Golfers Tee off on First Organic Course in UK


In an industry criticized for its widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers, New Malton Golf Club in Cambridgeshire, England is blazing the trail for a more sustainable breed of golf course. For the past year, the club has focused on achieving organic certification for its grounds from the Soil Association, according to The Independent. “We don’t use any pesticides and have been 100 percent chemical free for a year,” said New Malton’s co-owner Paul Stevenson. The course also employs a full-time ecologist and has experimented with a home-made mix of citric acid and sugar as a substitute for weed killer. Thus far, the club has been able to maintain high turf quality with its purely organic regimen.

Accompanying the club’s effort to eliminate the use of harmful chemicals is an irrigation approach that exclusively uses untreated water from the River Cam, which flows adjacent to the course.  While nearly all courses use reclaimed irrigation water, most are forced to supplement with clean treated water, especially in hot, arid climates. New Malton’s ability to access the abundant and continuously flowing river water provides it with a more sustainable source of irrigation water.

In support of its mission, the club has also set aside more than 30 acres of native grassland areas that function as a habitat for numerous wildlife species including woodpeckers, kestrels, owls, pheasants, as well as many varieties of small mammals and insects. In the future, the owners plan to graze animals on the land, while also growing fruit and lavender. While adding to the golfing experience, the restored natural habitat could turn New Malton into a productive, multi-use landscape. 

In addition to the obvious environmental benefits associated with going all-organic, the course has also been able to cut its maintenance budget by nearly £50,000 in less than a year, according to Royston Weekly News. “The good news is that doing it this way has given us massive savings,” said Stevenson. “In five years, our annual running costs for the greens will be as low as £5,000.”

Skeptics question whether the course will be able to maintain playable turf over a long period of time without the use of chemicals. Courses are often invaded by various forms of Fusarium fungus, which produce white rings on the turf and make it more susceptible to disease. Others question whether organic courses are marketable. “We are fighting a marketing trend towards lusher, greener and more manicured courses – stimulating golfers to want to play on what they see on TV,” said Jonathan Smith, chief executive of the Golf Environment Organization. In its early stages, however, New Malton’s success seems to be quieting the critics.  

Read the article and watch a video on the new course.

Also, check out The New York Times’ report on the Vineyard Golf Course in Martha’s Vineyard, a course viewed as the only “completely organic” one in the U.S., “its 18 holes groomed without the use of a single synthetic pesticide, fertilizer, herbicide or other artificial chemical treatment.”   

This guest post is by Matt Busa, ASLA 2010 advocacy and communications intern.

Image credit: Golf ball in rough / Wikipedia Commons

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