European Golf Design became the 1st Sustainable Golf Climate Leader. Why it matters?

By: August 29, 2023

It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that anyone who takes themselves seriously will not develop a golf club, golf resort, or golf course without sustainability as a top priority in 2023 and the coming years.

For this reason, I was very pleased to hear that European Golf Design became the 1st Sustainable Golf Climate Leader.

Significant synergies can be created if a GEO-certified golf club can work with a golf course designer who embraces the idea of sustainability at such a high level, as in the current case, European Golf Design succeeded.

Read my interview with Jeremy Slessor, Managing Director of European Golf Design, below.

European Golf Design Climate Leader sustainability

To what extent is sustainability a basic requirement for golf course design assignments?

Our view is that sustainability, in all its forms, is a prerequisite for development – if the sustainability matrix cannot show a positive outcome, then the project should not move forward.

When you really analyze what we do as golf designers, we add value to land; that value should be measured financially, environmentally, socially, and culturally in addition to the ‘value’ or quality of the course itself.

Why did European Golf Design need to obtain the Sustainable Golf Climate Leader title?

We didn’t start this process looking for a title or a label…

Having worked with GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, we knew the criteria for designing credibly sustainable courses, but we also realized that despite the use of technology, we still needed to travel to sites on a regular basis to ensure that the work was being carried out correctly and that this had a profound impact on our carbon footprint.

With GEO Foundation’s Net Zero Progamme, we started to record everything we could think of that would impact our footprint – travel to and from the office, travel to and from the site, resource usage (water, gas, electricity, paper, etc.).

At the end of each year, that gave us total emissions. But once we had done that, we needed to work with a credible organization to offset that footprint

Again, through the GEO Foundation, we have taken responsibility for unavoided greenhouse gas emissions through the Gold Standard, retiring carbon credits with quantifiable contributions to climate change mitigation and the Sustainable Development Goals.

European Golf Design Jeremy Slessor sustainability

Where are golf clubs in their sustainability transformation?

It’s a very mixed picture. Some clubs have embraced this absolutely, others have not. Those that have, more often than not, have done it in conjunction with GEO Foundation’s programs, which are, by far, the most credible for golf.

A common concern among those not taking this up is that they don’t want an ‘external’ assessment and believe that sustainability will cost them money.

There has to be the suspicion that if external assessment is not welcome, then there is already an understanding on the part of the Club that things are not as they should be, and in terms of the cost – if carried through correctly, the process of sustainability will actually save money in the medium to long term – it will add to the bottom line, not detract from it.

Sustainability Lessons learned

Is it enough to write – I want a sustainable golf course – in a golf course development brief, or do you need more specifications? What is your advice?

At face value, that’s enough…as long as there is a real and genuine intention to follow through. What is not acceptable is for courses to be declared ‘sustainable’ without any credible evidence.

Golf, generally, has a good story to tell regarding its impact on the world, but what we need to persuade others, or this is hard data – it will persuade nobody just to use the words if there is no data to back this up.

At the very least, we would expect or encourage every new development to go through the GEO Development process to ensure long-term sustainability and existing courses to sign up for GEO’s On-Course program.

By the way, this is not an advertorial for GEO, but the simple fact is that they are the greatest resource we have as an industry – they are there to help.

European Golf Design 2023 Ryder Cup sustainability

How did you apply sustainability principles during the redesign of the Golf Club Marco Simone golf course?

From the outset, we knew that we were not designing the course for one week in September 2023 – this was a course that needed to be sustainable in the long term. Every decision was made with this in mind.

For example, we determined that the course would not require over-seeding, which is one of the most expensive and resource-intensive processes an existing course can go through – the grasses used were chosen for their ability to provide quality playing surfaces for as much of the year as possible. 

Water is an increasingly valuable resource. The course is irrigated currently with water abstracted, under strict conditions, from a local stream.

However, the intention was and remains that the course will be irrigated using treated water from the nearby waste-water plant, which, in turn, will result in fewer inputs being required in terms of nutrients. 

Beyond that, working with the Club and TAS, their agronomic advisors, the maintenance program is based on Best Management Practice with applications of all materials kept to an absolute minimum – turf health is infinitely more important than turf color