Ladies follow Suzann Pettersen in setting the bar for sustainability in golf

Golf can be seen as a sport of threes.  Drive, pitch, putt. Fourballs, foursomes, singles. Palmer, Player, Nicklaus. Even the Amen Corner sequence of holes at Augusta National… 11, 12, 13.

Whether you’re a major champion or a recreational player, a trio of birdies can change your mindset. Gain a shot, back it up, push on ahead. And the sport itself has very recently made decent strides in terms of sustainability on three different fronts: player, club, course.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that it’s ladies’ golf which is showing us the way – you may remember our piece on Suzann Pettersen becoming a Sustainable Golf Champion for the GEO Foundation; the Norwegian blazed the trail, and already others are starting to follow.

While for Pettersen it is a post-career passion, the latest recruit to this programme has only been a professional golfer for the last four years. The 2017 Ladies European Tour Rookie of the Year, Camille Chevalier has taken up the mantle, and her main responsibility is to promote and celebrate the positive impacts golf has on nature and people, as well as encouraging further action on key issues such as pollution prevention, resource efficiency and climate change.

It’s clear that the 27-year-old has been inspired by her immediate surroundings. “I have always had a special relationship with nature and the outdoors – one of the main reasons I have loved golf is because it takes place in beautiful environments,” says Chevalier.

“My interest naturally evolved towards the preservation and protection of nature as I grew up during a period of increasing awareness of the impacts of climate change, plastic pollution, biodiversity loss and the need to live more sustainably.”

It’s a smart signing from the GEO Foundation, a non-profit organisation with a mission to advance sustainability in and through golf. It’s just as smart for them to be the Ladies European Tour’s Green Partner, and therefore aligned closely with the LET’s own sustainability initiative launched last year, “Celebrating the Green”. Partnership is a key element, and through it, the likes of Pettersen and Chevalier can help spread the word.

Last week the LET hosted a webinar, so that more members can learn about the initiative and contribute through their own experiences and stories. That’s anything from fostering nature to conserving water, energy and materials, to engaging communities, to taking climate action, and the hope is that these elite athletes will help effect change more deeply.

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“This initiative will provide Camille with a wonderful platform to help raise awareness of some of the issues and the solutions throughout golf and inspire her fans around the world,” adds Emma Allerton, commercial director at the LET. “Sustainability requires a big team effort and we welcome others across the LET community to join and take action.”

Last week, the LPGA Tour departed American shores for the first time this year with the HSBC Women’s World Championship, dubbed “Asia’s Major”, and in doing so visited one of the most sustainable venues in all of sport. The Sentosa Golf Club is used to setting itself ambitious targets, but this one might just top the lot: becoming the first ever climate neutral golf club by 2022.

This latest pledge will enable them to join the UN’s “Race to Zero” [climate emissions], which is in no way surprising, given that the Singapore venue became the first golf club to join the United Nations Sport for Climate Action Framework.

It’s not an empty pledge either, as previous experience would prove. They’re not named the “World’s Best Eco-Friendly Golf Facility” for nothing, and in fact it’s a tag they’ve looked more and more comfortable with, especially as their carbon footprint continues to shrink.

The environmental solutions they’ve found are both numerous and ingenious. Banning single-use plastics on both courses is one thing, while enhancing efficiency of the energy management of the clubhouse and of the irrigation system of the courses with 1,200 water-saving sprinklers is a decent commitment. But how about utilising rechargeable lithium batteries in golf carts and even creating their own bee colonies? They’re not done yet!

Whereas those previous steps have been about carbon mitigation, this feels closer to carbon elimination. This year, contributions from golf rounds will be set aside to help purchase carbon offsets through regional Forestry or Blue Carbon projects, sequestering atmospheric carbon while defending against deforestation and fostering conservation of forests, mangroves and reefs. And if that’s not enough, the club is installing two food and horticultural waste digesters to grind down waste and reuse it as fertiliser on its courses.

Every single avenue is being explored, and next on the radar is looking at potential alternative energy solutions such as solar, as well as sustainable food produce options. Thien Kwee Eng, chief executive officer at Sentosa Development Corporation, isn’t wrong when he says: “Golf can act as a catalyst in the fight against climate change and it is great to see one of Singapore’s premier golf clubs leading the way in reducing carbon emissions.”

Prague may not be a golfing hotbed, but it’s home to the PGA National Czech Republic which was awarded Europe’s Best Golf Course at the 2020 World Golf Awards. It had barely been open five minutes, but this venue has been a long 15 years in the planning, and all that time has clearly been well spent, with sustainability fully informing its design and function.

Biodiversity doesn’t always get much press when discussing the impacts of climate change, but improving it is clearly a priority. On land of 104 hectares, another 23.15 hectares of natural habitat was added in the last year, which means that more than three quarters of the land is undisturbed, thereby promoting biodiversity. That in itself has a knock-on effect, because the more natural habitat you have, the less maintained turf there is, which means fewer fertilisers and chemicals, and also less irrigation pumping and machinery fuel costs.

Another major goal is to avoid sending waste to landfill, which means finding ways to reduce, reuse and recycle all materials. Through avoiding single-use plastic products such as bottled water, straws and cups, the course is able to successfully recycle 100 per cent of plastic, 90 per cent metal, 90 per cent of paper/cardboard, and 100 per cent of grass clippings are sent to compost. Other impressive figures to have come out of the last year include a commitment to 100 per cent of irrigation water being captured from the on-course drainage system filtering rainwater.

So, increase biodiversity? Tick. Promote sustainable turfgrass? Tick. Prevent pollution, reduce energy consumption and recycle all materials? Tick, tick, tick. To keep the run of birdies going, the next step is to achieve GEO certification, the most credible and respected mark of sustainability in golf worldwide. Back to GEO’s ambassador Camille Chevalier:

“It is important golfers look around them when they play. They can marvel at landscapes and wildlife that can be found on the course – to be amazed is already a first form of action to protect the ecosystem. By keeping this close contact with nature we become aware of its need for protection. I am excited about working with the GEO Foundation, exploring how I can live, work and play more sustainably and help celebrate all the good things that are happening in golf for nature and people.”

It’s clear there are many of those right now, as golf takes the lead with this trio of initiatives.

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