Will our links be washed away?

A new re­port warns many of our links could soon be con­sumed by the sea. Stu­art Hood in­ves­ti­gates.

Golf World (UK) - - THE SPIN -

Last month, The Cli­mate Coali­tion pub­lished a re­port ti­tled, ‘Game Changer: How cli­mate change is im­pact­ing sports in the UK.’ It aimed to high­light how ex­treme weather was af­fect­ing cricket, win­ter sports, foot­ball and golf, and ad­vise on how sports could tackle cli­mate change. But, when it came to golf, most news out­lets con­cen­trated on the for­mer rev­e­la­tion.

“His­toric cour­ses could be un­der wa­ter by the end of the cen­tury,” cried one re­port, while the usu­ally more cau­tious BBC noted that “Open venues (are) at risk of dis­ap­pear­ing.”

Add th­ese head­lines to the re­port’s pre­dic­tion that melt­ing ice caps will see sea lev­els rise by as much as 100cm by 2100 and its in­sis­tence that “a small sea-level rise would im­peril all of the world’s links cour­ses”, and it sug­gests that many of our sport’s most beloved venues are soon go­ing to be more suited to scuba div­ing than golf. Hap­pily, this is not ac­tu­ally the case.

“Sea level rises will af­fect a lot fewer links cour­ses than the re­ports claim,” says Carolyn Hed­ley, En­vi­ron­ment Man­ager at Scot­tish Golf. “Yes, if some clubs do noth­ing for 50 years, they might lose a por­tion of their golf course, but the clubs at risk will put in de­fences and adapt.”

How­ever, sea level rises are just one el­e­ment of cli­mate change cov­ered by the re­port. “As tem­per­a­tures in­crease, warmer air holds more mois­ture, mean­ing we are very likely to see con­tin­ued in­creases in heavy rain and more pow­er­ful storms,” says Kate Sam­brook of the Pri­est­ley In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Cli­mate.

For our in­land cour­ses, this heavy rain is likely to lead to more clo­sures due to flood­ing. For links cour­ses, th­ese pow­er­ful storms are set to worsen the coastal ero­sion al­ready be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by some of the coun­try’s most his­toric golf­ing venues. “Cli­mate change is of­ten seen as to­mor­row’s prob­lem, but it is al­ready eat­ing away at our course,” says Chris Curnin, Di­rec­tor of Mon­trose Golf Links.

In­deed it is. In 2016, a re­search team dis­cov­ered that the North Sea had crept 70m to­wards the golf course in the last 30 years. And in 2017, the club sac­ri­ficed the 3rd tee in or­der to pro­tect the 1st green and 2nd tee.

“We’d reached a crit­i­cal point,” says Curnin. “The rock ar­mour pro­tect­ing our 2nd tee and 1st green was no longer suf­fi­cient and we were in real dan­ger of los­ing them. So, with the help of An­gus Coun­cil, we de­cided to move the rocks pro­tect­ing our 3rd tee to bol­ster the rocks at the 2nd tee and 1st green.”

‘Re­ports claimed that some of our his­toric cour­ses could be un­der wa­ter by the end of this cen­tury. A small sea-level rise would im­peril ev­ery links course’

The move bought them time. “We hope we’ll be in­cluded in the next round of fund­ing for coastal pro­tec­tion,” says Curnin.

The sit­u­a­tion at Royal North Devon is even worse. Since 2002, Eng­land’s old­est links has seen the sea re­claim a 600m stretch of dunes. “The ero­sion has re­ally es­ca­lated since the storms in 2013, and this Jan­uary was the most wor­ry­ing pe­riod yet,” re­veals gen­eral man­ager Mark Evans. “Dur­ing Storm Eleanor, we lost about 15m of the cham­pi­onship course and saw the 8th tee washed away. Now, we only have around 12m be­hind the 7th green, so it re­ally is at risk of be­ing lost.” The club is lob­by­ing the au­thor­i­ties to in­put sea de­fences, but so far to no avail, due in part to the colos­sal costs in­volved. “The lo­cal coun­cil have been sup­port­ive, but they won’t let us do any­thing. It is frus­trat­ing, but we will keep try­ing hard and look­ing at new ideas.”

So what can a course do to adapt to the threat? Di­rect op­tions in­clude con­struct­ing ar­ti­fi­cial dunes and reefs, erect­ing fences and build­ing hard rock de­fences. The in­di­rect op­tion in­volves re­duc­ing the course’s en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­log­i­cal im­pact by em­brac­ing so­lar power, rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing and elec­tric/hy­brid ma­chin­ery.

“A lot can be done,” says Kate Sam­brook. “So while golf clubs should be con­cerned, they should also be mo­ti­vated about the changes they could make.”

Coastal ero­sion at Mon­trose – red marks dan­ger.

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