“Courses are developing a much closer relationship with natural surroundings”

  • Niedbala
    Michel Niedbala

    Michel Niedbala designed Golf International de Roissy-en-France near Paris (second hole pictured)

  • Niedbala
    Michel Niedbala

    The sixteenth hole on Niedbala’s layout for Dolomiti Golf Club in Sarnonico, Italy

Michel Niedbala
By Michel Niedbala

In golf course architecture, environmental responsibility means reconciling the economic requirements of a golf course with the maintenance of biodiversity.


Any course I create must be designed harmoniously with nature, movement, architecture and engineering. All of these factors give projects lasting success.


I firmly believe that today’s golf courses are developing a much closer relationship with the natural and geographical surroundings, the environment, collective and individual memories, as well as playing a part in the changes to creation in the new millennium.


From the time a golf course is designed and laid out, and throughout its life, clear goals are identified with partners and authorities in order to conserve the ecosystem of the project site and restore, or even create, spaces that are favourable to the fauna and flora.


During the preparatory and design phase I undertake site exploration, environmental impact studies and all applications for permission. Laying out is managed in parallel with the gradual restoration of areas. Finally, during the operating phase, the golf course is adapted as widely as possible to support biodiversity, by maintaining the wetlands created, controlling invasive species, and managing and monitoring ecological inventories.


As a result of this innovative process, we go well beyond the legal requirements applicable to the creation and operation of golf courses, investing time in research to develop ever more advanced know-how to list animal and plant species and understand and control the working of ecosystems.


Thus, procedures for conserving the natural environment are fine-tuned and improved over the years, along with good practices for each project phase, making it possible to not merely conserve species, but also enhance biodiversity – as has been observed in many cases.


After all, the failure of industrial practices has driven us to promote an ecosystem that accumulates organic material to replace a mineralised ecosystem that loses organic matter until the soil becomes barren.


To state our commitment to sustainability and desire to change the golf course creation market for the better, we have created the ECO-BIO-GOLF mark, which is designed to change mentalities and practices.


The basic principle is to restore balanced ecosystems with each project, by looping up the biological cycles of nitrogen and carbon. We understand the need to draw on the original ecosystem, and move from deserts to forests when designing new golf courses, as well as exploring the long-term effects that work will have on the landscape and ecosystem.


Soil is at the interface between the earth’s crust and the biosphere and contains the largest mass of living beings in land areas, and the greatest biodiversity. My approach is comprehensive, and consists in protecting resources, providing renewable services, the principle of zero waste, reducing irrigation needs, limiting weed removal, nurturing the creatures that live in the soil, and offering shelter to those that limit pests and disease.


Recycling the soil by using organic conditioners that feed the soil, and the fauna it harbours, makes it possible to increase the energy stored in the soil in a short time, and thus the development of humus, while keeping the clumpy structure of the soil. That structure promotes the digestion of conditioner by the fauna in the soil, and forms decomposing matter that binds clay and silt into aggregates that are characterised by micro-porosity, effectively aerating the soil and storing water. These are non-exhaustive orientations for creating and sustainably maintaining our green spaces and soils, which are the greatest reserves of biodiversity in the world.


Our focus on developing an overall view of the biodiversity dimension and environmental engineering has resulted in exceptional environmental benefits which we are proud of. The results of inventories completed in earlier projects show that there is an increase in plant species, greater diversity and wealth of butterflies, grasshoppers and birds, and that some of the habitats created are conducive to amphibian breeding. The land on which a golf course is laid out can very well be adapted in a coordinated manner, by recreating wetlands and obtaining biotopes that are favourable for the expression of greater diversity within a few years.


The success of a sustainable development depends considerably on the understanding of the actors involved in the construction, the environmental and golf issues of the project, as well as the appropriate implementation in the framework of the building site of management procedures and of the protection of the environment.


Another aspect not to be neglected is communication, which does not stop on the doorstep of different protagonists of the project; a positive collaboration must be reflected between all of the organisations and associations concerned with the environment. This communication must not be limited to simply informing. It must go beyond this one direction and step towards the outside world to favour regular contact and discussion, and common research initiatives.


I foresee continued development in the sustainable golf course space, which will provide Golf Optimum with many great opportunities to undertake even more creative projects.


Ultimately, the future development of golf courses will be the moral reflection of our human and professional commitment towards our descendants and the heritage that we will leave them, and I am excited for the latest innovations which will allow me and my firm the chance to create real change.


Golf course architect Michel Niedbala is the principal at Golf Optimum