Royal Portrush’s race to see the 2025 Open become the greenest major ever

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When the Open Championship made its long-awaited return to Royal Portrush in 2019, the Emerald Isle was the ideal setting for what, at the time, would be the greenest major championship ever held.

When strong sunshine baked Carnoustie in 2018, more than 100,000 single-use plastic water bottles were consumed and the R&A responded by issuing each player and caddie with personalised stainless-steel bottles in 2019, and despite the considerable cost, handed out 5,000 Open branded reusable bottles to fans to fill at the 19 water stations spread throughout the grounds.

But when the Open returns to the Causeway Coast again in 2025, it will be even greener and this time, it’s the County Antrim club and not the game’s governing body who take the lion’s share of the credit.

The COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for Portrush, relieving them of 90 percent of their annual green fee revenue at a time that the club’s profile has never been higher, but rather than wallowing in the losses, they used the opportunity to focus on the goal of reaching carbon neutral by 2025, something that no major championship hosting venue has ever achieved.

“All of our equipment, our tractors, our lawnmowers, our buggies, as we replace them, we only buy electric vehicles,” says former captain Ian Kerr, who made the announcement in 2021 that carbon neutrality would be achieved by 2025. “We’re nearly through the entire transitioning of the fleet and we have a big fleet as you can imagine.

“We’ve put solar panels on the roof of the clubhouse – they’re very discreet, you can’t see them because they’re inset in the hollow of the building – and we’re putting solar panels on the greenkeeper sheds and those will enable us to power the equipment and the clubhouse as well.”

Solar panels have the ability to generate power, of course, but their value is not truly realised without excess electricity usage being eliminated, and this issue was also addressed.

We’ve changed all our lighting in the clubhouse to LED and it’s on movement switches,” Kerr added, before explaining that the 25-year-old boiler and heating system, which had previously run on kerosene, had been replaced with a new system that uses eco-friendly biofuel instead. Running on BIO LPG, the new heating system has reduced emissions by 90 percent from those witnessed with kerosene.

The temporary water stations that the R&A had installed for the 2019 Open now have permanent replacements at various stages throughout the course and club members have been encouraged to bring reusable bottles with them, but with such a large volume of visitors funnelling through year-round, they’ve taken it a step further and wherever possible, have removed all single-use plastic such as plastic water bottles and plastic bags from the premises.

“Our greenkeeping sheds are unbelievable,” Kerr further explains, “you’d expect them to be a mess of grass and muck, but the machines are all cleaned because we don’t want dirt going on the greens and all of that grease and oil – which you still have to have for pneumatic operations, even on electric vehicles – is all disposed of properly and taken off site. So, everything possible that we can think of, we’re doing to reduce our carbon footprint.”

That path to carbon neutrality doesn’t come cheap, however, but though Royal Portrush are funding the initiatives themselves, the R&A are fully behind the process and are able to lend a helping hand in a variety of different ways.

“They’re absolutely backing it to the hilt,” Kerr confirmed. “Obviously we’re funding it ourselves, but they’re helping us with support on the agronomy side and we buy all our equipment from a supplier that all the Open rota courses buy off as well.

“We’re examined by an external firm that comes along and hopefully tells us ‘yeah, you’re now carbon neutral and our ambition is to be there by 2025.

“It is an expensive undertaking, but it’s an investment in the long-term future of the club. There are a couple of government grants available to any organisation transitioning to green energy, but apart from that, it’s all internally funded.”

The Open Championship in 2019 was the most attended Open Championship ever, and though the 150th Open at St. Andrews in 2022 has since eclipsed that, huge attendances are again expected in 2025 and with that, comes a massive demand for food and infrastructure, but as Ian Kerr explains, the R&A are very proactive in minimising emissions by shopping local

“Circular economy is one of the things we’re currently working with them on by trying to ensure that materials can be repurposed and by using a local supply chain, keeping all the suppliers within a certain radius, particularly in regard to food supply because the consumption is enormous,” she said.

Though sustainability initiatives have significantly ramped up at Royal Portrush in recent years, we can trace the desire back to the course renovations in 2015 that were requisite to bring the actual golf course to the next level.

“With the R&A and Mackenzie & Ebert, we were really responsible in the way that we planned it and executed all of the work,” says Graeme Beatt, the Course Manager. “Everything reused and recycled. Any turf that we could possibly lift and re-lay, we did, including the sand dunes, the marram grass. We were lifting nine-inch-thick slabs of marram grass with the diggers and relaying it, so we weren’t disturbing the surface. It was big expense to do that, but environmentally, it was really the responsible thing to do.”

Whilst most vehicles are now electric, certain heavy-duty machinery needed to remain using liquid fuel, but even that was a problem that could be navigated sustainably.

“We’ve switched the fuel to HVO – Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil,” Beatt explains. “It’s a biofuel and there is 90 percent less emissions with those compared to diesel. There was no switchover at all, you just ran the tank down with the diesel and then filled up with the biofuel. It’s amazing, you don’t even have to change the filters or anything, which I was surprised about.

“I was a bit worried, so I started off with the oldest equipment, so if it broke or blew up, it would be fine,” he joked.

Like with everything, there is a cost involved, and HVO is approximately 10-15 percent more expensive than diesel, so making such a switch is not possible without the buy in and complete support of the club management and in that regard, Royal Portrush again go above and beyond

“The club is run by the members,” Beatt says, “and anything like this is brought to management council and they’ve all been really supportive, really keen to make a difference and be seen to be leaders in sustainability.”

There are no guarantees in life, and the final reckoning has yet to come on whether carbon neutrality can be achieved by 2025, but two things are certain.

They’ve done just about everything they could have to achieve that goal, and the 2025 Open Championship will be the greenest major we’ve ever seen.

This article appeared in Irish Golfer Magazine – to read the edition in full CLICK HERE

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