UK courses suffering from climate change, says new report

UK courses suffering from climate change, says new report
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

A new report has shed light on the significant effect climate change is having on golf courses in the UK, and highlighted some of the risks faced by many of the most prestigious links courses in the world.

Released by The Climate Coalition, the Game Changer report has outlined the current and potential effects of climate change on sport in the UK.

With so many of the UK’s prestigious links courses located only yards from the sea, the most alarming threat in many cases is from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

As such, courses that have held The Open over the years – including St Andrews Old Course (pictured), Royal Troon, Royal Birkdale and Turnberry – are at risk.

“Increased rainfall, more extreme weather events, coastal erosion and rising sea levels pose huge challenges to the game, and are already having an impact on the health of many clubs in Britain,” the report reads. “Unchecked, the impacts of climate change could significantly affect the sport over the long term, particularly in Scotland.”

One in every six courses in Scotland is located beside the sea, and the report suggests that “only a small increase in sea-level rise would imperil all of the world’s links courses before the end of the century.”

Steve Isaac, director of sustainability at The R&A, was interviewed for the report and acknowledged that climate change was becoming an increasingly concerning factor within the game, and already having an effect.

“Golf is impacted by climate change more than most other sports,” he said. “Trends associated with climate change are resulting in periods of course closures, even during summer, with disruption seen to some professional tournaments. We are witnessing different types and timings of disease, pest and weed outbreaks. The future threats are very real, with course managers having to show adaptation if we are to maintain current standards of course condition. It is something we take very seriously.”

The report indicates that factors such as increased rainfall and extreme weather events are causing disruption to recreational golf in the UK at present.

“Course closure means reduced revenue from visitor and clubhouse income at a time when additional investment into course maintenance and infrastructure is required to combat the effects of extreme weather,” said Richard Windows of the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). “It can trap clubs in a vicious cycle that isn’t their fault and it could potentially be a factor in membership decline.”

According to research from STRI, the wetter autumns and winters the UK is experiencing are causing softer surfaces, green closures and muddy conditions. Furthermore, milder autumns and winters are causing increased disruption to surfaces from disease scars, as well as increased wear, pest and disease activity, and thatch accumulation.

The drier UK summers are also having an effect, with reduced uniformity and quality of surface due to drought.

To highlight the immediacy of the problem, The Climate Coalition’s report also contains a case study on how coastal erosion is impacting Montrose Golf Course – one of the world’s oldest courses. At Montrose, the North Sea has crept 70 metres towards the town within the last 30 years according to research released in 2016.

“As the sea rises and the coast falls away, we’re left with nowhere to go,” said Chris Curnin, director at Montrose Golf Links. “Climate change is often seen as tomorrow’s problem, but it’s already eating away at our course.”

The full report can be accessed here.