Climate change is threatening St Andrews, the birthplace of golf

St. ANDREWS, Scotland — It’s the rare golfer who isn’t worried about the weather, which can ruin a long drive.

But across the North Sea, on the bleak edge of Scotland, heralded for centuries as the birthplace of golf, this era’s green keepers fear a much more dire forecast. In what they call a nightmare perfect storm, high tides and easterly winds will hit, likely accelerating coastal erosion.

“We’ve been just scared for years,” said David Brown, general manager of the 460-year-old Montrose Golf Links.

“You’re really dealing with the unknown,” he said. “We could have no perfect storm for the next 10 years, and then quite easily in one winter, we could have three times that perfect storm.” And then how much land will we lose?”

Montrose, which the government estimates has lost dozens of yards of coastline over the past few decades, is thought to be the most threatened of Scotland’s roughly 600 courses, more than a sixth of which are coastal. But in a sign of how global prestige can only offer so much in the way of safety, researchers believe St Andrews, home to the world’s oldest course and host of the 150th British Open, is at greater risk of flooding. 30 years.

Scientists do not think that the old course will be underwater forever so soon, the hole in the road will be swallowed forever by the sea. But golf has had no choice but to begin weighing its own role in climate change—especially with expansive, lush and thirsty courses that sometimes overgrow trees and then require fertilizing and mowing—while puzzling over how to maintain fairways and greens. around the world.

Scientists have warned for years how a warmer planet, which could lead to stronger storms and rising sea levels, could change the sport. Citing climate change, the president of the International Olympic Committee said Games organizers “may have to look at the overall calendar and whether there should be a change.” Winter sports on artificial snow face the future, and activities such as dog sledding and fishing are transformed in the Arctic.

Golf will be no exception.

“Some of our most historic, famous and respected golf courses are at risk and it’s something all coastal courses should think about,” said Tim Lobb, president of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects, who predicted the rush. Turf reduction efforts already underway at some courses.

Scottish golf’s long history as a cultural and economic juggernaut gives the issue particular urgency in the region, where the Open is scheduled to conclude on Sunday. At St. Andrews Links alone, the six public courses, including the Old Course, together host about 230,000 rounds a year near West Sands, a quick drive from some of the world’s most revered holes. (The seventh course at St Andrews Links, which opened in 2008, is elsewhere).

Courses in the east of Scotland, which have low rainfall and are easily eroded, are generally more at risk than those on the west coast, where the geology is less vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

But the responses keep getting wider.

Royal Dornoch, a beloved course in the north of Scotland, sought to revive a bog that had eroded and threatened to collapse. Lundin, about half an hour’s drive from St Andrews, has added £100,000 of fencing to protect against erosion, while the R&A, the Open’s organiser, has set aside hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants to “develop a solution”.

There may be limits to what courses can do, however, and their options are sometimes narrowed by money, location, the severity of the threat, or the drastic consequences of operating in one area. Some people worry that the resources that may be available to a place like the Old Course, rich in history and international import, may not be available elsewhere.

“There are fears about golf courses, but we can help protect golf courses if we do the right things to protect the environment and to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change,” said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, in a seaside interview. on Friday. “We have a lot of work to do in Scotland. It’s about more than protecting golf courses, but in places like this there’s no doubt that’s a big part of it, too. “

He added: “The climate is changing but we are really focused in Scotland on protecting what is most important to us in the face of these challenges. And it’s very evident this week of the year, especially, how important golf is to Scotland.

Some experts, including Professor Bill Austin of the University of St Andrews, expect engineering fixes to increase over the years, balanced by more natural solutions, which could include managed sea intrusion.

One persistent question, however, is whether these efforts materialize quickly enough.

At Montrose, Brown runs a course that has recently been in voluntary rather than stopover business: tees have been lost, holes shortened and rerouted and fairways overheated. There’s only so much money to go around, yet climate change consumes about a third of the course’s green budget.

“Without government protection, we could see 50 years of golf in comfort — or two or three perfect storms in one winter, in 10 years,” he said.

The concerns around St. Andrews aren’t that dire yet, but they’re growing. Under a particularly severe scenario outlined in a Scottish Government project report last year, the Western Sands could shed 750 meters into the Union by 2100 if there are high emissions and a “do-nothing” approach to beach management.

And Climate Central, a research group based in Princeton, New Jersey, predicts that the Old Course and the surrounding area will become more susceptible to temporary flooding by 2050.

Austin, who is based at the St Andrews School of Geography and Sustainable Development, also expects flooding to threaten the old course, saying disruptions “may be inevitable”. Further strengthening of the dunes, particularly at the end of the estuary, could offer greater protection to the course, he said, building on years of work already done by St Andrews Links.

The government report also suggested beach nourishment efforts and the possibility of course redesigns “to ensure that golf can be played sustainably at St Andrews well into the year 2100”.

How long, exactly, is unclear.

“I’m sure the 200th Open will be played on something very similar to today’s old course, but there may be some engineering behind the scenes,” said Austin, who received some research funding from the R&A. At the St. Andrews Coffee House on a rainy morning last week.

However, beyond that, his prediction is more prophetic.

“If you asked me about the 300, then I would say the old course would be moved,” he said, “but at least there will be something at St Andrews that will have the feel of the old course and, I think, the heritage. .”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.