Elmwood Golf Course

GEO Certified® 01/2013 GEO Re-Certified 01/2016
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 1334 658914

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.

Consolidation within SRUC since 2012 has brought sustainability issues within a more extensive overarching policy framework: the ISO 14001 standard is now complemented by SRUC documents including an Environment Policy and Procurement Policy.

Close continuity with the original certification process provided by a team led by Greg Kilgour has helped to produce a coherent and well-focussed OnCourse® Report which comfortably satisfies the GEO Re-certification Criteria.

Key achievements and changes since 2013 identified by the Certification Report and verification procedure include:

Updating and augmenting of ecological baseline data through a full Phase 1 Habitat Survey in 2015

Significant increases in habitat including a 35% greater area of rough “ecological” grassland types, 36% increase in hedgerow length, and increase in wildflower meadow of 0.93 hectares

Additional specific habitat enhancement activities including 0.3 hectares of new tree planting, construction of an artificial sand martin nesting “wall”, and amphibian and invertebrate habitat

100% transition of irrigation supply from mains water to groundwater borehole

Continued reduction in area of irrigated turf (4 hectares since 2010)

Comprehensive switch to organic products as the primary source for all three main turf nutrients, and reduction in total application of nutrients by around 30%

Refinement of waste separation procedures and reduction in overall volume of landfill to less than 40% of the 2012 figure

Enhancement of filtration of nutrients and suspended silt particles from course run-off through new planting of native marginal species to wetland area

Increased number and strength of community linkages.


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, nearly 20 years after construction the residual fertility resulting from its history of agricultural use remains very clearly evident, and continues to exert a very strong influence both on the appearance of the course and on overall management practices. New Phase 1 Habitat and Species surveys undertaken in 2015 have updated the original ecological information dating from 2003/2004, establishing an improved baseline as a basis for further monitoring. The habitat creation and diversification evident in 2012 has been augmented by substantial additional measures, including significant enhancement of the pond/wetland areas, new areas of naturalised meadow, and further reinforcement of connections between woodland areas.

Elmwood continue to receive professional advice on ecosystem issues. The range of specialists consulted has been expanded. In addition to in-house advice from Elmwood College Conservation Department, other consultants used now include SAC, (part of SRUC), and Sand Martin and Herpetology specialists. This is being addressed in-house with support from Elspeth Coutts GEOSA. SAC Consultancy undertook a full Phase 1 Habitat Survey in 2015 and the Report also includes information on Breeding Birds and Protected Mammal species. This updates and augments the 2003-4 study from the Natural Resource Consultancy. Additional species information was also gained from a survey carried out in 2015 as part of the OPAL programme (based at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London) and a 2014 in-house Moth Survey. Work has started on a Landscape Character Survey as referred to in the 2013 CIP advice.

With the 2015 SAC Phase 1 Survey formalised standard habitat categories are now available for the site. The key habitats listed are: J1.2 Amenity Grassland, B4 Improved Grassland, B2 Neutral Grassland, A1.2.2 and A1.3.2 Coniferous and Mixed Plantation Woodland, A3.1 Scattered Broadleaf Trees, and A2.1 Dense Scrub.
Two protected Mammal species were also noted in the above Survey: namely, Red Squirrel and Soprano Pipistrelle Bat. There remain no relevant extant Landscape or Habitat designations.

The previous Verification report noted the change in species composition over time, particularly on the putting greens, predominantly reflecting ingress of Poa annua. This trend has been arrested on the greens, with a slight reduction in Poa composition from 60% to 50%, and a corresponding small increase in Agrostis species. No changes are reported for Tees or Fairways, where the swards consist predominantly of Fescue/Bent mixes as before. Semi-Roughs also remain unchanged, consisting predominantly of Fescue/Ryegrass mixes. It is still considered that these species compositions 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 remain well-managed: a survey was conducted in 2013 and a clearer and more positive rationale is included with an aspiration to further increase the proportion of Fescue and Bent species. Advice on turfgrass maintenance is now received either from SAC Consulting or from fertiliser and disease specialists, rather than STRI and course architects Swan Golf Designs. This decision was mainly for financial reasons. Preparation of a Course Policy Document is in progress to the standard R&A template – the information from this is intended to feed-in to next OnCourse report.

The areas of habitats logged in the Certification Report demonstrate some significant increases from 2013; including a 35% greater area of rough “ecological” grassland types, a 36% increase in hedgerow length, and increase in wildflower meadow of 0.93 hectares. Additional specific measures and activities have included 0.3 hectares of new tree planting, construction of an artificial sand martin nesting “wall”, swan and duck nesting island, invertebrate habitat, hibernaculum for amphibians and other species, and two willow “bridges”. Grassland management continues to have the greatest potential for habitat and landscape improvement and should remain a priority in the next three year period. It is crucial that this is integrated within a long term landscape vision which in turn is in harmony with the key qualities of the “Lowland Hills and Valleys” landscape character type as described in the SNH Landscape Character Assessment of Fife, and it is encouraging that work on this has now begun. The biggest challenge remains counteracting the inherent soil fertility – the current policies of more frequent and intensive mowing and removal of cuttings from roughs will slowly take effect, but it may also be worth considering some more radical intervention, perhaps in a few pilot areas, for example opportunistic removal of topsoil from roughs when re-use in other course renovation/construction is possible. A bolder, more coherent tree planting strategy should also be considered – looking to create a few strategic larger blocks, avoiding accentuating plantings parallel to the line of golf holes, and seeking to maximise the connections between existing large areas. These measures would also clearly contribute to overall improvement in course presentation and enhancement of the playing experience.


The key improvement is that the golf course is now no longer dependent on mains water. The planned borehole referred to in the previous Verification has been operational since late 2013, providing 100% of water for irrigation. Use of potable mains water by the facility has consequently been reduced by around 50% overall, compared with 2013/2014 consumption. While the clubhouse and maintenance facility still use 100% mains water, maintenance facility consumption in 2013 and 2014 was reduced in comparison to 2012 level, and appears to be remaining stable. The Waste2Water system continues to be operational.

Daily borehole consumption records are now kept as a condition of the Abstraction Licence from SEPA. Records for 2014 have been submitted, and 2015 records are in hand. The 2013 and 2014 records for golf course consumption (derived from the irrigation system) show an apparent trend towards significantly smaller overall volumes used. Following discussion it was agreed that this is not likely to be significant, and weather conditions were thought to be the major factor influencing the effect.

The existing irrigation system remains fit for purpose and remains satisfactorily maintained. The Certification Report now confirms that application rates are linked to moisture meter readings and weather station data. It also confirms that appropriate timing of applications is in place. With the borehole now linked direct to the irrigation reservoir, improved overall pumping efficiency versus the potable mains source is reported. Resolution of the irrigation computer problem referred to in the previous Verification was confirmed.

The trend towards an overall reduction in irrigated area has been continued from the previous period. Although a precise figure for the current re-certification period is not available, the overall reduction in semi-rough area is now reported as 4 hectares since 2010. The continued transition towards dominance of fescue/bent grasses as reported in the Nature section above will also contribute to the long term trend in reduced consumption. Improvements were made to the clubhouse showers in 2015: these are now thermostatically controlled, and low-flow fittings are now in place. Evidence is also provided of improved monitoring of overall weekly consumption via scrutiny by a college-wide estates team. On-line “Savings Finder” reports were completed and received in 2015 from Resource Efficient Scotland for both the Clubhouse and Maintenance Facility and are included in full the Certification Report. For Water, these confirm that a number of further standard improvement measures could be made, including taps, toilets and showers, and it is noted that the opportunity to implement these for showers has already been commenced in the clubhouse. The recommendation for more detailed water auditing for both the clubhouse and maintenance facility should also be addressed during the next period if feasible. The recommendation in the previous Verification regarding borehole flow rates to be explained within the wider context of river basin management, particularly with regard to the effect on aquifer recharge, has yet to be addressed. This was discussed during the site visit and a reminder given that it should be possible via liaison with SEPA. With the recording procedure for daily and annual abstraction volumes now in place, a brief statement from SEPA stating why these are sustainable within the overall catchment would be sufficient. The Certification Report refers to investigation of a rainwater harvesting project for the clubhouse area, and this should be followed-up.


A solid basis for continued good practice was provided in the previous verification by the detailed formal energy audit carried out for the College in 2008 by the Carbon Trust, supported by an ongoing programme. No further detailed auditing has been undertaken, although on-line “Savings-Finder” reports have been produced via Resource Efficient Scotland. There have been no really significant changes to the energy regime at Elmwood over the re-certification period, and the facility continues to rely wholly on non-renewable sources. Although feasibility studies to investigate contributions from wind power, biomass and solar PV have been followed up, none of the potential schemes have yet been implemented. The recent establishment of a “Green Team” for the golf course is welcomed.

Non-renewable grid electricity and LPG consumption appears to have significantly increased, but this was explained as due to an under-recording error in the previous report. Vehicle fuel and hydraulic oil consumption remains relatively stable, showing a small reduction in comparison with the previous period.

The wind turbine feasibility study referred to in the previous Verification reported an unfavourable wind speed regime and the project has not been taken forward
A positive business case has been presented for installation of a solar PV panels on the maintenance building, but no decision has yet been taken to implement.

The Certification Report again provides 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. Closure of the separate Pro-shop building and incorporation of golf reception operations into the clubhouse represent a further potential energy saving. Additional measures implemented since the previous verification include reduction in buggy numbers by 50%, with new improved efficiency electric models purchased in 2015, thermostatic valves to radiators, ongoing replacement of light fittings, and additional motion sensor light switches to cover all high use areas of clubhouse and maintenance facility. An electric hybrid ride-on mower is now operational. In the absence of substantial progress on the diversification of supply sources, future emphasis should be more clearly focussed on efficiency savings. On-line “Savings Finder” reports were completed and received in 2015 from Resource Efficient Scotland for both the Clubhouse and Maintenance Facility and are included in full the Certification Report. For Energy, these confirm that performance in both buildings still has considerable room for improvement. Many recommended measures have already been at least partially implemented, however additional major items noted which may be worth further consideration include replacement of the clubhouse boiler, (currently more than 20 years old) and additional insulation to maintenance facility building roof (although it is noted that the machinery store is unheated). In implementing further efficiency measures, the establishment of a “Green Team” for the golf course in 2015 as part of the RES programme is welcomed. The membership is wider than the Sustainability Working Group and it is intended that the functions of the groups should be complementary. The Green Team targets and achievements should be fully reported over the next certification period.

Supply Chain

Sustainability in purchasing decisions by the golf facility is now more rigorously addressed by new overarching policies. The SRUC Sustainability Policy Statement referred to in the previous verification report has been superseded by the Environment Policy 2014, which refers in turn to a Sustainable Procurement Policy, to be reviewed annually, which sets out explicit sustainability principles to be applied. A recent Sustainable Procurement Strategy (November 2015) addresses purchasing practices under all three sustainability pillars. Measures detailed in the Certification Report demonstrate close alignment with these policies.

There have been minor changes in all categories of suppliers but the overall network remains very strongly regionally and locally based. No products are sourced from outwith the UK. An increased proportion of products with recognised sustainability accreditations is reported, these include less common examples such as Blue Angel recycled paper and Ethical Tea Partnership tea, as well as the more established bodies reported previously such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. Products produced on the campus farm are beginning to be introduced to the clubhouse menus and a recent initiative for “theme nights” should give this further impetus.

Comprehensive records of applications of turf maintenance products have been maintained. These demonstrate a number of positive changes including a comprehensive switch introduced in 2012 to organic products as the primary source for all three main nutrients. The most striking change has been the reduction in application of inorganic products to greens, which averaged less than 10% of the level during the previous certification period. At the same time it is very encouraging to note that the total application of nutrients has been significantly reduced to around 70% of the previous level. A stronger emphasis on IPM has seen applications of pesticide on greens fall to a negligible level and there has been an increased use of organic products to improve stress tolerance and resilience. Although a slight upwards trend in herbicide applications to fairways was noted, this has subsequently been addressed by improved reporting procedures introduced as part of a renewed IPM policy in 2015. A further innovation is the contribution to the reduction of overall inputs of fertiliser and pesticides resulting from use of a Aerated Compost Tea (ACT) brewer to improve soil condition, including root biomass, microbe biomass, water-holding capacity and structure. Additional pesticide-free zones have also been identified. Use of peat products was discontinued in 2013.

The key positive change in this area has been the refinement in waste separation, most notably with respect to plastics and cans, introduced in 2013. The overall volume of landfill has been reduced to less than 40% of the 2012 figure. The “visibility” of recycling policy has been underlined by introducing bins to the course, made from wood sourced from approved and sustainable sources. Food waste from the clubhouse kitchens is now composted in a wormery, with the resulting product in turn used in the production of the compost tea applied to turf. Reduction in packaging has been further addressed during the period by introduction of two bulk containers in 2014 (for seaweed product and irrigation pH buffer) and by direct correspondence with suppliers in 2015. Examples of re-use of materials reported include on-site stone for new tee markers, with the existing plastic markers re-used for new junior tees. The points included in the previous Verification Report with respect to recycling plastic and on-course recycling bins have both been addressed as noted above, and the sale of golf equipment and clothing has been reduced to a minimal level with the closure of the pro shop. No further comprehensive waste auditing has been undertaken although the details noted under specific categories in the Certification Report have been refined. Further progress towards the long term aim of zero waste for the golf course facility by 2020, noted in the Environmental Objectives Report 2015-16, will be required.

Pollution Control

The systems in place at the Maintenance Facility, the Clubhouse, and on the course continue to fulfil GEO criteria with regard to hazardous materials and pollution prevention. The standard of organisation and cleanliness of the maintenance facility storage and work areas in particular is exemplary.

Annual testing of the chemical and biological quality of the borehole supply has been introduced via SAC. It would be desirable to be able to validate the beneficial effect on water quality of the wetland system. It is suggested that sampling is introduced at the inflow point to the course above ponds from existing agricultural drain, and that this is compared to the outlet point sampling already undertaken by SAC Consulting.

The wash pad Waste2Water system remains in operation satisfactorily, with water re-used for washing. Clubhouse and maintenance facility foul water continues to be discharged to mains sewer. The drainage from the pond/wetland system still leaves the site via a piped sewer (storm drain). The planned reed-bed project recommended in the previous report has been implemented, (see also additional information below) although no information is yet available to demonstrate that the quality of water leaving via this pathway has improved.

Storage, handling and containment measures were inspected and all continue to meet relevant GEO criteria. It was noted that additional in-house technical advice is now available via SRUC.

The improvements implemented to the pond/wetland system, including planting of the marginal species Bulrush and Burr-reed, and construction of “willow bridge” filtration features will further reduce nutrients and suspended silt particles in course run-off. In conjunction with this work, the width of buffer strips has been increased and their heights of cut raised. Two additional areas have also been identified for future reed-bed establishment.


This area remains a particular strength for Elmwood. Consolidation within the enlarged SRUC organisation over the period has contributed to increased opportunities for community links. Education and training remain central functions of the College and SRUC, and environmental awareness has become formally established within the curriculum. Management of the golf course continues to reflect this emphasis and to play an integral role in delivering the educational aims of SRUC.

Records provided in the Certification Report show that the overall golf course facility now employs 11 full time (down from 12 in last period), and 8 part time or seasonal staff, (down from 15 in last period). Informal environmental education for staff remains strong, with improved training in machinery maintenance and spraying operation highlighted in discussions. Formal environmental training from RES under the Green Champions scheme is provided for members of the newly formed Green Team. Elmwood Golf Club had 20 Junior members in 2015, double the number in 2014, and this trend looks set to continue with increased schools coaching contributing to the introduction of new young golfers. A related initiative is the American summer student exchange programme, which welcomed 1400 school pupils in 2015, attracting a visit from the First Minister which generated significant media coverage. Elmwood is undoubtedly continuing to realise its considerable potential as a genuine multi-use golf facility, with substantial practical progress having been made in forging new links with the community over the period. Notwithstanding its unique educational role within SRUC, with the golf sector as a whole facing challenging market conditions, Elmwood will undoubtedly have to continue to work hard to offer a relevant golf product as its central attraction.

The composition of the Sustainability Working Group has been modified to reflect wider SRUC re-structuring, and is now complemented by a dedicated Green Team set up under the Scottish Government’s Resource Efficient Scotland initiative for Zero Waste.

environmental groups, schools, and young people: projects have included surveys such as bug counts and practical conservation work including construction of a bird hide. The clubhouse remains an important social resource in the local context of Springfield and more widely of Cupar. In addition to its use by members and visiting golfers, the restaurant remains popular with non-golfers and the clubhouse is a popular meeting venue for local interest networks and groups.

The planned improvements in this area have progressed well. The Certification Report notes that nature trail and interpretive signage have been implemented since the previous period, and work on a Landscape Character report has been commenced in-house with input from Elspeth Coutts. An additional 800 trees donated by the Woodland Trust were planted by primary school pupils. One of the sections of traditional stone field boundaries which were retained in course development has been successfully relocated to the rear of first green, in response to concerns for player safety.

A Customer Survey focussing on golfers’ views of the facilities was undertaken in 2013. The results will be used to help prioritise future improvement projects and it is planned to repeat the survey in 2016. This is regarded as a helpful development and progress in addressing the priority issues highlighted in this will be followed with interest.

The Golf Course website (www.elmwoodgolf.co.uk) can be found via the main SRUC website (www.sruc.ac.uk) or by independent search. The Environment page showcases existing environmental awards and now also features a separate page for the GEO award. Increased social media presence generally over the period was referred to in discussions and the visit of the First Minister in 2015 provided a highlight for conventional media coverage.

Documentation Reviewed


The Verification process confirms that Elmwood Golf Course satisfies the GEO Re-certification Criteria. Evidence from the updated OnCourse® report was verified on site as accurate. Management policies and procedures continue to be commensurate with the original certification, and now form an integral part of an enlarged policy context. Overall environmental management systems are underpinned by the ISO 14001 standard, first achieved in 1995. The course, clubhouse, and maintenance facility infrastructure have been maintained in accordance with the GEO criteria and their original certification, with a number of additional projects implemented since 2013. The majority of CIP actions noted in the previous verification report have been implemented or progressed, and the internal Environmental Objectives are being satisfactorily addressed.

Certification Highlights

Significant increases in areas of habitat, complemented by species-specific projects

100% transition of irrigation supply from mains water to groundwater borehole

Comprehensive switch to organic products as the primary source for all three main turf nutrients, and reduction in total application of nutrients by around 30%

Refinement of waste separation procedures and reduction in overall volume of landfill to less than 40% of the 2012 figure

Enhancement of filtration of nutrients and suspended silt particles from course run-off through new planting of native marginal species to wetland area

Increased number and strength of community linkages.