Drive the Green – Golf Ireland’s Sustainability Plan

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Golf Ireland's Sustainability Action Plan

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Golf Ireland revealed their new ‘Drive the Green’ sustainability plan for the years spanning
2024 to 2027 at the organisation’s AGM back in March. Spearheaded by Ann Courtney, the action plan helps clubs address some of the key challenges and opportunities for golf, provides a strategic approach to advancing sustainability in an efficient, practical, and effective way. it highlights key action areas, priorities, and ways for clubs to play their part and benefit from course resilience, operational efficiency, and overall reputation.

Effectively, it can be broken down into three main goals:

1: Golf facilities across Ireland will become more sustainable, popular and profitable by embedding sustainability into their decision-making decisions.

2: Golf Ireland will deliver an increasing number of tangible and measurable positive outcomes for nature, climate and communities.

3: Golf across Ireland will become increasingly recognised as one of the leading sports in sustainability and supported in its drive to deliver positive social and environmental impacts.

WHO IS ANN COURTNEY? A business and finance specialist from Killarney, who came on board as finance director at Killarney Golf Club six years ago and during her tenure together with her colleagues on the management council, helped bring the club from a worrying financial position to its current robust financial health. As Chair five years ago, she appointed Synergy Golf to manage the entire facility at Killarney golf club and under their management, the club has thrived. This is in addition to spending a large sum on the courses, on a new fleet of machinery and electric buggies, upgrading the pro shop and the facility, and helping install a really strong governance system to ensure accountability and transparency is to the fore.

During this period, she also underwent training at the Climate Ready Academy, doing courses in water, biodiversity and energy and then was among the first cohort to undertake the postgraduate in Sustainable Development for Business at the Trinity Business School, also doing Responsible and Sustainable Finance at the Institute of Bankers/UCD before taking up the role as the Sustainability Manager at Golf Ireland in 2023.

Courtney’s ethos: “It’s all well and good talking about sustainability, but it has to be paid for,” Courtney says, “so that’s where one of my focusses always is. Our overall goal is to assist as many clubs on their sustainability journeys as possible. We’ve 379 affiliated clubs and we want to accelerate the integration of sustainability throughout sport while safeguarding the courses and the environment they inhabit.

“I’m very cognisant that there are a lot of clubs out there that may need help in lots of formats, so we can help on the sustainability side to reduce emissions and make savings, that’s great, but we can also help them to be sustainable businesses and ensure the clubs are there in years to come for future generation of golfers to enjoy.

“People want to ensure that the money they have to invest in sustainability is invested in the right way and the team that I’ve assembled will assist everyone on all these regards.”

WHO IS ON THE TEAM? Golf Ireland has a National Sustainability Committee which guides this team which includes Anja Murray and Alan Lauder, two leading ecologists who are liaising with clubs to ensure their biodiversity measures are best directed. Biodiversity is a key focus for Golf Ireland given that a large portion of courses are “out of play” and available for nature.

Jim Young is a decarbonisation consultant who is assisting Golf Ireland as an organisation and its affiliated clubs reduce their emissions and measure same. Gráinne Kelliher, a sustainability consultant, assists Golf Ireland in grant applications, sustainability advice and woodland management and preservation.

Golf Ireland’s other partners on this team include GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf and the ATPI (Association of Turf-Grass Professionals Ireland). Jonathan Smith is the Executive Director of the GEO and Damian McLaverty is the CEO of the ATPI and both work closely with this team.

ARE THRE GRANTS AVAILABLE FOR CLUBS WISHING TO PURSUE SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS? Yes, there are several grants available, and Courtney is pursuing additional avenues over the coming months with a view to sourcing the funding available, but the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is one of the easiest to avail of.

“The SEAI are the first to approach,” Courtney says. “We put 69 solar panels on the roof at headquarters at a cost of just over €30,000. We got an SEAI grant of €8,600, so a net cost of circa €22,000 and the projected savings means that the payback period on that is less than three years.”

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO THE WIDER COMMUNITY? The ecological benefits that come with preserving the natural fauna and flora that all contribute to a healthy local ecosystem are obvious to see, but through a collaboration between Golf Ireland and the ATPI, a portal is currently being developed – and should be available by the end of the year – in which all pesticide usage will be logged.

And among the additional initiatives Courtney is trialling is a food waste collection which is being carried out at some golf clubs at present with a view to expanding nationwide over the coming years. This initiative sees Thorntons Recycling perform collections of all the food waste accumulated on a weekly basis, taken away and turned into compost over a 12-week period and returned to the clubs as compost ready for use on the golf course, for bedding and local community residents and groups such as the Men’s Shed or Tidy Towns will be able to avail of free compost for their planting as well.

HOW CAN YOU PLAY YOUR PART? Making golf sustainable is not the sole responsibility of the clubs and governing bodies, each individual can and does make a difference. Check out the sustainability scorecard to see what steps you personally can make to help safeguard the future of your club and the game in general.

To check out Golf Ireland’s Sustainability Plan in full CLICK HERE

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