How golf and nature can co-exist

17 May 2022

How golf and nature can co-exist

There are 39,000 golfing landscapes globally. 

Links, parkland, heathland and sandbelt courses can all be valuable habitats for flora, fauna and wildlife as well as popular sporting venues. 

As custodians of the land and the ecosystems within it, golf clubs have an opportunity to foster nature and boost biodiversity in many ways.

Examples of this include planting wildflower meadows for pollinators and creating more naturalized areas that require less maintenance and using an integrated pest management approach to use fewer pesticides and herbicides to protect natural areas. 

One such example where golf and nature co-exist well lies in northeast Italy. 

Discover a unique Italian ecosystem 

Albarella Golf Links is abundant with wildlife. The course, located on Albarella Island in the Po Delta Regional Park, lies within a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. 

It’s surrounded by the sea and the Venetian lagoon, giving it a unique set of 360-degree views. 

The island’s ecosystem attracts visitors from all over the world. GEO Foundation spoke to Stefano Boni, General Manager, Albarella Golf Links, about the course and island that takes its name from the local white poplar tree species, Populus Alba. 

A wealth of wildlife 

The club has formally documented the animal species found around the course with a total of 39. The course superintendent recorded this list, but plans are in place to hire a biologist to conduct a more comprehensive audit in the future. 

The course is renowned for its fallow deer population, with around 350 currently calling the course home. 

Many other species identified are endangered or protected, such as the Marsh Harrier, which flies majestically in search of prey or the Oystercatcher that in Italy can be found almost exclusively in the Po Delta area. There are also many hedgehogs, pheasants, rabbits, and other familiar creatures to be spotted. 

Stefano mentioned another new initiative that the club’s adopted: “We have installed two beehives that will allow us also to produce our ‘Links Honey’, a lagoon honey that is going to have a very special, salty, marine taste,” he said. 

A mindful approach to maintenance

Albarella Golf Links strictly follows Italy’s National Action Plan for Sustainable Use of Chemicals. The club has dramatically reduced the use of pesticides with no chemicals used in 2020 and only sprayed its greens twice in 2021 with an authorized product for dollar spot. 

The club also has a sustainability committee that comprises the entire greenkeeping team and the secretary staff. The committee meets regularly to ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and any areas to address as custodians of this incredible Italian landscape. 

Stefano and his team have added to the rich biodiversity on the island by creating 2.5Ha of wild grassland areas around the course, installing bird boxes and feeders, and floating rafts for aquatic birds. These were previously maintained parts of the course. 

Stefano outlines some of the reasons that prompted them to create these naturalized areas: 

  • Decrease the inputs and consequently save labour, nutrients, fuel and CO2 emissions
  • Increase biodiversity, with a specific attention to the population of pheasants that has now risen dramatically
  • Improve the links characteristics of the course, which is unique in Italy, as well as increase the aesthetic and definition of the course itself

Thanks to the naturalization of these areas, in 2021, the club saved 30 hours of labour, 223 litres of fuel and 602 Kg of CO2

Speaking up #ForSustainableGolf 

The spectacular scenery, course quality, and the fallow deer attract admirers from all over. 

The deer population happily lives in harmony with golfers, providing plenty of opportunities to capture shots to share on social media, which helps the club communicate its sustainable golf ethos.

Albarella Island is a popular destination with Italian and international VIPs in the summer months, including singers and actors. These celebrities often ask to visit the deer on the golf course and share their images with fans worldwide. 

The club is also proactive on social media and in the local press, with Stefano commenting on how newspapers are happy to share the wildlife news from across the island and the course itself. 

With a knowledgeable and highly engaged membership in biodiversity, Albarella Golf Links can also rely on word of mouth to get the latest news out there. 

Stefano is also proud of the club's partnerships and the recognition it’s received: “We have a good cooperation with ‘Ente Regionale Parco del Delta del Po’ that has provided us with a lot of information and materials to be used in our environmental communication. And In 2020, we were awarded 'Impegnati nel Verde' for the Biodiversity Category by the Italian Golf Federation,” he concluded. 

How can your course do more to foster nature? Get inspiration from the Sustainable Golf Highlights Hub and share any similar stories from your club. 

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