Abertay initiative promises greener future for golf
Scotland’s golf courses can look forward to a greener future thanks to a new initiative launched today by the University of Abertay Dundee.
Golf Solutions brings together environmental scientists, plant biotechnologists, microbiologists, computer specialists and other experts at Abertay to offer golf course managers new technologies for reducing the environmental impact of the game.
The initiative is the first of its kind in Scotland, and could help golf courses significantly reduce the amount and cost of fertilizers and pesticides they use, as well as comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations. Abertay has secured £168,000 from the European Regional Development Fund for the capital costs of the project.
Professor Iain Young, leader of Golf Solutions, said: “Scotland has around 500 golf courses covering some 30,000 hectares. As well as some of the world’s oldest and most famous courses, that total also includes 33 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other land of wildlife or scenic value. They have a huge environmental footprint and, potentially, just as big an impact depending on the way that land is managed.
“But at the same time, golf is a major component of the economy. Figures show that golf tourism brings in over £100 million to the Scottish economy each year, and each golf tourist spends up to six times as much as an ordinary tourist. Our aim is to show that in managing golf courses, we can use environmental science to contribute to wealth creation and good business as well as conservation.”
Professor Young explained that Golf Solutions would focus initially on the problems of greenkeeping: “Essentially, the modern green is like a large flat sack of imported, non-native soil and grass contained within a membrane. This structure may be good for growing playable greens, but unfortunately it also creates an ideal habitat for certain fungi and microbes that can alter the soil to suit themselves, often with disastrous effects on the playing surface.
“The traditional way of dealing with this is to apply large quantities of pesticide and fertilizer to control the organisms, but golf course managers have long realised that this is unsustainable on both environmental and economic grounds. We are offering something different, and greenkeepers we have already spoken to are very interested.”
Golf Solutions is offering specialised expertise and technology capable of testing the ecosystems of the soil underlying greens and fairways, identifying problems and suggesting solutions. Professor Young and his team have won Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) grants totalling more than £1 million over the last two years to study the organisms and develop the technology.
The Abertay team is working closely with Elmwood College in Fife, which runs HND courses in greenkeeping and golf course management. The College has made its own golf course available as a test-bed for the Abertay methodologies.
Golf Solutions is linked to the Abertay Centre for the Environment (ACE), a newly-established knowledge centre designed to help Scottish businesses of all kinds become more environmentally-friendly. Through ACE, golf course managers will also be able to access Abertay expertise in drainage and pollution management, and a wide range of other environmental science specialisms.
The aim is eventually to spin Golf Solutions out from Abertay as a commercial consultancy company operating worldwide. The potential is huge: there are an estimated 40,000 golf courses around the world, with about 1,000 new ones being constructed every year, especially in countries like China where growth in the game is astronomical.
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