ONE of the key elements in preserving golf courses for future generations is sustainability.
Like The R&A, the team at Royal Dornoch has embraced the challenge presented in protecting and preserving our famous links and guarding Mother Nature’s bounty and our resources.
Hard on the heels of marvellous feedback from competitors participating in The R&A Women’s and Men’s Seniors Amateur Championships, general manager Neil Hampton and course manager Eoin Riddell’s greenkeeping team were delighted with positive feedback from German-based journalist Petra Himmel, founder of Golf Sustainable.
She visited Dornoch with husband and golf course designer Thomas and marvelled at how the golf club, and town, hold deep affection for golfers making the pilgrimage to the north of Scotland, particularly from the USA.
“At Royal Dornoch Golf Club, they’ve managed to create a hotspot on the international golf scene in a pretty lonely place in the world that feeds the whole village, adds value for kids, and is environmentally friendly to boot,” writes Petra.
“Looking at the unpretentious clubhouse and the functional driving range, it becomes clear that money is not spent on fashionable trinkets, luxurious looks or giant buildings, but on the basics of the sport.
“This has the advantage that costs remain manageable in times of crisis.
“If – as during the Corona Lockdowns – the countless rounds of green fees are eliminated, the costs are still manageable.
“When energy prices rise, as is the case now, the clubhouse is still heatable.
“The amount of mowing, and therefore diesel, required on a course where hardly any water or fertilizer is used is manageable. Higher prices are thus unattractive, but do not lead to financial catastrophe.”
Petra seized the opportunity to interview general manager Neil, who is always keen to fly the flag for Royal Dornoch, courses nearby and the Highlands in general.
He explained how the club continues to blood the next generation of golfers by dispatching coaches into the schools to provide free lessons and maintains a commitment to the youth development programme.
Neil flagged-up the sterling work being done by the award-winning greenkeeping team to preserve links where golf has been played for centuries and regularly ranks among the top courses in world golf.
“What does top quality mean to the management of Royal Dornoch is our question to Neil Hampton, and he starts to think,” recounts Petra.
“Then he starts talking about the Fescue reseeding program on the golf course, new sprinkler heads on the golf course, the constant attempt to keep the greens hard and playable, the roughs light and visually perfect. All this, of course, with minimal water consumption, even – if it hardly rains, as in this spring.”
Neil highlighted the five-figure “Green Shores” project created in partnership with St Andrews University to enhance coastal defences, with vulnerable marshland by the 10th hole on the Struie Course now being protected by organic fixing mats.
Petra, who enjoyed a close-up look at The Struie during a round on her trip, observed: “Marshes in salt water are considered to be extremely important habitats that bring with them a high CO₂ storage quality and therefore play an important role in the area of both biodiversity and CO₂ neutrality.
“On the Championship Course side, the visitor will also find bank stabilization, a lot of newly planted beach grass, but the problem of erosion is not relevant here compared to the Struie Course.
“When the managers of Dornoch Golf Club invited Old Tom Morris in 1886 to think about a golf course to replace the courses they had been using, the basis of all their considerations was one: it should be a first-class golf course that made do with the resources the land in the dunes provided.
“This initial idea, it turns out today, is extremely sustainable.
“World class doesn’t need luxurious trappings.”