Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Executive summary (English & local language)
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club is not only a highly prestigious golf course, on the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, Open Championship rota. But also a very strong and fully functional nature reserve with especially significant conservation value. Indeed, 80% of the golf course is set aside for nature that sits within a wider parcel of land, classified by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Club evidently recognises its important role and responsibility in ecological stewardship and clearly demonstrates exemplary practices on the management and maintenance of very high quality amenity turf grasses with coordinated and harmonised protection and conservation of highly significant and very visible dominant flora and fauna in and around the golf course. The Club has long-standing, on-going consultations with key environmental organisations, including Natural England, and the world leading, Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). In 2015, the Club received a STRI, ‘Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year’ award. Looking ahead the Club is investigating solar energy, sustainability policies and green communication and marketing. The Royal Birkdale Golf Club clearly shows those positive environmental values and attitudes from course and clubhouse managers and a strong and credible environmental management programme, lead to more effective environmental decisions and practices both on and off the golf course. This makes for a highly successful, finely tuned, extremely special, and ultimately more sustainable and profitable golfing experience at The Royal Birkdale Golf Club.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club is situated in Southport, which is located within the northwest of England, UK. The Royal Birkdale Golf Course is ranked the 31st best golf course in the world and one of only four clubs in England within the Open Championship rotation for both men and women. It has hosted the men's championship nine times, first in 1954, most recently in July 2008 and will again host the Open Championship for a tenth time in 2017. The Royal Birkdale Golf Club has also held the Ryder Cup (1965, 1969), the Walker Cup (1951), and the Curtis Cup (1948) and most recently the Ricoh Women’s Open Championship 2014.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club was founded in 1889 and awarded ‘Royal’ status in 1951. The Club moved to a new site in Birkdale Hills in 1894 and built a new distinguishing white art deco clubhouse in 1935. The golf course was originally designed and continues to be worked on by three generations of the Hawtree family of golf course architects. In 1993, Marin Hawtree improved and modernised the layout further, with all 18 of the club’s greens being completely rebuilt, to improve turf and drainage following the 1991 Open Championship.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club occupies a piece of land of 96 hectares. Its man-made features include: 18 holes, 7,173 yards, traditional links golf course; pro shop; practice facilities; halfway house; clubhouse and maintenance facilities. Amenity turf grass species used in the greens, tees, fairways and semi-rough are: festuca rubra (fescues) and agrostis/capillaris (bent grasses). They are considered optimal for this links golf course for two reasons: a) they promote true links playing conditions, in a cool, temperate climate (which is the case here) and b) thrive under a regime of minimal inputs of fertilisers, chemicals and water.
Without doubt the most significant environmental aspect at the Club is the scale and quality of the natural areas in and around the golf course, in particular its notable and significant natural habitat features. The golf course is a very important site of environmental conservation. It forms part of the Sefton Coast Special Area of Conservation, a Natural England, designated, Site of Special Scientific Interest that borders and connects with the Ainsdale and Birkdale Local Nature Reserve. In fact, the whole area sustains a significant number of habitats including fixed dunes and wet dune slacks that support many rare animals and plants, for example, Sand Lizards, Natterjack Toads, Marsh Helleborine, Southern and Northern Marsh Orchid.
The Club consults a number of environmental organisations and individuals, including, Sefton Council, Natural England and the STRI on landscape heritage and conservation, and ecosystem protection and improvement. Indeed, there are long standing and on-going ecological assessments conducted at the golf facility. For example, the first ecological survey (‘Wildlife Update’) was conducted in 1998 and annual ecological monitoring assessments on behalf of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club have been performed, by the STRI, first in 2011 and most recently 2014.
The Club evidently has management practices to improve the landscape ecology, habitats, and biodiversity in and around the golf course. Protected conservation areas on the golf course, such as duneland habitats are managed in accordance with Natural England’s policies, scientific advice and guidelines on Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Further, habitat patches are increased and maintained by regular scrub management and the presence of large areas of managed rough surrounding each hole, respectively. Annual autumn mowing of wet slacks is also conducted to promote the establishment of rare plants, for example, Marsh Orchids. Furthermore, scrub management is performed in accordance with the advice of the STRI and diverse and well-managed woodland is maintained by means of the Sefton Woodland Owners Forest Plan. Additionally, ponds are excavated and maintained to provide habitats, for example, tadpoles of natterjack toad and to promote diversity and a natural appearance on the golf course. As well, diverse habitats, nesting boxes, and log piles are provided for pollinators, barn owls and insects and mammals, respectively. Invasive species, such as, deciduous shrub, Sea Buckthorn, are also controlled to prevent the loss of natural habitat.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club uses potable water for the clubhouse and maintenance facilities and groundwater for irrigation on the golf course. From 2012 to 2014, water consumption decreased in the clubhouse, from 2.5 to 1.9 million litres. Conversely, it increased both on the golf course and maintenance facilities from 4.5 to 11.4 million litres and 0.7 to 11.4 million litres, in that order. These figures are largely explained by changes in the weather patterns, in particular, a very wet and very dry spell that accordingly decreased and increased the amount water used at the golf facility, respectively. The Club complies with its abstraction licence from The Environment Agency. It is permitted to use 32 million litres of water per annum of which the Club uses around 8 million litres. Thus far, no water audits have been undertaken at the golf facility.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club recognises and practices its responsibility for judicious use of water on the golf course. Indeed, greens and tees are only watered, 2-3 times/week, while the fairways and semi-rough and rough, are watered weekly and not at all, in that order. Irrigation systems are computer controlled and annually, serviced, upgraded and re-calibrated and checked, for cost-effective application. While, groundwater abstraction is located as far as possible from the most sensitive habitats on the course and excess groundwater drains to the local nature reserve. Further, improvements have been made on course drainage to adjacent sand dunes. Regular monitoring and remedial works are also conducted, as required and there are planned improvements to the irrigation system to minimise water wastage. For example, directional sprinklers are being installed over the next 2-3 years to improve water efficiencies. Furthermore, activities on the golf course to maximise irrigation efficiency, include: the selection of drought tolerant grass species (as mentioned), effective water application and planned reduction in irrigated area via the repositioning of sprinklers so that they cover fairways only. As well, the golf facility undertakes the following activities for wise use of water at the golf facility: low-flow urinals and toilets, efficient shower technology, repairing leaks, and the consideration of cost-effective water awareness signage.
For the three year period, 2012-2014, The Royal Birkdale Golf Club’s annual energy consumption was as follows. The consumption of diesel fell from 11,100 to 10,300 litres. Heating oil consumption also fell from 2,100 to 2,000 litres. Hydraulic oil consumption remained constant at 200 litres per annum. Natural gas consumption slightly increased from 366,000 to 375,000 litres. Non-renewable grid also slightly increased from 341,000 to 356,000 kWh. Petrol consumption decreased from 920 to 800 litres. The Club does not currently consume any non-renewable energy; however, it is looking at solar energy, as mentioned below.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club is evidently mindful of its carbon footprint since it has undertaken the following environmental initiatives to improve its energy performance. In 2009, the Club engaged an energy consultant, to provide four yearly reviews on the Club’s energy usage and make an improvement recommendation to lower its carbon footprint, which currently stands at about 218 tons per annum. In view of that, the Club has in the recent past spent £10,000 on CO2 reducing elements, under part L of the building regulations, and £15,000 is committed to further energy performance improvements in this area. More recently three local suppliers have been approached on the installation of solar panels for the clubhouse roof and the Club is awaiting quotes. (Real uptake in this area will be subject to current market conditions and financial budgets). In the meantime, the Club has undertaken the following practical and cost-effective, energy saving activities to reduce its energy consumption in order to cut its carbon footprint. They include: utility vehicles and golf carts are battery powered; regular servicing and upgrading of air conditioning and heating systems; optimal use of heating systems (i.e. timers, settings and monitoring); use of natural ventilation; improved building insulation; installation of skylights (2006/07); progressive use of LED light bulbs; installation of motion sensors (2006/07 and 2013/14); and the purchase of induction cooking appliances. The Club is also actively looking to upgrade its main central boiler to improve heating of the Clubhouse and employees are informally encouraged to be more energy savvy. Looking ahead the Club is investigating more effective environmental communication and signage to improve performance here.
The Club’s maintenance fleet uses the following energy sources: ride on mowers (62% diesel and 30% hybrid), walking mowers (100% petrol), and utility vehicles (60% diesel and 40% electric). As well, golf carts and cars use grid electric and diesel, respectively. Environmental initiatives to improve performance include: car sharing; group transportation for team matches; cycling facilities and the consideration of a staff cycle park. There are currently no tax break incentives, for example, ‘cycle to work scheme’ to support cycling.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club does not currently have a formal green/ethical purchasing and environmental/sustainability policies. Notwithstanding that the Club’s philosophy and practice is to support ethical procurement. For example, the Club’s suppliers are minimised, as far as practically possible, and the majority of them are in reality local. For instance, 79 out of 155 total numbers of suppliers to the Club are within 10kms of the golf facility. Bulk deliveries are also encouraged, where practical, to reduce supplier mileage and carbon emissions and the Club uses accredited suppliers for clubhouse maintenance (e.g. electricians) and the STRI (the Club’s consultant) are ISO 9001, 14001 and 18001 accredited. Further, course maintenance strategies, as mentioned, are focused on using turf grasses that are drought and disease resistant; thus reducing the need for pesticides, irrigation and fertilisers. Furthermore, cultural, rather than chemical control is favoured for the control of pests and diseases and chemicals when applied are carefully selected and applied by means of spot and not blanket treatment in order to reduce the volume of pesticides.
From 2012-2014, The Royal Birkdale Golf Club’s main use of fertilisers and pesticides on the golf course were as follows. Firstly, 10, 10 and 24 kg N/ha of inorganic nitrogen (N) fertilisers (for leaf growth), were used on the fairways, for 2012, 2013 and 2014, in that order. As well, 71, 68 and 62 kg N/ha of inorganic fertilisers, were applied on the greens, for each year of the three-year period in question. Additionally, 39, 52 to 55 kg N/ha of inorganic and organic fertilisers, were used on the tees, for the same period. No fertilizers were applied in the rough of semi-rough. Regarding pesticides, essentially, 20, 9 and 15 kg of herbicides (to destroy unwanted vegetation), went on the fairways, for 2012, 2013 and 2014, in that order. Also, 0.4, 11 and 7 kg of fungicides (to kill or inhibit fungi or fungal spores) went on the greens, and 0.2, 0.9, and 0.5 kg of herbicides, were used on the tees, for the period in question.
Practices employed by the Club to optimise pesticide use, include: selection of approved products only for pest or disease control; spot treatment, as already mentioned; utilising knapsack sprayers; and paths and steps are hand weeded, in preference to herbicide control.
So far no waste management audits have been conducted at the Club. Notwithstanding that the Club evidently tries to manage its waste streams, in accordance with the waste management hierarchy (reduce, reuse, recycle, landfill and incinerate). For example, glass, paper, cardboard, grass clippings, cores and turf are recycled and aluminium and wood are reused. The Club is also exploring on-site recycling within the limited space available and employees are briefed on waste management during their induction to support improvements here.
Pollution control is clearly an important issue at The Royal Birkdale Golf Club not least because it is part of a Natural England, designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, as already mentioned. The Club evidently recognises its role and responsibility in pollution prevention for a safe, clean, and healthy local environment. In view of that the management systems and emergency response procedures, at the golf facility, are in order concerning the prevention and control of a pollution. Practices plainly in place at the Club’s maintenance facility and golf course include:
•Maintenance equipment is cleaned and refuelled and pesticides and fertilizers are mixed on a closed loop washdown recycling system.
•Local Environment Risk Assessment for Pesticides (LERAPs) is conducted when spraying to protect aquatic wildlife on the golf course.
•Weekly visual checks and annual chemical and biological analysis is undertaken on the water quality at the golf course.
•Hazardous materials (cooking oils, lubricants, pesticide containers, fertilizer bags, oil filters and batteries) are disposed of through a registered contractor.
•Fuel tanks are bunded in order to contain any spills or leaks.
•Fuel storage areas have spill kits.
•A sealed, impervious unit, ‘Chemsafe’, is used to securely store pesticides in an alarmed building.
•A full retention interceptor is in place with an automatic oil alert.
•Regular inspections and maintenance are conducted on the above.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club plainly contributes significantly to the local community. The Club, as stated, hosts many important international professional and amateur events, the most notable example, being the Open Championship. This brings in for significant tourism and hospitality business to the local economy. Further, as mentioned, local businesses are engaged as much as possible to supply the Club with goods and services that concurrently help reduce the carbon footprint of the Club. The Club works very closely with the local government, environmental groups and environmental consultancy. They are: Sefton Coast Land Managers Group, Sefton Coast Woodland Owners Task Group, English Nature and STRI. The Club is also a member of the Sefton Council Businesses Group, Liverpool Economic Partnership and England’s Golf Coast.
As well, the Club is evidently a source of not insignificant employment in the local economy. It employs 59 staff that comprise 33, 24 and 2, full-time, part-time and seasonal staff, in that order. Within the Club, there is a Sustainability Working Group to promote and support continuous environmental improvement at the golf facility. It includes: the General Manager, Mike Gilyeat; Course Manager, Chris Whittle; Technical Specialist, Bob Taylor, STRI; Local Government and Local Environment Non-Governmental Organisations.
It is also apparent that the Club is committed to environmental education and training in support of continuous environmental improvement at the golf facility. For example, greenstaff receive training on the storage, application and disposal of pesticides and efficient water management. As well, one greens staff is accredited to handle sand lizards and Natterjack toads, while others attend ‘Local Land Manager Meetings’ and ‘Woodland Owners Group Meetings’. All staff also has access to the STRI’s Ecology Reports in order to gain further knowledge on ecological management policies and practices at the Club and trainee greenkeepers study at the nearby Myerscough College.
The golf facility also provides opportunities for other leisure activities e.g. walking, by means of a public right of way that runs adjacent to the golf course.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club plainly has undertaken a number of environmental communication initiatives. In order to raise awareness of environmental issues at the golf facility and at the same time gain support from members and staff on environmental actions and initiatives undertaken to improve the Club’s environmental performance. For example, there is a members’ notice board, local environmental publications, six monthly newsletter, Open Championship wildlife document guides and ‘flora and fauna’ section on the Club’s website. Further, the Club provides course walks for Myerscough College students and other industry organisations, such as, architects and greenkeepers. However, it was apparent that certain key stakeholders at the Club, for example, Course Marshall, Club Professional, Assistant Secretary and Lady Club Member, had little awareness and understanding and recognition on the fact that their Club had joined the Golf Environment Organisation OnCourse™ programme and what it was about and entailed; however this is an area the Club is keen to improve upon going forward.
- Action Plans and Project Proposals
- Awareness Raising Materials
- Certification Report
- Environmental Data
- Environmental Management Plan
- External Surveys and Reports
- Minutes of Meetings
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club visibly demonstrates a strong commitment and desire to continual environmental improvement at the golf facility in support of more responsible, accountable, and sustainable golf. This is especially evident in and around the golf course environment, where the best part of the area is in reality for the protection and conservation of natural habitat in support of biodiversity that simultaneously creates for a beautiful and stunning golf-playing environment. Looking ahead the Club’s management expresses a genuine commitment to progress on more sustainable golf including carbon emissions, sustainability policies and green communication and marketing. The Royal Birkdale Golf Club is without doubt one of the best examples of golf working with nature on the golf course that creates for a very special, and more sustainable golfing experience.
•Long-standing, on-going, annual Ecological Monitoring Assessments, by the world leading amenity turfgrass consultancy, STRI, with high on course success.
•STRI, 2015, ‘Conservation of Greenkeeper of the Year Award.
•Evidently, pro-active, supportive and committed ‘Sustainability Working Group’ (General Manager, Course Manager, Technical Specialist, Local Government and Local Environmental NGO) to drive more sustainable golf at the Club.
•Hands-on and effectual golf course management systems and practices for the harmonized and coordinated maintenance of both the playing and non-playing areas of the course.
•Evidence that environment/sustainability issues are increasingly in management decision-making and practices both on and off the golf course.