Castle Stuart Golf Links

OnCourse®
Inverness,
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0) 1463 796111
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Executive summary (English & local language)

Castle Stuart Golf Links has rapidly become established as one of Scotland’s primary destination courses in the few short years since its opening in 2009. This is due in no small measure to its very distinctive design, embodying a sophisticated contemporary interpretation of traditional links principles and playing values, with the emphasis on the golfer’s enjoyment of the experience. The superb setting on the Moray Firth coastline is at the heart of this experience, and one the most striking aspects is the way the magnificent off-site views have been skilfully woven into the routing.
The transformation of around 68 hectares of intensive agricultural land uses to a naturalistic assemblage of coastal grassland and scrub communities during the development of the course already represents a very significant environmental gain. The primary management challenges in the operational phase will be firstly how to maximise the biodiversity benefits from this new asset, and secondly, how to ensure that the wider sustainability opportunities of the project can be realised.
The OnCourse Report provides solid evidence of progress in both these areas, backed by a clear commitment to a philosophy of continuing improvement. Castle Stuart Golf Links has already demonstrated that it can deliver considerable economic and social benefits for the Highlands region, both by the success of hosting the Scottish Open from 2011-2013, and perhaps more importantly, by setting new standards for quality of management, from the links itself through to overall customer service. The current scheme can undoubtedly continue to deliver a wide range of integrated sustainability gains, which can potentially be considerably increased through the planned expansion of further development phases.
Key achievements identified by the OnCourse Report and verification procedure include:
• Continuing the enlightened and innovative habitat creation measures developed during construction to increase initial biodiversity benefits
• Successful avoidance of adverse impacts on very sensitive neighbouring protected habitats
• Installation of new surface drainage ditches to control slope erosion and prevent future excessive sediment flow to the Firth
• Reduction of energy consumption through sophisticated passive design measures incorporated into clubhouse building
• Significant contribution of renewable energy from ground source heat pump
• Leadership role in the development of the tourism economy of the region.

Nature

The management operations implemented to date have successfully established an impressive mosaic of grassland and scrub communities, with specialist advice having been obtained from STRI on these areas prior to opening. However, given the relatively recent date of construction, these primary habitats are still in a relatively vulnerable establishment phase, and a comprehensive Ecological Management Plan (EMP) has yet to be written. It is understood that STRI are to be commissioned to deliver this later in 2014, and it is essential that this is progressed as an urgent task.
The close proximity of the course to part of the Inner Moray Firth which has SSSI, SPA, and Ramsar designations for its intertidal habitats and birdlife represents a separate significant management issue, which is given increased sensitivity by the potential risks of sediment and chemical ingress, and visual disturbance.

Although a comprehensive series of baseline surveys was undertaken as part of the EIA process for the development (Environmental Statement prepared in 2006), and data is presented in the OnCourse report from a number of credible sources, to date there have been no formal ecological or landscape surveys since the course opening. The basic requirement of a Phase 1 Habitat survey and ecological compartment plan should be addressed as part of the STRI Management Plan as noted above. Additionally, professional surveys of landscape character, birds, mammals and invertebrates would be valuable to provide a robust basis for relevant management policies, and to create a comprehensive baseline for future monitoring.

As noted above, the course is located in immediate proximity to the shoreline of the Inner Moray Firth, where a number of designations apply:
• Longman and Castle Stuart Bays SSSI
• Inner Moray Firth SPA
• Inner Moray Firth Ramsar site

The designations refer to the intertidal mudflat habitats and the wintering wildfowl and wading bird species which depend on them. During design and construction, proposals were agreed and implemented in consultation with inter alia, SEPA and SNH, to minimise disturbance of bird life, and to prevent any reduction in water quality. The success of the screening measures was specifically commended by SNH during a recent site visit event organised by CIEEM (further details in Community section below), and although no records of testing by SEPA were available during verification, there is no evidence of deterioration in water quality to date. It is considered essential however to establish a high standard of monitoring as part of the Ecological Management Plan to ensure that these sensitive assets continue to be satisfactorily protected.

As noted earlier, a diverse assemblage of coastal habitats has been established as part of the concept of the landscape “mosaic” in which the new course is set. Fescue and marram grassland, gorse and broom scrub, and heathland, are the primary components, with some small wetland areas (including ponds originally formed as erosion control features).

100% of all species seeded on the site were fescue, selected both for their adaptation to the soil conditions which were created, and the desired playing qualities. Ongoing management advice has been provided to date by STRI through an annual report and visit and this arrangement is expected to continue. Trial areas have been established for c.40 new fescue cultivars and limited additional species including bents and dwarf ryegrass, and these are monitored with a view to providing options for overseeding in the future if required.

The OnCourse Report provides evidence of a number of activities addressing landscape character and ecology, habitats, and biodiversity issues. While these are valuable in themselves, it will be essential to place them within an integrated structure of policies, prescriptions, and actions provided through an EMP. The current management method for gorse scrub, which includes a form of “trimming” in areas close to play or in visually prominent areas, generated much discussion on site. It was agreed that this was not strictly in accordance with STRI’s current advice, which might be expected to be confirmed as a formal policy in the EMP. My personal view is that there is a risk that if the areas managed in this way become too widespread, they may begin to reduce the “authenticity” of the landscape character (acknowledging that the scrub habitat is artificially created). It is also possible that there may be some adverse impacts on the habitat value of the scrub for birds and other species due to the continual disturbance, although this would have to be confirmed by STRI.

Water

Castle Stuart shares an agricultural water supply with a nearby farm on the Moray Estate. The original proposal to obtain ground water more directly from an on-site borehole, which would have represented a more economical and sustainable long term solution, had to be abandoned when suitable geological conditions to supply an adequate flow rate could not be found.

The supply for the irrigation reservoir is pumped from a surface water/ground water pond referred to in the OnCourse Report, which is located at Mid Coul Farm on Moray Estates land near the Norbord chipboard plant about 1.5km to the south of the site. Irrigation consumption is measured via the reservoir supply pump. Golf course consumption fluctuated slightly over the 3 years averaging 16.1 million litres (16,100 cubic metres) which may be considered relatively large given the irrigated area is stated as totalling 25.8ha. (It is noted that this figure is similar to the usage reported at the Castle Course, St Andrews, which has a similar fescue-dominated sward and is also recently constructed on a former arable farmland soil.)

Irrigation efficiency is considered satisfactory, with a fully computer-controlled system (Toro) allowing control of individual low volume sprinkler heads (with the exception of blocks for tees and walkways). Regular validation of flow rates is carried out with sampling tins. Linking of the irrigation system to a weather station is being considered but has not yet been implemented.

The golf course area generally drains directly northwards to the Firth via the raised beach cliff-line escarpment. The majority of the site generally drains south westwards to a small burn, The Rough Burn, which enters Castle Stuart Bay via an area of marshland west of the castle. The remaining area drains to the road drains on the B9039. A surface water drainage plan of the site is not currently available. The only surface water features on the golf course are three small wetlands (originally erosion control sediment traps). Following the landslip on the main escarpment at the 2012 Scottish Open, three surface water ditches designed to accommodate a 200 year return interval rainfall event were installed at the top of the slope, these have tidal-valve outfalls to the Firth, via intermediate silt traps at the top and bottom of the slope. A SUDS system is installed for run-off from the clubhouse surrounds and car-park area. The car park uses porous surfacing material over part of the area which also facilitates the functioning of the ground source heat pump (see below).

Energy

A comprehensive energy audit has yet to be undertaken to give a definitive overview of consumption and efficiency. The clubhouse building has been designed to incorporate major passive energy reducing features, including a “Passiv-Vent” ventilation system, and a significant proportion of the energy supply for the building is from a renewable source via a ground source heat pump located under the main car park.

Other energy sources consumed consist of diesel fuel, heating oil, gas (used for cooking and some heating), and grid electric. As noted above, the total consumption amounts and breakdown are not currently available. Electric and hybrid mowers represent over 70% of the ride-on mower fleet, and 75% of golf carts are electric powered.

The OnCourse Report notes that installation of a small scale wind turbine is being considered.

The OnCourse Report provides evidence of current activities to reduce energy and fuel consumption which were validated on site.

Supply Chain

Castle Stuart do not at present implement a formal procurement policy or set of criteria, however the evidence supplied and verified indicates a satisfactory level of use of local materials, suppliers, and services.

There is a strong emphasis on a local and Highland identity in the food and beverage offering which is an integral strand of the marketing strategy for the overall visitor experience.

The OnCourse Report provides evidence of a predominantly local and regional supply chain. The course has a significant overall economic multiplier effect in the region - further details are provided in the Community section below.

Course supplies benefit from a local source of bulk topdressing sand, although in common with many STRI advised courses, rootzone sand is sourced from King’s of Ayrshire. As might be expected on a fescue sward, nitrogen application has been light overall, with potassium the dominant nutrient applied to date. Overall nutrient application is low, and has remained stable or been marginally reduced over the reporting period. Application records are derived primarily from the course manager’s personal diary, supplemented by spraying logs.

No formal waste audits have been produced.

Pollution Control

The systems in place at the maintenance facility and on the links fulfil the GEO criteria with regard to hazardous materials and pollution prevention.

Although the risk of run-off from the course impacting on the protected habitats in the Firth was the subject of considerable attention at the EIA stage, to date there are no records of any testing visits by SEPA.

Waste water is disposed of to two separate septic tanks serving the clubhouse and Maintenance Centre. The wash pad system at the Maintenance Centre drains to the tank via an oil separator.

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. Buffer strips are in place adjoining the Firth, these are generally 5-6m in width, but in localised areas appear narrower.

Community

Conceived from the outset as a development project which would enhance the marketability of the region as a golf tourism destination, Castle Stuart has enthusiastically embraced opportunities to establish socio-economic links with the community. The success of the Scottish Open alone has increased the profile of the Inverness and Highland area at national and international level, extending to the general tourism market as well as golf, and this has been reinforced by delivery of direct and multiplier effects through visitor numbers, employment, training, and communication.

Direct employment of 36 full time staff is reported, supplemented by 61 seasonal and part time employees, representing a significant source within the area. The OnCourse report also cites an independent report of an economic multiplier effect to the local economy of circa £3 million per annum, with a higher figure in years when the Scottish Open was hosted. Environment and sustainability are integral components of staff training as evidenced in the OnCourse Report.

The owner (Mark Parsinen), General Manager (Stuart McColm), and Course Manager (Chris Haspell) form the working group and bring a unique level of commitment based on their direct involvement in the project throughout its construction as well as management to date.

Castle Stuart has direct formal links in tourism marketing through VisitScotland and “Highland Golf Links” (a specific partnership established with Royal Dornoch and Nairn golf clubs), and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
Although a traditional members’ club is not part of the business model for Castle Stuart Links, the golf pricing policy significantly subsidises use by residents within the Inverness postcode area and arguably facilitates wider community use than would commonly be the case for a facility of this quality. Corporate membership is also targeted at local businesses and has already proved successful in generating an enhanced sense of confidence in the quality of the region’s overall product.

The change of land use from existing tenanted arable farms was achieved through amicable negotiation with Moray Estates. The site and its immediate setting is rich in archaeological and cultural heritage features: within the site itself the retained farm buildings and steadings of Balnaglack and Scottack are of local or regional importance and have been conserved in consultation with the Highland Council and RCAHMS. Existing community access for walkers along the Moray Firth shoreline is maintained.

Castle Stuart has a well-designed website which reflects the overall high standards which are consistently delivered across the facility’s “brand”. Although the site does not at present include a dedicated Environment page, there are plans to increase environmental information through the existing blog page.

Castle Stuart hosted a Best Practice professional development event on 18 April 2014 in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), which provided opportunities for CIEEM members and a number of other environmental professionals from across Scotland to gain an insight into the development and management of the course. This proved very successful and the transparent approach which was adopted in discussing issues and sharing knowledge of solutions will hopefully have fostered further links and communication.

Documentation Reviewed

Conclusion

The Verification process confirms that Castle Stuart Golf Links satisfies the OnCourse Evaluation Criteria. The evidence from the OnCourse Report, verified on site, is that good practice in the required areas of sustainability is being applied. It is recommended however that a comprehensive suite of sustainability audits and policies should be put in place over the re-certification period.
Castle Stuart Links is a modern and very sophisticated golf course which from the outset has aspired to be a world-class venue. The management regime is being implemented by in effect the same core team which led the design and construction process. This continuity of vision and depth of knowledge is a key strength, and has resulted in a very clear and coherent philosophy being adopted throughout, representing an outstanding model for similar future developments.

Certification Highlights

• The depth of understanding of the site which was demonstrated, derived from continuous involvement by key personnel from construction stage
• Continuation of the enlightened and innovative habitat creation measures to increase initial biodiversity benefits gained from the conversion of previous intensive arable land use
• Recognition of the continued success of screening measures to prevent disturbance of bird life in the Inner Moray Firth
• The comprehensive passive design measures incorporated in the clubhouse building to reduce energy consumption and the significant contribution of renewable energy from ground source heat pump
• The outstanding success in hosting Scottish Open tournament on three occasions has provided immediate economic benefits and provided leadership and focus for wider tourism development in the region.