The way golf courses are maintained must and will change in response to legislation and current climate trends. Although the direction of travel has been set for some time, this will not always be an easy path to follow. Some clubs, however, are undoubtedly making good progress, especially where backed by education and sound communication, particularly around important messaging that supports the greenkeeping profession.

Our role within The R&A Sustainable Agronomy Service is to help influence our industry to make necessary changes and, at the same time, promote the management of golf courses in sympathy with the natural environment. The great courses combine fantastic design, good conditioning and best practice management that showcases the opportunity benefits of a close alignment between golf and nature. There is, however, a fine balance to maintain. We often, for example, see successional growth crowding out the open framing of playing surfaces, most notably in parkland and lost heathland environments. The management of such growth is often an emotive topic.

At The R&A we understand the importance of educating stakeholders around sensitive issues like this. Our best chance of effectively implementing new strategies such as Integrated Turf Management (ITM) is to create an environment in which changing greenkeeping practices are allowed to succeed. The promotion of the most appropriate grass species, where possible, is one of the most effective strategies availabile to the greenkeeper. But it’s not a quick solution and is often constrained by limitations of the course environment and its usage. Implementing ITM practices will, in many cases like this, take more time and skill, and these are two areas where the future of greenkeeping must be secured by investing in the team.

There is a need for change and education, and the clock is ticking. Legislation and climate change are likely to outpace the development of non-pesticidal technologies. The end result will be nowhere near the level of pest, weed and disease control that can be achieved today. The skills of the greenkeeper, including communication skills, will become ever more important, as, without greenkeepers, there is no end product for the game. It is vital that the greenkeeper has the tools and an operating environment conducive to sustainable cultural practices.

By leveraging our prominent position in the sport to support clubs and influence stakeholders, The R&A aims to make golf more accessible, appealing and inclusive and to help our sport become known as a leader in sustainability. Our global sustainability programme provides open access to Golf Course 2030 (GC2030) research outputs and to accessible expertise through our Sustainable Agronomy Service. Our core operations in agronomy focus on providing independent technical knowledge and research. At the same time we aim to lead the sustainability conversation in golf and influence stakeholders to make the changes required to ensure golf is thriving 50 years from now.

Paul Woodham, Head of Agronomy Europe at The R&A Sustainable Agronomy Services