As you know, Le Golf National is the French Golf Federation’s facility and the host venue of several international golf tournaments (e.g., 2018 Ryder Cup, 2024 Olympic Games, French Open, etc.).
That’s why I was very curious about, after becoming GEO Certified, what they do to reach a higher level of sustainability. What new solutions are being tested to attain these goals?
Maximilien Lambert (Environment & ecological transition project manager, French Golf Federation) and Arthur Lecomte (Environmental Advisor at Le Golf National) are sharing with us insights about the sustainability efforts in French golf club and particularly in Le Golf National.
Why are only 11 French golf clubs GEO Certified?
The French golf clubs are invested in a new environmental certification program which is called « Program & Label Golf pour la Biodiversité » (Golf for biodiversity program and Label). This Program has been created with the expertise of the National Museum of Natural History.
These labeling steps seem very relevant to organize at the national level. Our knowledge about sustainability is increasing very fast in France, and the connections we created in the past with foreign organizations are now questioned by the evolutions of the laws that take place in different countries.
As GEO is an English organization, the law and social points of attention that are associated with this program are not identical to the restrictions we are facing in the rest of Europe.
For example, Belgium had to restrict all the chemicals products of treatment since 2018. In England, there are no planned restrictions, so it might seem relevant to create bills of specifications that are adapted to each country.
In France, we have a law that will restrict our use of chemicals in 2025, and we already have water use limitations that push us to find different solutions.
The partnership that the French Golf Federation created with the National Museum of Natural History helps us to be aware of the best recommendations and support we can receive.
Even if we won’t forget the good work with GEO, it seems like, we have favored local collaborations and partnerships to lead our ecological transition.
We stay very open to future common work that could be relevant if the laws and restrictions are applied to countries where the certification companies are established.
What innovative sustainability projects does Le Golf National have?
Le Golf National has been involved in the GEO certification to promote different aspects of our environmental and ecological works to the foreign public.
Our innovative and sustainable projects have been taking a bigger place during the last few years.
We can mention all the recommendations we built and applied thanks to the French National Museum of Natural History. This step helps us to become acquainted with our biodiversity and with the mechanisms that promote our natural heritage.
The work with the Paris-Saclay University is also very interesting to help us measure the patrimony of our site and plan different sustainable projects.
We have been using new tools and methods to manage our turf problematics. For example, during the Ryder Cup preparation, light therapy has been tried to replace treatment on training greens.
The results were not convincing enough, but we didn’t give up, and we discovered other ways to do it with biocontrol products, for example.
At the same time, we were settling water management that involved a layout of 144km of drainage pipes. The collected water is going to our wet zones to maintain biodiversity and to allow us to reuse it for watering again and again.
Since 2020, we experimented with different aspects of permaculture to save water, fertilizer, and energy. This concept works with the recycling of green waste and allows for maintaining very good agronomical health combined with a major underground biodiversity.
The idea came after cultivating vegetables on layers of green waste like wood, branches, leaves, and grass, … After the reporting of very encouraging results from the point of view of the scientists who are working with us, we decided to bring the concept of permaculture to the golf playing surfaces.
To explain the concept briefly, the best example is to compare it to forests. In fact, a forest grows very well without watering or fertilizing, and the reason is that the soil contains everything it needs to feed the plant on top.
The wood, branches, and leaves on the ground are eroded by insects and living decomposers that transform the green wastes into spongy elements. After that, it keeps water for a very long time, and the activity of the microfauna provides assimilable minerals to the growing roots.
The plantation of local species and the creation of ecological habitats is also a project that we started to increase the resilience of our site after the Ryder Cup.
We had to choose an appropriate strategy to recreate ecological niches for the Le Golf National biodiversity.
For example, in this project, we created a hibernaculum, improved lake shores with the cushion of coconut fiber, planted functional hedges, settled local groves of native species, and we installed many kinds of birdhouses.
The Grand Paris Society (SGP) is building a metro line that will cross the Le Golf National along the south fence of our site. This construction will allow many of our customers to come without co2 emissions.
As it is the 1st reason for the golf carbon footprint, the customers will be able to reduce it by choosing the Metro 18 as an eco-friendlier solution.
Alongside this project, we also lead an activity of sheltering protected plants that are disturbed by the metro construction before and after the pass on our site.
How does the Golf for Biodiversity Program support golf clubs?
The French golf clubs are invested in a new environmental certification program which is called « Program & Label Golf pour la Biodiversité » (Golf for biodiversity program and Label).
This Program has been created with the expertise of the National Museum of Natural History.
These labeling steps seem very relevant to organize at the national level. Our knowledge about sustainability is increasing very fast in France, and the links we created in the past with foreign organizations are now questioned by the evolutions of the laws that take place in different countries.
The Golf for Biodiversity Program & Label gives a frame to golf clubs to:
- Better know the biodiversity on its site (a diagnostic made by naturalists’ experts based on a methodology created by the National Museum of Natural History).
- Act to preserve biodiversity (based on the diagnostic, the club must implement some measures).
- Raise awareness towards the protection of biodiversity among golfers and employees.
In addition to acting concretely for nature, golf clubs can use this label:
- Make your golfers aware of the place where they play, its biodiversity, and your actions to preserve it.
- To break down preconceived ideas to attract tomorrow’s golfers.
- To be supported by new private and public partners.
- To be recognized as an actor in nature sports fully committed to preserving life.
How can you help golf clubs to minimize the usage of water and pesticides while keeping up the quality of the turf conditioning?
A lot has been done related to these issues. The first charter organizing these issues and the first agreement between the French government and the French Golf Federation was signed in 2006.
The French Golf Federation informs golf clubs about regulations, best practices, and support they could get from experts.
The French Golf Federation supports clubs to help them minimize their impact on water and pesticides by helping them get financial support from Water Agencies.
These agencies finance projects (renovation of the water system, installation of REUSE system) and projects to reduce the impact of phytopharmaceuticals.
Among the different projects that we promote to save water, we may count the following ones.
Saving water by….
In France, the golf industry is well organized concerning the reduction of the use of water and the ban of phytopharmaceutical products in 2025. We lead different projects to find the best grass which could resist drought and diseases.
There is also a big enthusiasm for biocontrol products. The goal and concept are simple: we search for how to maintain the best quality of turf by applying natural treatment based on micro mushrooms diluted in water. The concept is to use the energy of certain natural active ingredients to substitute chemicals.
The latest and newest method, which is still an experiment only carried out by the Golf National on 3 tee platforms for the moment, is the permaculture surfaces based on layers of green waste.
Our first observations of these tee surfaces were very convincing during the dry & hot summer of 2022.
We only had to water approximately 1mm for the few days that went over 40°C (maybe 10 times, so 10mm during all the summer), no treatment, and the turf cuts were between 6 and 18 mm high.
After this convincing experience, we decided to transpose the construction concept to a green surface in 2023.
We have no scientific feedback yet for the green because a doctorate should start at the end of the year, but for the tees, we had a very interesting work of Master 2 from Paris-Saclay University which observed the sustainability and playability of the surfaces in 2022.
The scientific conclusions were very optimistic because top players found it very playable (as the pictures may show) and because the agronomy of the surfaces was very healthy and prolific no matter the weather (very dry, very hot, very wet &/or very cold).
What are the chances of golf clubs becoming carbon neutral?
The carbon footprint of the golf clubs is usually quite low. I’ve even heard from GEO that most of them were neutral or positive.
The explanation for that is simple. The carbon footprint measures the balance between the emission and the capture of CO2.
As the CO2 emissions on a golf course are not colossal, we are able to infer that the natural patrimony, which is able to work for a balanced concentration in the air, is capturing more carbon than the different causes of releasing.
After measuring carbon footprints for different golf courses, the biggest CO2 emissions causes are always linked with the comings and goings of the customers. In our case, the metro construction through our site will help to reduce this problem.
We already recommend golf courses to encourage carsharing or public transport. At the same time, we promote site management that encourages the free evolution of vegetation in unplayable areas.
This management helps nature to capture more co2 because the vegetation produces bigger sequestration when it keeps growing.
It allows us to compare golf courses to the forest, which contains carbon in the fibers and roots of the plants (trees especially).
We hope that the actors will hear these recommendations for the world of golf for their own economy, sustainability, or health, but also for the next generations.