St Andrews Links

GEO Certified® 12/2014 GEO Re-Certified 12/2017
St Andrews,
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1334 466676

Executive summary (English & local language)

This report presents the results of the verification carried out under the terms of the Re-Certification procedure, which takes place every 3 years. The Re-Certification procedure conforms to the same comprehensive protocols as the original certification, but with a focus on changes over the period since original certification. It therefore has specific priorities, and applies explicit criteria which differ slightly from those used originally. In particular, the club’s progress in addressing any Continual Improvement Points is a key area of interest. The starting point for this report is the equivalent 2011 Verification Report, which has been updated through revisions, additions, and omissions as necessary.

St Andrews Links is one of the oldest documented sites where golf is known to have been played, acknowledged by overwhelming consensus as the Home of Golf. Its courses, with The Old Course at the heart, continue to inspire players and golf course architects, and are also appreciated across the industry as setting high standards for sustainable management of links turf based on traditional practices. Perhaps less often recognised, but of equal importance in the context of GEO Certification, is the strength of the interrelationship between the courses and the town. Based on the management of The Links Trust as a Charitable Body, this guarantees reinvestment in maintenance and development of the courses, and gives a voice to volunteers representing mainly local, but also national interests.

Key achievements and changes since 2011 identified by the OnCourse Report and verification procedure include:

• appointment by The Links Trust of a full-time Environmental Officer
• new sheep grazing project to improve grassland species diversity and habitat on over 2ha of grassland at Outhead
• additional native salt marsh planting in the Eden estuary
• “Operation Pollinator” project on Eden and Strathtyrum courses
• proposals developed for a new “Living Landscape” project for the Links Clubhouse roof garden
• appointment of a new Technical Services Manager which has driven a very significant further improvement in waste reduction, energy conservation and water conservation
• implementation of a rainwater harvesting project at the Jubilee Maintenance Facility
• comprehensive internal waste audit with significant improvement in the quantification of waste streams
• new food waste composting facility at Eden Maintenance Facility
• significant improvements in the efficiency of the irrigation system
• installation of new PV solar panels at Eden Maintenance Facility
• construction of the new Tom Morris building, which has streamlined the storage and distribution process, has allowed improvements in recycling of packaging materials, and incorporates multiple passive energy saving measures and latest energy saving technologies, including a sedum “green roof”
• significant improvements in the proportions of supplies sourced from within the 100 mile distance band
• additional reed bed constructed for biotreatment of machinery washdown waste
• additional community partnerships
• improved external communications.


It is vital to set the scene by understanding the environment of The Links at the broadest level, recognising the integrity of the site as a major sand spit, slowly built-up across the mouth of Eden estuary since glacial times. It follows from this that it is still a dynamic landform which is continuing to evolve in response to the natural forces of wind, waves, tide, and river currents - as well as human pressures - and that these must form the context within which all fundamental land management decisions are taken.

The landscape of the area is classified in the SNH Report “Fife Landscape Character Assessment” (1999) as “Coastal Flats”. The four older courses are underlain by windblown dune sand – predominantly on the inland sector of the dune system - known as the “grey” or fixed dunes. The more dynamic and mobile “yellow” dunes, characterised by marram and sea lyme grass, occur only on the edge of the Jubilee course fringing the West Sands. The grey dunes carry a natural vegetation assemblage dominated by coastal grasslands, with gorse and other scrub, including fragmented patches of coastal heath. The area to the south of the dismantled railway line would perhaps be more accurately characterised as modified former farmland, and includes the area of the Balgove and Strathtyrum courses. Overall the site carries around 160 ha of natural habitats (roughly double the area of maintained turfgrass) – constituting a very significant landscape and ecological resource in the local context. The fescue/bent grassland communities which form the basis of the turfgrass playing areas fit seamlessly into this natural mosaic of habitats. This is undoubtedly one of the most important contributory factors to the authentic ‘sense of place’ which is such a distinctive feature of the experience of golf at St Andrews.

An impressive long term management framework for the landscape of The Links remains in place, forming one of the most important cornerstones of the continued Certification. Closely associated with the integrated management planning work is the appointment by The Links Trust of a full-time Environmental Officer in 2014. This is considered to be a significant pioneering step by the Trust which raises the level of commitment to develop and implement environmental management work, and increase the public profile of sustainability issues in the work of The Trust. Additional monitoring and recording is already ongoing and proposals for a new “Living Landscape” project for the Links Clubhouse roof garden have been developed with the Trust’s commercial manager.

Other notable changes since 2011 include:

• New sheep grazing project to improve grassland species diversity and habitat for birds. Over 2ha of grassland overlying part of the former council refuse tip at Outhead was enclosed and grazed by sheep in winter 2013-14. Vegetation monitoring quadrats have been established and a report on the baseline results prepared in August 2014.
• Additional planting of native salt marsh species within the Eden estuary by University of St. Andrews Sediment Ecology Research Group. A planting programme was instigated in 2003 to arrest severe decline of key habitat within the Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary SPA/SAC, also forming a soft engineering coastal defence buffer to the old turf/railway sleeper sea wall, and more recent gabions, which form the coastline of the Eden Course. During the years 2011-13 significant new areas have been planted and continue to be monitored under the project.
• Continued efforts to expand fragmented patches of heather within the Old, Eden, New and Jubilee courses, which contribute to the diversity of the ecology and landscape of The Links
• Operation Pollinator on Strathtyrum and Eden Courses established.

Continues to consult with the following:
• Sports Turf Research Institute (Ecology unit)
• Fife Coast and Countryside Trust
• Scottish Environmental Protection Agency
• St Andrews University, Geology and Geosciences Group
• Scottish Natural Heritage
• David Bell, Ecologist
• Les Hatton, Ecologist

The following new surveys were referred to and/or uploaded since 2011:
• Ecological reports on the Old Course STRI 2013, 2012, 2011
• Ecological presentation to Local Golf Club members STRI 2011
• Operation Pollinator reports STRI 2013,2012
• Saltmarsh restoration on the Eden estuary. Dr Emma Defew, University of St Andrews Sediment Ecology Research Group 2012
• Grazing at Outhead, Grassland survey. Richard Pennington 2014

There are no National or International level Designations which apply to the site.

All key features of the turfgrass component of the landscape have remained stable over the re-certification period. This consists of a diverse mosaic of species dominated by Fescue and Bent, which has become very closely adapted to the environmental conditions, having evolved since golf began to be played on The Links in the 15th Century. This continuity has given the turf great inherent natural resilience: its management nevertheless requires a sensitive process based on principles which are in very close harmony with GEO objectives, with cultural methods continuing to predominate. The course management team continue to seek to reduce the overall area of maintained turf. Within the roughs, the management programme involves continually trying to improve species diversity, with cutting, scarifying and removal of clippings, on a 3-year cycle. A good example is the area between the 17th and 2nd fairways on The Old, where more intensive work is showing good results. Elsewhere, Gorse cutting and control, extending heather patches, wildflower establishment with locally-sourced plants, and sycamore removal are important landscape and ecological measures.

Two continual improvement projects were recommended in the 2011 Verification Report.

The first, regarding the development of a comprehensive landscape vision for the entire landscape unit of the Links sandspit landform, has not yet been taken forward. This is undoubtedly a long-term strategic-level management task, but it is still regarded as important to set out and ultimately safeguard how the landscape of the six courses should evolve within the context of the Eden estuary and the wider coastal zone. Discussion with the Environmental Officer on this point was positive, and he agreed that there may be opportunities to begin to consider this in the upcoming 3 year period.

The second project involved further monitoring for bees and butterflies, and the addition of nesting boxes on maintenance buildings. Bee populations are a key focus of the Operation Pollinator project which was established in 2011, and has now been extended to cover an area of over 6ha. Nesting boxes have been investigated, and although no new locations on the Maintenance Facility buildings were identified, additional nest boxes have been added to trees on the courses and in the grounds of Pilmour House, and sand martin banks continue to be provided at the composting area.

The Environmental Officer has included further monitoring of butterflies and installation of nesting boxes (with remote webcams) in the proposals for the Links Clubhouse roof garden noted above.

In further discussion with the Environmental Officer, it was clear that proposals for additional projects will be considered over the next re-certification period.


The hydrology of the site and its sand substrate means that surface water drainage features are mainly absent, the only watercourse being the Swilcan Burn, which drains a catchment to the south dominated by agricultural land uses. There are also two minor areas of wetland in the extreme south-west, on a transitional soil type coinciding with the lowest ground: an excavated unlined ‘ground water’ pond on The Eden Course, and a smaller lined pond on The Strathtyrum. This section of the site is actually below the high water mark, requiring pumping of drainage water to the estuary via an outlet with a tidal flap.

The basis of the minimum-use irrigation policy on The Links is the predominance of natural drought-resistant grasses, backed-up by close monitoring of soil moisture particularly of greens. The system is modern and fully computer-controlled, with all normal good practice efficiency measures adopted. Hand-watering and the use of wetting agents supplement a generally sparing use of the system focussing on firm, true conditions for greens and surrounds: at the time of the visit nearly two months had elapsed since the most recent fairway irrigation.

The water source for irrigation is currently via four groundwater boreholes on the south edge of site, which were introduced in 1999. Chemical analysis showed an alkaline pH and this is adjusted by sulphur burner at the storage reservoirs at the Jubilee Greenkeeping Centre. This source replaces a former off-site groundwater supply from the neighbouring North Haugh, which had various practical as well as environmental drawbacks. The water quality was lower, and storage in the Swilcan could lead to contamination from the upstream catchment.

Both clubhouses and maintenance complexes use potable mains sources.
The clubhouse and maintenance buildings incorporate water consumption efficiency measures. The range of measures includes use of water efficient appliances to clubhouses, and on-course toilets.

A project discussed in the last certification report to harvest rainwater from 150m2 of roof on the Jubilee sheds direct to the irrigation storage tanks immediately adjacent has been successfully implemented.

All sources remain as for the 2011 report. The headline figure for total consumption on the golf courses continues to fluctuate significantly year on year, primarily reflecting weather conditions. The average annual consumption over the period 2011-2013 was around 79.2 million litres, in comparison with around 102.9 million litres for the period 2008-2010.

The appointment of a new Technical Services Manager has been the catalyst for a very significant further improvement in resource conservation including water, as well as energy and waste. Work has begun on a 2 year plan to improve and extend water metering to all existing buildings. Three new buildings opened in 2014: the Tom Morris Building (central storage, replacing former store to south east of the town), the Old Pavilion at the Old Course First Tee, and The Caddie Pavilion. These have had PIR taps and urinal flushing installed. New measures to restrict consumption by showers, and detect and repair leaks, were also introduced in 2013.

The efficiency of all irrigation heads on the Old, New, Jubilee, and Eden has been reviewed over the re-certification period, and a further comprehensive audit of all courses is planned in 2015. Redundant sprinklers have been removed as a result of these reviews, and most heads reduced from 360o degree arcs to 180o. A new set of more efficient pumps was installed in 2014.

Although a comprehensive water audit as recommended in the 2011 verification report has not yet been undertaken, primarily because this would have to be a wider strategic decision outside the direct control of the Director of Greenkeeping, there was further positive discussion on the possibility of this being implemented within the next certification period, and overall management policy on resource auditing is already moving strongly in this direction.


Overall the evidence of a very considerable range of good practice measures being implemented, which was reported at the last certification, has been maintained. Although no figures are yet available, it is clear that the new Tom Morris storage building has had a very significant impact on reducing both the number of vehicle movements for internal distribution, and the distance travelled, in addition to reducing by a small percentage the distance travelled for most external deliveries. Energy sources are still overwhelmingly dominated by non-renewables, however a positive step forward has been made with the installation of PV Panels at the Eden Maintenance Facility. Energy efficiency measures have been substantially improved and the new buildings incorporate many of the latest energy saving design measures.

There has been a slight overall increase in consumption of grid electricity of around 12%, but this is less than might be expected given that 3 new buildings have been added since 2011. Vehicle fuel use varies from the last certification: petrol use has fallen by around 10%, while diesel has increased by around 18%. It should be noted however that these figures are influenced by relative frequency of mowing by different methods which in turn is related to weather conditions.

New solar panels were installed on the roof of one of the sheds at Eden Maintenance Facility in 2013. These use the electricity generated on site to reduce demand, with any surplus fed-in to grid. The Tom Morris Building is heated by an air source heat pump, linked to a centrally controlled management system for efficiency.

Passive energy saving was a key design objective for the new Tom Morris Building, highlighted aesthetically by the elegantly curving roof topped by a sedum lawn. The building also incorporates many energy saving technologies including hot water heated locally at each outlet and lighting controlled by movement sensors. High Frequency energy efficient T5 lighting has been installed in the majority of the building.

The 2011 verification report included a recommendation for an independently produced overall energy audit. While this has yet to be implemented, it is still under serious consideration by the management team, and it is envisaged that there is a relatively high probability of its inclusion during the next recertification period. Meanwhile it is noted that the current overall progress made under the new Property Manager in energy conservation has been both comprehensive and strategically planned.

Carbon accounting was also recommended in the last report and this was discussed during the visit. It was felt that the overall energy audit should be regarded as sufficient when implemented to cover the fundamental energy conservation issues. The Links Trust had not taken this idea forward.

There was some discussion of a potential project for biofuelled vehicles to be introduced for the shuttle bus service from hotels to the Links facilities. Currently this fleet is contracted out by the Links Trust so further discussion and negotiation would be required with the contractor.

Supply Chain

Procurement continues to be a vital component in the overall effort to improve sustainability. As noted above, the new Tom Morris building has streamlined the storage and distribution process, and has also allowed improvements in recycling of packaging materials. Website retail percentage has increased and a dedicated IT team has been set up to improve this service.

There have been some changes in the supplier network profile since 2011. Significant improvements include that 96% of Food & Beverage and catering suppliers are now located within the 100 mile band (a substantial increase from 60%), with 84% of Maintenance Equipment and 83% of Golf Course supplies now sourced from within the 100 mile distance, compared with 63% and 42% respectively in 2011. Retail goods clearly have different criteria and issues, with market availability paramount; here the proportion remains relatively low at around 31% sourced within the 100 mile, regional, band. The Trust have launched their own “Tom Morris” brand of golf apparel since 2011 and this undoubtedly gives an additional degree of control of sourcing for materials and labour used in manufacture.

The Trust continues to be advised by STRI on agronomy, with regular twice yearly visits (4 per annum on The Old). Discussion with the Director of Greenkeeping during the visit confirmed that there have been no significant changes in the total quantities or frequencies of fertiliser or pesticide applications since 2011 as a result of this advice. There are a number of detailed points in the OnCourse Report which are important to note in understanding the overall context for the applications, including that the figures for nutrients are averages across all courses, while pesticide figures represent the total weights of active ingredients applied. Use of the growth regulator Primo Maxx is a new development but after several years’ use on the Old and Eden it has already been discontinued having had adverse effect on the sward (becoming too dense), while trial use is still ongoing on the New and Jubilee courses. Some occasional preventative spraying of fungicide has been introduced but this is strictly in accordance with advice from STRI, based on research evidence.

As noted in the 2011 verification, waste awareness is undoubtedly well-established in the working methods of the Links Trust and continues to be reflected in the comprehensive range of policies and measures which are implemented. Partly in response to The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012, a comprehensive internal audit was undertaken prior to the appointment of contractors Binns Group in December 2013, this has also had a significant improvement in the quantification of waste streams, with monthly summary reports by weight now available. In addition, all food waste is now separately collected and composted to be re-used on site in garden areas.

Implementation of the waste auditing recommendation from the 2011 report has now partly been achieved internally.

With regard to projects recommended in 2011 the proportion of local suppliers has significantly improved. Use of the shell sand product for path maintenance on The Old has also been minimised.

Pollution Control

There have been no significant changes in this topic area during the re-certification period. The OnCourse Report again provides solid evidence of high standards of attention to pollution control across all operational systems of The Trust. An additional reed bed wetland for biotreatment of machinery washdown waste has been constructed on The Balgove course since 2011. Restoration work to the former landfill site continues under the auspices of the West Sands Dune Action Plan.

Chemical and biological water quality monitoring has yet to be introduced.

With the significant exception of the three equipment washdown attenuation wetlands on the Old, Jubilee and Balgove courses, all waste water continues to be discharged either to the mains sewer or to the septic tanks at the Eden and Jubilee.

All activities relating to the storage and handling of hazardous materials continue to meet criteria. See OnCourse report for details.

All activities relating to pollution prevention at the clubhouse, maintenance area and on the course continue to meet criteria. See OnCourse report for details.

The 2011 verification report included a recommendation for a programme of monitoring of surface water quality. This has the potential to demonstrate through hard evidence that the links as a whole improves the quality of the water flowing into the site from the agricultural part of the Swilcan Burn catchment before outfalling to the Eden estuary. Discussion on this was positive during the visit and it is recommended that further consideration is given to progressing it. Consultation with SEPA would be helpful in developing a programme which would be likely to include a baseline hydrological survey plan, followed by design of a sampling programme.


As a registered Charity, The Links Trust embraces social responsibility as an integral part of its mission statement, and the evidence is that this principle is continuing to be delivered on in practice. There have been no major changes since 2011 and the most notable aspects remain the wide-ranging nature of the partnerships which the Trust has developed with the community, and the relevance of the combined project work achieved. These include close working relationships with local environmental bodies, notably the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust with neighbouring landowners, schools, St Andrews University and Elmwood College. Complementing this, the Trust also partners with the local Community Council in the St Andrews Community Trust, donating a percentage of Trust profits towards direct funding of projects.

The Trust continues to be a significant contributor to the economy of the town with a total of nearly 500 jobs, of which around 44 are full-time. Since 2011 there has been a small increase in full-time staff (3%). 120 caddies are self-employed. The internal initiative to improve staff education on waste management following introduction of the new Waste (Scotland) Regulations has been particularly impressive.

The Sustainability working group represents a key strength of the Trust’s application and discussion with a number of the members from the wide range of departments involved in the certification process confirms the consistently high level of enthusiasm and commitment across the business. The membership of the group has been expanded since 2011. In addition to the recently appointed Environmental Officer, the Director of Greenkeeping is supported by his Course Managers, representatives of Technical Services, Facilities management, and Warehousing, and the Executive Chef.

The depth and variety of partnerships which have been developed with the community continue to be a major strength. These have been further extended since 2011 to include groups including the Community Council, Friends of Craigtoun Park, and a project to restore the Martyrs Monument. The job description for the Environmental Officer also highlights the development of further outreach projects and this work has already begun.

The Trust remains keenly aware that the cultural heritage of The Links forms a central strand to the overall golfing experience and the evidence confirms that the many features are carefully safeguarded in consultation with Historic Scotland and Fife Council. Additional land use projects since 2011 include the sheep grazing plots at Outhead, and further dune restoration work including the installation of new fencing.

The Trust website continues to be updated to service on-line golf bookings and retail and have recently appointed additional IT and social media trained staff. The Environmental Officer has also introduced a weekly blog.

The 2011 Verification Report referred to the benefits of studying the wider economic impacts provided by The Trust. A study of economic impacts of Golf Tourism in St Andrews was commissioned by Scottish Enterprise and the St Andrews Golf Development Group, and reported in June 2014. This work enhances the Group’s understanding of golf visitors to St Andrews and explores potential future marketing opportunities.

Documentation Reviewed


As in 2011, The St Andrews Links Trust Management Team has collaborated effectively to deliver a strong and very comprehensive Certification Report.
The evidence provided demonstrates that standards have been maintained, and that significant improvements have been made over the 3 year review period.

Certification Highlights

• appointment by The Links Trust of a full-time Environmental Officer
• new sheep grazing project to improve grassland species diversity and habitat on over 2ha of grassland at Outhead
• very significant further improvement in waste reduction, energy conservation and water conservation
• implementation of a rainwater harvesting project at the Jubilee Maintenance Facility
• new food waste composting facility at Eden Maintenance Facility
• significant improvements in the efficiency of the irrigation system
• construction of the new Tom Morris building, incorporating multiple passive energy saving measures and giving energy savings in the storage and distribution process
• significant improvements in the proportions of supplies sourced from within the 100 mile distance band
• additional reed bed constructed for biotreatment of machinery washdown waste
• additional community partnerships
• improved external communications.