Elmwood Golf Course

GEO Certified® 01/2019
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 1334 658914

This report was prepared by Mike Wood, GEOSA, Accredited Verifier. It was published on January 15 2013

Executive summary (English & local language)

Elmwood Golf Course is an 18 hole course, opened in 1997 and modified to incorporate additional land in 2008. It is a multi-purpose golf facility in a very particular sense, in that it is operated both as a daily-play green fee course, and as a key teaching resource for its parent organisation SRUC , which includes a wide range of well-respected greenkeeping and golf course management courses on its curriculum.

Although there are specific challenges associated with this dual role, it also presents unique opportunities to develop and showcase good practice, and over the years Elmwood has demonstrated that it can utilise these both efficiently and imaginatively, while at the same time establishing credibility via a substantial list of environmental awards.

The current management team in collaboration with the environmental working group have presented an impressive and detailed Certification Report which comfortably satisfies the OnCourse Evaluation Criteria, and throughout the verification process demonstrated real enthusiasm and commitment. They have already established recent improvements in the day to day management systems and procedures, together with setting-up a dedicated 3-year GEO Forward Plan to address all recertification issues and tasks, providing abundant confidence in their ability to deliver continual improvement.

Following recent restructuring in October 2012, Elmwood College is now consolidated within a new education body known as Scotland’s Rural College, (SRUC) Elmwood Campus. The team is well-versed in adapting to change however, and while undoubtedly presenting considerable new challenges, this change should in the long-term provide a unique opportunity to build on current achievements by integrating an enviably broad range of specific sustainability skills and disciplines into their management practice.


The site covers an area of approximately 51ha and was originally agricultural land forming part of the Elmwood College Farm. The topography is gently undulating and there are few large scale woodland features, giving a predominantly open, “grassland” character to the course. The wider landscape context consists of a regular pattern of lowland arable and grassland fields, set within the valley of the River Eden, enclosed by rolling hills to north and south. The Landscape Character Type is described in the SNH Report “Fife Landscape Character Assessment” as “Lowland Hills and Valleys”.

While the dominant soil type on the site (a free draining sandy loam with pockets of boulder clay) is inherently suitable for a golf course, some 15 years after construction the residual fertility resulting from its history of agricultural use is still very clearly evident, and continues to exert a very strong influence both on the appearance of the course and on overall management practices.

Despite this, a rigorous and comprehensive ecological survey in 2004 demonstrated significant diversification of landscape and habitats over the farmland baseline, and this enhancement work has subsequently been carried forward with enthusiasm, exemplified by the creation of three substantial new wetland features as part of the extension of the course in 2008.

Elmwood have received professional advice on ecosystem issues both from in-house College staff through the Conservation Department, and externally from consultants including GEOSA Elspeth Coutts, The Natural Resource Consultancy, Scottish Golf Environment Group, and the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust.

The original turfgrass species mixes, particularly for greens, have clearly become modified over time. However the current species compositions of the different playing areas are considered to represent an appropriate balance between the distinctive combination of factors which affect Elmwood, including the residual fertility of the soil environment, the requirement to integrate management practices with an educational function, and the level of the golf product offered. Customer expectations are nonetheless well-managed, and consultations both with STRI and with the designers of the new course extension have resulted in ongoing refinements to the grassing plan, notably the excellent programme being established to reduce the fertility and improve the species composition of grasslands, including the reduction in the area of semi-rough.

Other good practice procedures evidenced in the Certification Report include hedgerow management, connection of internal and external habitat patches, and new habitat creation including an impressive transformation of an on-site sand borrow-pit and the new pond and wetland complex on the course extension.


Currently the golf facility is entirely dependent on mains supply, with the exception of the Waste2Water facility. However, plans to switch to an on-site borehole for the golf course are well advanced, with the Abstraction Licence having been approved in December 2012 and a drilling contractor already appointed. Preliminary flow tests from the borehole indicate that it would be sufficient to supply all the golf course requirements, in addition to the College Farm.

The course is located within a drainage basin dominated by agricultural land use and vulnerable to pollution by nitrate and other nutrients. Elmwood is aware of the strategic requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive and its water management practices are guided by it.

A problem with the irrigation computer was identified immediately prior to the verification visit, and it was unfortunately not possible to recover information on the breakdown of consumption figures for clubhouse/golf course/maintenance facility for inclusion the Certification Report. However an overall figure for the site was available from an automated meter reading.

Information on water leaving the site is currently incomplete – although there are not thought to be any direct links to watercourses. The pond/wetland system somewhat unusually is linked to a piped sewer (storm drain), with the remainder of the site draining to a number of soakaways, although these are not mapped and their details and locations could not be confirmed. Water quality sampling points at three greens (6, 9, 10) were noted in an Environmental Management Plan prepared in 2000.


A solid basis for continued good practice has been provided by the detailed formal energy audit carried out for the College in 2008 by the Carbon Trust, supported by an ongoing programme. The golf course facility as a whole is currently fairly conventional in terms of energy supply, dependent on a mix of non-renewable grid electricity, and fossil fuels for transport and heating. An apparent sharp reduction in non-renewable grid electricity consumption in 2010 is considered to reflect a change from estimated to meter-based readings rather than a real effect, and use of other fuels is fairly stable barring a spike for gas heating in 2010.

There is abundant evidence of measures to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency, supported also by the generally energy-efficient building design of the clubhouse and clubhouse extension. Measures already implemented include transitioning from petrol to electric buggies, installation of new hand driers, use of time switches and motion sensors, and replacement of tungsten halogen lights in the clubhouse and pro-shop with low energy fittings. An electric hybrid ride-on mower has been added to the current fleet for comparison with the existing diesel mowers and a battery powered electric hand mower ordered.

Reduction of CO2 emissions derived from student, staff and customer transport is addressed through multiple standard measures including car-sharing, provision of a bus service from the main campus, and facilitating and promoting cycle use.

Supply Chain

Although the recent SRUC Sustainability Policy Statement has no explicit reference to purchasing, the College operates a comprehensive green purchasing policy and the golf course follows this for all new purchases.

Clubhouse food and beverage purchases are sourced from within the UK using Scottish-based suppliers, and local suppliers where possible: key suppliers of vegetables, meat, beer and wine are from St Andrews, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.

The Certification Report also provides evidence of reduction in packaging, transportation and overall costs, and use of locally-recycled products including Astroturf from St Andrews University, and products with high recycled content such as Marmoleum – an iconic Fife-produced flooring product. Established eco-labelled products including Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance are being introduced, and bottled water stocks being run down with a view to phasing out in 2013.

The course management team were able to demonstrate comprehensive records of applications of turf maintenance products through a recently installed software system, representing a significant upgrade from the previous manual diary sheets system. This is part of an established IPM programme also comprehensively evidenced in the Report.

As noted earlier, ISO 14001 is acknowledged as a key underpinning standard for Elmwood’s overall environmental management systems, and this is particularly pertinent with regard to waste streams. A notable earlier achievement was the leading role taken by Elmwood in pioneering glass bunker sand trials organised through WRAP/SGEG.

Pollution Control

Elmwood regards legal compliance with pollution legislation as a minimum performance standard. ISO 14001 underpins the approach to maintaining environmental quality and the 2012 Assessment Report confirms that a legal compliance audit was satisfactorily completed and that no breaches of legislation occurred, no environmental incidents were reported and no complaints from interested parties were received.

The systems in place at the Maintenance Facility, the Clubhouse, and on the course clearly also fulfil the GEO criteria with regard to hazardous materials and pollution prevention. However as noted above in the section on Water, although the key waste water measures are in place and wash-pad water is recycled through a closed-loop system (Waste2Water), there are some outstanding issues regarding water quality monitoring and overall recording of water runoff from the site.

Useful detail is provided on EU Water Framework Directive water quality status and this can also be linked to the requirement to upgrade water quality monitoring procedures.


Elmwood has an inherent asset in this area in that education and training are central functions of the College and SRUC, and all activities at the golf course clearly integrate this role. This is supplemented by informal environmental education for employees.

As an open facility, the clubhouse is undoubtedly an important social resource in the local context of Springfield and more widely of Cupar. It is also a big bonus with regard to facilitating links with the local community, not only through regular contact with visiting golfers and the established Elmwood Golfing Society, but also through non-golfers who are attracted by the good value catering in the daytime, and for private evening functions in the recently extended building. The welcome extends to the course itself where the creation of new paths and maintenance of existing paths to encourage walkers provides an additional community resource. New signage has recently been purchased to enhance this experience and it is also planned to improve interpretive signage for a nature trail.

Elmwood also have links with an impressive range of local community groups through educational, coaching, artistic, and charitable initiatives and activities.

Records provided in the Certification Report show that the overall golf course facility employs 12 full time, and 15 part time or seasonal staff, representing a substantial focus of employment in the local context.

Internal and external environmental communications are well organised and presented as would be expected in an educational context, with an impressive range of activities cited in the Certification Report. The Golf Course website is now embedded in an updated SRUC website and carries a new dedicated Environment page which showcases their existing environmental awards and will provide the opportunity to act as a central focus for future sustainable management information.

There are few significant cultural heritage features on the golf course apart from several sections of traditional stone field boundaries which were retained in course development. The verification procedure identified additional baseline archaeological survey work.

Documentation Reviewed


The Verification process confirms that Elmwood Golf Course satisfies the OnCourse Evaluation Criteria.

Its overall environmental management systems are underpinned by the ISO 14001 standard, first achieved in 1995.

There has been a demonstrable increase in ecological diversity from the site’s original agricultural land use, and a number of significant new habitat creation projects can provide a springboard for an integrated landscape vision.

Although it is currently predominantly dependent on mains water supply, a new on-site borehole approved through the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) will provide all golf-course usage, limiting the consumption of mains water to the clubhouse and greenkeeping centre.

A formal energy audit carried out for the College in 2008 by the Carbon Trust provides a solid basis for continued good practice in this area, and although the possibility of installation of a wind turbine has been recently ruled out, further diversification towards renewable sources looks likely.

Elmwood has an established IPM programme for turf management, and waste streams are separated and managed to ISO 14001 standards.

The maintenance facility is operated with legal compliance as a minimum standard and the course has nurtured exceptionally wide and deep linkages with the local community.

Certification Highlights

The way that the day-to-day functioning of a commercial golf facility is satisfactorily integrated with the unusual demands of the education and training functions through sound and appropriately-selected management methods.

Elmwood’s long-standing commitment to sustainability principles which has brought them earlier environmental awards clearly continues to be upheld and improved.

The recent consolidation within SRUC can provide major sustainability opportunities to develop collaborative and synergistic approaches both in teaching key topics and in developing innovative solutions to course management issues.