As the members of Österlen’s Golf Club would tell you, there is no inherent conflict between golf and nature preservation. Their sustainability and biodiversity efforts have recently been rewarded with Simrishamn County’s environmental award.

Kestrels are hovering over the golf courses, scouting for voles hiding among the dwarf everlast (a protected and rare species of flower). Idyllic as it may seem, both the kestrels and the dwarf everlasts have grown in numbers at Djupadal and Lilla Vik in Österlen. Golf and nature preservation can go hand in hand. At Österlen’s Golf Club, a group of members that share an interest in nature and the environment are letting sustainability and biodiversity take center stage.

Environmental award for ambitious sustainability efforts

Biodiversity and estetic values are important to  Österlen’s Golf Club. Photo: Österlens GK.

In December 2017, Österlen’s GK received Simrishamn County’s Environmental Award in acknowledgement of the organization’s ambitious sustainability efforts and dedication to preserve nature, the environment and the surroundings. The award is presented every year to reward especially commendable environmental achievements.

”We formed an environmental commission in 2011, a group of members that share an interest in both golf and environmental issues. The commission is very active; we have a lot of fun, but we also do a lot of work to preserve and develop the nature values of the courses”, says Margareta Hallin, Chairman of the Environmental Commission.

”We are making a species inventory of plants and animals in order to conserve and develop the biodiversity of the area, and enhance the aestethic experience. In practice, we are following up on upkeep plans and we handle plantings and removal of vegetation together with the Course Commission and the Course Manager. We are also cooperating with local stakeholders and environmental agencies, dealing with school excursions and outdoor activities for the local community. In one project, we are involved in planning a nature trail adjacent to the Djupadal Course”.

Sheep graze on the golf course. Photo: Emma Lawesson, Ystad Allehanda.

”The eco-perspective is important. A number of sheep graze on the golf course, and we help with the fencing. We are also putting up bird houses and insect hotels. It is important to spread awareness so that as many members as possible become committed to caring for the environment and to nature conservation, and we do that by organizing club events, walks and photo exhibitions. We also hold a special golf competition for the environment”, Margareta Hallin says.

The systematic, long-term efforts are getting praise and recognition beyond the club. Simrishamn County writes in their motivation: “The building committee gives the Simrishamn County Environmental Award 2017 to Österlen’s Golf Club, for its long-standing dedication to integrate the activity of the golf club with its sensitive environment in a sustainable way, that promotes the delicate flora and fauna. This dedication, beyond what is required by law or current golf club standards, pervades the entire operation”.

One important reason for the remuneration is that the club received an environmental certification according to the Golf Environment Organisations standards in 2017.

Certification for systematic environmental work

About 15 years ago, a system with environment diplomas was introduced by the Swedish Golf Federation (SGF), and many golf clubs adopted it. Now, the diplomas are replaced by the GEO OnCourse® tool, and SGF’s goal is for 100 golf clubs to be certified by 2020. The tool has been developed by Golf Environment Organisation, an independent international organization that aims to contribute to sustainable development, better environment and social responsibility. Österlen’s GK is currently one of about ten Swedish GEO Certified® golf clubs.

GEO OnCourse can be described as a simplified version of an environmental management system, assisting the club with documentation, improvements and communication. OnCourse was released approximately 10 years ago, and has been developed and improved ever since. A Swedish version of OnCourse was released late 2017 in a joint effort by GEO, SGF and the Nordic research foundation Sterf, updated with national regulations, conditions and facts. Clubs already using the SGF environment diploma get a head start, since much of the information can be readily transferred to the new tool.

The web-based tool is well established and used by golf facilities around the world. OnCourse is supported by most of the large golf organizations, by associations and by industry partners. Swedish facilities are often well-versed in environmental matters, and their environmental work is documented in environmental plans, treatment programmes and pesticide use log sheets. This means that the clubs already have much of the information required for GEO registration at hand.

Thanks to the SGF investment in OnCourse Sweden, golf clubs can register and get access to the tool free of charge. If the clubs want to demonstrate that their sustainability work lives up to high international standards, they can apply to be GEO Certified® for a fee of approximately 15 000 SEK, which also covers the verifier’s visit and travel expenses. According to current stipulations, the certification has to be renewed every three years, with an additional fee every time.

”This international environment certification system for golf is an easy and inspiring way to approach these issues. We are the eleventh club in Sweden to be GEO certified, and the work is systematically followed up together with the club’s management. The certification proves that our environmental efforts live up to high international standards, which makes the club more attractive and gives it a credible and responsible position”, Margareta Hallin says.

The article was published in January 2018.