20 Jul 2022
The firm fairways, vast greens and cavernous bunkers of the Old Course at St Andrews Links are a headline writer’s dream, and the 150th Open was no different.
One of the headlines to emerge from the final major of the men’s professional calendar year was the more sustainable agronomy practices on show before the golf even got underway.
It may not have dominated the back pages like Rory McIlroy or generated the buzz that Cameron Smith managed during a dramatic week in Fife, but the fact that the greenkeeping team at St Andrews replaced diesel mowers with fully-electric mowers from Toro to prepare their greens throughout one of the largest golfing events ever is newsworthy and significant.
Based on studies at St Andrews Links Trust, using the all-electric fleet for three hours per day during the week of The Open may have reduced operational carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 90% compared to conventional diesel units.
“We’ve used them for a couple of seasons now and we’re blown away with the quality of them,” said Sandy Reid, Head of Greenkeeping at St Andrews. “They really help us maintain the turf to a first-class standard. On the greens, in particular, we use them daily on the Old Course.”
The all-electric fleet brings other benefits too. Rising fuel costs are hitting the industry hard, so reducing the use of diesel-powered machinery can have a positive long-term impact on the bottom line.
“I’ve been in the industry for so long, and I didn’t think I’d ever be working in the industry where we would be having fully electric machines,” said Old Course Manager Gordon McKie “That, to me, is a great thing.”
While impressive, preparing their 2.5 hectares of greens with all-electric machinery is just one of many projects that the St Andrews greenkeeping team have embarked on as part of a wider sustainability drive that has seen The Old Course Certified for their commitment and efforts for sustainable golf for the last eight years running. The Open simply provided a platform on which to help showcase how golf can lead the field when it comes to sustainability and climate action in sport.
Other examples include their mix of browntop bent and fine fescue grasses that are resilient to pressures faced as a result of climate change, and the management of nearby grassland to conserve ground-nesting birds which have declined sharply due to habitat loss.
“We obviously have a responsibility as custodians of this special place,” St Andrews Links’ Head of Communications Laurie Watson said. “We’re aware of the challenges we and many other golf courses around the world face in terms of climate change and coastal erosion.
“We take that really seriously, and for the last 20 years Toro have been at the forefront of helping us in our efforts to make a real meaningful difference and to make sure we preserve this place for future generations.”
It may not have made the back pages, but as golf continues to accelerate sustainability actions taken on and around the course, looking towards a net zero future, headlines like these could yet become even more commonplace.