procedures, and these are implemented well. The fact that very low inputs of fertilizer and pesticides are applied also ensures good protection of the local environment. There are no watercourses running through the site, and the few small bodies of standing water which exist are safeguarded against run-off through use of the LERAP process of assessing risk, and using 10 metre buffer zones. All staff involved in applying chemicals have the appropriate training and certification.

Pesticide use is kept to a minimum, and when it is necessary the least toxic and persistent products that are effective for the pest or disease to be controlled are selected. Spot treatment is preferentially used, but where spraying is the best option low drift nozzles are used, and sprayers are calibrated regularly and tested in accordance with the regulations.

All preparation and mixing of chemicals, as well as fuel storage and refilling, are done on bunded hard-standing areas adjacent to the greenkeeping sheds, to avoid the risk of pollution to ground. The machinery washdown area is a separate bunded area, which discharges into a reed bed cleansing system. The only discharges from the whole site are from the clubhouse area, and these go into the mains sewer system. Fuel is stored in double-skinned secure tanks, on the hardstanding bunded area.

All materials in the greenkeeping complex are stored securely, with all hazardous materials locked in a Chemsafe, which has internal bunding as part of the design. COSHH assessments are held for all substances used by both the greenkeeping team and the clubhouse team. All necessary spillage kits are in place, and a pesticide emergency procedure has been drawn up, ratified, and promulgated to all staff. As yet, there is no emergency response plan for other materials, but the club is planning to produce one shortly. Accident and incident reporting is done as part of the overall club system.

All green waste, including grass clippings, corings, turf and spent bunker sand, are collected and recycled in a dedicated composting area, with the resultant material being used for development work as required. Clippings are collected on slabbed areas at convenient points around the course, for collection and removal to the composting area.

Community

Employee records of all full and part time employees are kept in good order, along with training logs and continuing professional development records. A Sustainability Working Group has been set up, comprising the secretary, his PA, the course manager and the steward, and they have driven most of the sustainability initiatives to date, with the encouragement of the Club Committee. The club has now decided that sustainability considerations should become a standing item on the agendas for both the Green and House Committees.

There are several public footpaths across the golf course, which the club maintain by trimming back encroaching scrub and mowing out where required, whilst also making sure that the footpaths are clearly marked and have safety signs where appropriate. In addition, the club have worked with Suffolk County Council to provide a permissive footpath along the side of the River Course, to ensure that pedestrians do not have to use a dangerous stretch of road.

The club's Estates Committee liaises with the club's neighbours to ensure the maintenance of good relationships, and strong links have been established with local environmental groups, especially the Suffolk Wildlife Trust (the club has business membership), the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project, and the RSPB.

One of the club's strengths is the way it communicates with its' members on environmental matters. The course manager produces a blog on the club's website, as well as newsletters to members, notices, and Facebook, both on wildlife matters and on planned or ongoing course management issues. The Twitter account is also a help here. Occasional members evenings and course walks looking at wildlife take place, and an annual dawn chorus walk is organized by the course manager and led by a local naturalist.

The 9 hole River Course is used both by members and non-members. The club encourage use by local people and by visitors, as well by people wanting to try the game. It is a good example of community outreach, which is helping to make golf more accessible to the wider community, and provide opportunities to dispel misconceptions about golf clubs.

Documentation Reviewed

Conclusion

Aldeburgh Golf Club is a well-run facility which manages a high quality golf course that is highly regarded for the quality of its playing surfaces. The management of the golf course is exemplary - the club appreciates the quality of its swards, and is working hard to ensure that the greens, tees and fairways remain dominated by fine grasses. Chemical inputs are very low, water is used sparingly, and the roughs are well managed. Part of the club's land, not used for golf, is the subject of ELS and HLS agreements which are helping expand the amount of good quality habitat within the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB, and they are also involved in a woodland improvement programme on their land. The club has established excellent relationships with their neighbours the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and the RSPB, and gain valuable advice from them on managing areas of rough. The greens team is knowledgeable and skilled in managing these environmental areas, and dedicated to maintaining them alongside the high quality playing surfaces which the club requires.

I, Dr Keith Duff, independent accredited verifier, recommend that Aldeburgh Golf Club be awarded the GEO Certified® ecolabel because the club manages its' golf course to extremely high standards, maintaining high quality fine grass swards extremely well. The club is an exemplar of how excellent playing surfaces can be produced and maintained using traditional low input methods. Their commitment to restoration of the acid grassland roughs which frame the course is very impressive, especially the scrub management programme which they have put in place to manage gorse on a 10-12 year cycle, and to increase the extent of heather. Their initiatives to raise awareness of the wildlife on the course amongst members, including wildlife-focused course walks, are amongst the best I have seen, and the way they have made the 9 hole River Course available to anyone is an excellent example of how golf can be made accessible to all, helping to change perceptions of the game and of golf clubs.

Certification Highlights

The maintenance facilities are well-organised and laid out, with good attention being given to safe management of potentially hazardous substances. Recycling of spent course materials to create valuable compost for use on the course is impressive, and the reedbed system used to take run-off water from the washdown pad 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 in both the clubhouse and maintenance facility areas.

The club is clearly committed to managing the golf club sustainably, and performs especially strongly in the biodiversity, turfgrass and pollution prevention areas.