Opening the door to sustainable golf

Before the deluge came and the sun still shone, spectators at Royal Portrush were being handed their Open branded metal canisters as they came through the entrance gates as the R&A continued their bid to do away with single-use plastic water bottles.

Opening the door to sustainable golf

Before the deluge came and the sun still shone, spectators at Royal Portrush were being handed their Open branded metal canisters as they came through the entrance gates as the R&A continued their bid to do away with single-use plastic water bottles.

Instead, fans at this year’s championship must visit the numerous water stations around the course to fill up said canisters with “free purified, chilled local water”.

An admirable cause, no doubt, and in line with The Open’s commitment to “turning the tide on ocean pollution”.

At the same time, however, this is a major golfing event that sees dozens of articulated trucks parked up in the television compound, not to mention the equipment manufacturers’ lorries that have driven across Europe and Britain to get here, while the majority of the 237,750 people who have bought tickets for the next four days of competition will have climbed into their cars to reach this outpost on the Antrim coastline.

That is hardly encouraging from an environmentally friendly perspective and when you consider this is a large-scale logistical operation replicated at the two other travelling majors each year, the potential carbon footprint is frightening.

As the environmental columnist George Monbiot pointed out a dozen years ago, many sports are “simply incompatible” with solving the world’s environmental problems, particularly those that draw large crowds and all the transport implications that generates.

Yet, let’s give credit where it credit is due, the water stations are good to see and Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the R&A’s executive director of championships is striving to make The Open as sustainable as possible.

“On the contractor’s side, we’ve around 150 companies and we work with them all,” Cole-Hamilton explained yesterday. “They’ve got their own corporate responsibilities and they understand that and we’re working to reduce our requirements on generated power and diesel.

“Recycling as much as we can, getting zero per cent to landfill and we’re working with these companies all the time. In terms of logistics that was very much in the forefront of what we’re trying to do.”

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers added: “This year was a step forward on single-use plastic water bottles. We will look to do more on plastic in the coming year.”

Slumbers, though, recognised the concerns that golf, played on large swathes of land requiring, in many cases, vast quantities of fertiliser and pesticide, has some issues to address.

“The whole game needs to look at sustainability,” he said yesterday. “It’s quite interesting when you look at a lot of our golf courses and the way we manage it, this sport is doing a great deal for nature and sustainability and water conservation.

“We started a project a year ago at The R&A, we’re working with agronomists and advisors around the world. We’re calling it Golf Course 2030, which is all about saying if we had to maintain the playing surfaces that we have today with a fraction of the water usage that we use today and no pesticides and no fertilisers, how would we do that. And it’s in its early days of the work.

It’s not an easy question, which is why the question mark has been set. And it will create great opportunities for the game in the future. And I think we do have a responsibility to be sustainable in the way our game is played.

Again, very laudable, but there remains one issue that appears more intractable than most, the issue of persuading the game’s best players to take their private jets out of the skies and finding other, less damaging means of getting to tournaments.

It seems, though, that persuasion is for some time yet going to take a back seat to the business model of a major championship reliant on attracting the game’s best players to play its flagship tournament.

“I think on the players’ side, the stars of the show are twofold come tomorrow morning, the golf course and the players,” Slumbers said during the R&A’s pre-championship media conference yesterday morning.

“We are all here because the best players in the world have travelled from all around the world to be here. And I think as environmental issues impact all of us in every part of our life, I think it may become an issue in the future years. But at the moment I want the best players to be teeing it up tomorrow morning because that’s what makes The Open.”

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