Catching Up with the 2021 Winners

There were a couple firsts for the Golf Environment Awards in 2020. For the first time ever, and hopefully the last time, we were tasked with presenting the awards virtually. Thankfully there were no hiccups, at least on our end, those with dodgy internet connections may think otherwise! Added to that, prior to the awards evening we were joined by our new judging panel consisting of lead partners The R&A, GEA sponsors Aquatrols, Tiller’s Turf, Syngenta, Wiedenmann, and Ransomes Jacobsen, and past Conservation Greenkeeper and BIGGA’s ecology advisor, James Hutchinson. We were so grateful to tap into a great pool of knowledge spanning all areas of the golf environment to determine this year’s winners, and we are so thankful for this continuous support year after year.

We announced the winners of the Golf Environment Awards 2021 on 16 December 2020 which feels like a lifetime ago now, so we wanted to catch up with this year’s winners to find out what they plan to do with their £750.00 grant – one of the many benefits of winning a Golf Environment Award. These grants were introduced in 2020, recognising the need to give back to the golf community that have allowed the awards to grow over the last 26 years thanks to the advances in best environmental practices in golf. Read on to see what each of the 2021 winners are putting their well-earned prize money towards and what winning a Golf Environment Award has meant to them.

Effingham Golf Club – Syngenta Operation Pollinator 2021

Jon Budd in one of the many Operation Pollinator areas he and his team have created around the golf course at Effingham Golf Club.

We spoke with Jon Budd, Course Manager at Effingham Golf Club, about what winning Syngenta Operation Pollinator 2021 meant for the club and why others should be inspired to create their own pollinator-friendly patches within their golf course or garden.

Winning Operation Pollinator 2021 has been a major achievement for Effingham Golf Club, not only for the green staff, but also for the club and every member. At Effingham, we are blessed with having a large site, but this is not the reason we enter the Golf Environment Awards, you can establish a wildflower area with as little as 1 sqm of land! Do not be put off trying to produce an ecology area on your golf course, sports pitch, or garden. This can be done in most cases with nothing more than elbow grease, and a packet of seed.  A major attribute to winning this award has been the educating of the members on the importance of ecology and why we should be doing all we can to improve the course for the flora and fauna here at Effingham Golf Club.

We can’t wait to see what Jon and the team at Effingham do next! Have you been inspired to create your own Operation Pollinator area? If you have, make sure you sign up to Syngenta Operation Pollinator and head over to the website to find out top tips for establishing wildflowers, helpful pollinator ID, and other useful guidance.

Jon Keepen proudly holding one of the many kestrel chicks which were bred within Cumberwell Park.

Jon Keepen, Cumberwell Park – Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2021

After a few years of being finalist, we were so pleased to award Jon Keepen, Head of Conservation at Cumberwell Park, the title of Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2021. Jon has worked tirelessly to establish a diverse mosaic of habitats throughout the golf courses at Cumberwell, all the while recording the vast array of wildlife supported by them, with a particular focus on raptors. We caught up with Jon to find out whether any of the grant will go towards more raptor conservation and habitat creation.

“I have a few different plans for the award money. Our flagship project here has been our raptor breeding programme for quite a few years and so I would like to develop this further. Cumberwell Park spreads over 430 acres and every new raptor box I put up seems to get used straight away! I don’t believe that we’ve reached our carrying capacity for Barn Owls, Little Owls and Kestrels yet so I will use some of the funds on materials to build more nest boxes.

This year we have also instated our first apiary as an addition to the Syngenta Operation Pollinator work we have been doing. The apiary we are using is an old one that we have borrowed from a member and fellow greenkeeper, but it has seen better days! I would like to buy the materials to make a new one.

We have also been looking to develop more signage around the course to highlight environmental projects and areas of interest to the members as they play. I plan to use some of the money to help with this as well.”

It’s great to hear that the grant is being put to such great use and will go on to support a wide range of wildlife at Cumberwell Park. We particularly love the commitment to developing signage. Signage around golf facilities can be very helpful to educate members, visitors and other passersby about the range of habitats, flora and fauna present and how they are being managed (or not) for biodiversity. Some habitats, such as scrub and tall ruderal vegetation (patches of rosebay willowherb or stinging nettle, for example) aren’t the ‘prettiest’, neither are log piles and other wildlife installations, but they are so valuable for wildlife! Using signage to communicate this helps to spread the word that nature isn’t tidy, it is functional. Do you have signage around your golf course? What does it illustrate?

Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club – Outstanding Environmental Project of the Year 2021

One of the many new dune scrapes at Pyle and Kenfig.

Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club, located in an enviable location, nearby Kenfig National Nature Reserve and the Gower Peninsula, impressed the judging panel with their landscape scale conservation project ‘Dunes 2 Dunes’ to restore dune slack and bare sand habitats throughout the 18-hole links. Working with the local community, council and NRW, Pyle and Kenfig have established vast areas of important dune habitats and now support more fen orchids than ever recorded, as well as seeing the return of other notable species. We spoke with Simon Hopkins, Club Secretary, who has been instrumental in securing the project for the golf club, about what the club plan on doing with the £750 grant.

“We will be putting the monies towards a new pond we are creating at the back of the putting and chipping green. We have already spoken with Natural Resources Wales and we hope to create new habitats for the Great Crested Newt which is indigenous to the area.”

We think that this is a wonderful way to spend the money. Creating habitats to support specific species is conservation in practice! We’re excited to see this project progress and find out what other wildlife the new pond will support, plants, amphibians and invertebrates alike. Have you had a go at creating a pond on your golf course?

Nairn Dunbar Golf Club – Environmental Golf Course of the Year 2021

Some of the team at Nairn Dunbar Golf Club. From L-R: Graeme Robbins – Assistant Greenkeeper, Richard Johnstone – Course Manager, Michael McInnes – Assistant Greenkeeper, Ryan Knox – Apprentice Greenkeeper

Richard Johnstone, Course Manager at Nairn Dunbar Golf Club, and his team have sustainability at the forefront of all practices. The judging panel were most impressed by the restoration of the links landscape at Nairn Dunbar which has only been possible through the implementation of a rough management plan which has seen the links roughs return to their natural condition and allowed native grasses, wildflowers and heather to flourish. The Club’s community outreach was another reason why Nairn Dunbar was crowned as a winner, with the judges particularly in awe of the close relationship between the Club and the RSPB. It appears that the team never stops, so we were excited to find out from Richard what they intend to spend the grant on and what being crowned Environmental Golf Course of the Year felt like.

“We at Nairn Dunbar Golf Club are delighted that our efforts have been recognised for our environmentally sustainable management and, although we have not decided what we will spend the £750 prize money on, we have a few ideas in mind such as a reedbed to wash down machinery, continued dune restoration work or the creation of more habitats for birds so we can expand our bird ringing scheme and relationship with RSPB.”

It seems like the Club have a few options to explore, and all are beneficial for the environment. We will keep our eyes peeled and look forward to hearing how the relationship with RSPB continues to strengthen. At Nairn Dunbar, their links with RSPB have allowed the Club to understand more about the bird species supported by the golf course, in particular sand martin, and has enabled the RSPB to add vital records to their ongoing conservation efforts and provided access to an otherwise inaccessible site.

Building relationships with nature conservation groups can be incredibly rewarding, for both parties. In recognition of this, The R&A have partnered with the RSPB and have appointed Dr Marie Athorn as RSPB Business Conservation Advisor. Marie’s role will be to help improve the habitat management and wildlife value of golf courses in the UK, and support golf in promoting its good work to the environmental lobby and government. Marie can be found on Twitter where she shares what golf clubs are doing to help nature up and down the UK and provides hints and tips on how to help wildlife on golf courses. We’re excited to support Marie and The R&A to continue to promote the great biodiversity benefits of golf to a wider audience.

A huge congratulations to all of the Golf Environment Awards 2021 winners, finalists, and entrants who didn’t quite make it. Being part of the awards is something to be proud of and we hope that you will all continue to support the awards for years to come.