The Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) is gearing up to release its online certification system this month, with a pioneering group of golf facilities currently testing the system in Europe and beyond.
"Public environmental awareness has reached an all time high, and credible industry certification is long overdue," said GEO chief executive Jonathan Smith.
"Open to any facility, anywhere, GEO Certification provides a platform for golf managers to represent responsible environmental management in a simple and structured manner; receive independent verification and ultimately go on to achieve GEO's seal of approval. But the system is not restricted to operating facilities. Any new development that has reached grow-in can register online and work to achieve GEO Certified status before launch." While the programme will not certify golf course planning, design and construction, GEO recognises that excellent design can result in vastly reduced resource consumption and maintenance efficiency. Given that the sustainability of a product is measured in terms of lifecycle, and that a golf facility's lifecycle can be measured in the scale of hundreds of years, it's important that developers understand long-term environmental impacts and realise the opportunities in planning and design.
The David McLay Kidd (DMK) designed Machrihanish Dunes is one such development helping to pioneer GEO Certification. From the outset of the project, DMK Design's Paul Kimber, Keepers of the Green Keith Martin and Euan Grant, ecologist Carol Crawford and government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) worked hand in hand to ensure the development does more than simply respect the ecological value of its location, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but actually enhances an ecosystem that has thrived on the site for millennia. The delivery of a comprehensive, long-term environmental management programme is central to achieving this.
Although the chance to work in such dramatic terrain is rare, and often accompanied by a raft of restrictions, Paul Kimber believes the team assembled for this project has brought both environmental gain and world-beating links golf to Kintyre. "We adapt our development model to the intricacies of every site, but it was clear from day one that design, construction and ongoing maintenance at Machrihanish Dunes would require a uniquely tailored approach," he said. "At the outset of the project areas of high ecological value were identified. We then undertook an iterative development process to ensure the construction of greens and tees would have the lowest possible impact. Fairways have simply been mown from the existing grassland and a wandering flock of sheep will tend the majority of the site." SNH chief executive Ian Jardine believes the development community could learn much from the success of this partnershipbased project. "We took a great deal of convincing that anyone should be permitted to develop a golf course in the middle of an SSSI, but our experience at Machrihanish shows that golf courses can be designed sensitively in some delicate and dynamic areas, with benefits for wildlife," he said. "The key to this is early consultation with designers, a willingness to work with the natural environment rather than against it and being prepared to make compromises – on both sides.
This is increasingly important in the light of climate change, coastal erosion and flooding." One key feature of the programme is independent on-site verification from a GEO accredited verifier. With 22 environmental professionals poised to cover the European area from 2009, verifiers will be accredited in farther flung locations as demand dictates.
Jeremy Slessor of European Golf Design recognises the value of the scheme for the company's many global projects. "Each one of our golf courses is designed to the highest environmental specification," he said. "We're acutely aware of the implications planning and design have on long term resource use in maintenance and so work to ensure that our environmental planning and design philosophies are carried forward through clearly defined policies and action plans. We are delighted that GEO is releasing a mechanism that will encourage this approach across golf development and management." Communications director Benjamin Warren says GEO has taken care to make certification cost effective for even smallscale operations: a €400 admin fee is payable every three years, and verification costs €1,000-1,500. Smith said: "Now is the time for businesses to be resource efficient, cut out wasteful activities, differentiate themselves and openly dialogue with local communities and governments on issues that have true resonance."