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Driving golf off the green

Climate change is hampering Scotland’s iconic golf courses, cutting playing time and threatening participation
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Driving golf off the green

Wetter winters and coastal erosion linked to climate change are threatening the sport of golf, according to a new report supported by the R&A, the sport’s governing body in the UK.

Released by The Climate Coalition, which includes membership from the National Trust, WWF and the Women’s Institute, the report reveals that in the Glasgow area alone, 2016/17 saw a 20% reduction in playing time compared with 2006/07.

‘There is no question it’s becoming a huge factor. I believe golf is more impacted by climate change than any other sport aside from skiing. We are feeling it now with increases in unplayable holes, winter course closures and disruption to professional tournaments. And the future threats are very real.’

Director of golf course management at the R&A

Montrose Golf Links

One of the oldest courses in the world, Montrose, has been badly affected. In the last 30 years, the North Sea has advanced 70 metres towards the course, forcing the course to realign some holes and abandon others.

But it’s not just Montrose that’s endangered; one-sixth of Scotland’s golf courses are located on the coast and at risk from rising sea levels. Only a small increase in sea-level rise would jeopardise all of the world’s links courses by 2100.

‘Over the past few years we have had to realign a few holes on the course as the erosion creeps into the course. In the face of rising seas and storm surges, Montrose has lost 70 metres of its coastline to the North Sea and is seeking funding to help protect the course.’

Director at Montrose Golf Links

Climate change is making extreme weather worse, causing more courses to be closed more often and for longer periods. The year 2016/17 saw 20% less playing time at courses across the Greater Glasgow area compared with 10 years before.

In response to the threat, the R&A, the European Tour, Scottish Golf, the Golf Environment Organisation and the STRI have all developed initiatives to equip courses to adapt to the impacts of climate change and help the sport become more sustainable.

‘We’ve seen six of the seven wettest years on record since 2000 and record-breaking wet winters in 2014 and 2016 with 150% of the normal rainfall. That, combined with rising sea levels and increased storm surges, means that climate change is already affecting the historic game of golf in its birthplace.’

Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds

Climate change, football and cricket

The report also highlights the impact of climate change on football, citing the examples of Bromley Heath United FC calling off matches for three months due to worsening weather and £48m investment by the FA in hundreds of specially adapted turf pitches. The impact is particularly acute at grassroots level where the average club is losing five weeks every season due to bad weather.

Cricket is also said to be affected, with 27% of England’s home One Day Internationals being played with reduced overs since 2000 due to rain disruptions, and the rate of rain-affected matches doubling since 2011.

Bad weather has cost the England and Wales Cricket Board £1m in emergency grants during 2016 and £1.6m in 2017. This trend has forced the governing body to set aside £2.5m a year for to help recreational clubs keep playing.

Show the Love

The report is being published as part of The Climate Coalition’s Show The Love campaign, which celebrates all that we love but could lose to climate change – whether sports rained-off or natural beauty spots damaged by increased flooding.

‘Without cutting the carbon emissions driving climate change, sea levels will rise by over a metre and extremely wet winters will become the norm. Many aspects of our lives including the game of golf would struggle to adapt to such a changed world.’

Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds

Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF and a member of The Climate Coalition, said ‘climate change won’t leave any aspect of our lives untouched, even the sports we love.’ She added that golf, football and cricket – three sports at the heart of British culture – ‘will all be irrevocably changed’, and that this ‘should be another wake-up call for all of us’.

Click here to find out why World Rowing has taken the lead by pledging to protect UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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