Impact of climate change on golf courses to be studied

Montrose Golf Links

Scientists from the University of St Andrews are set to carry out a study to asses the impact of climate change and coastal erosion on the world’s most prestigious golf courses, including the Old Course in St Andrews.

The R&A has awarded a research grant of £90,000 to the School of Geography and Sustainable Development for the project "A Blue Carbon Audit of Coastal Golf Courses: New Opportunities for Climate and Coastal Change Mitigation and Adaptation".

The research, which will be led by Professor Bill Austin over a period three years, will investigate the impact of the changing climate and coastal erosion on the world-famous golf course. It is estimated that almost £400 million worth of property and infrastructure around Scotland's coastline is at risk due to the effects of coastal erosion.

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The Coastal Change Action Plan is a key component of the R&A Golf Course 2030, established in 2018 as an industry initiative to consider the impact, both positive and negative, of the changing climate, resource constraints and regulation on golf course condition and playability.

Funding for the project comes from The R&A through its Coastal Change Action Plan,
published in 2018, to which Professor Austin contributed as part of the School’s Blue Carbon research impact agenda.

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Many Scottish golf courses have found themselves threatened by climate and coastal changes in recent years, arguably none more so than Montrose Golf Links, home to the world's fifth oldest course.

Its championship layout has already been altered in recent years in an attempt to offset the threat of erosion that has seen the coast creep 70m closer to the course in the last 30 years.

In late 2018, senior figures at the club called for the game's authorities to pay closer heed to the challenges and threats posed by the changing conditions. It now appears those pleas have been heard.

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“The oceans and seas that surround many of the world’s top golf courses play a vital role in their future viability," said Professor Austin. "Many are already seeing the impact of coastal erosion and flooding brought on by more storms and rising sea levels as a result of climate change. This research will allow us to consider all climate related factors that will have an ever-lahsting effect on the ome of golf.

Our research will also look at the blue carbon opportunities and the role of long-term carbon storage in Scotland’s coastal habitats surrounding golf courses. If we can protect these carbon-rich ecosystems we can prevent the release of greenhouse gases that would otherwise contribute to global warming, support their rich biodiversity and improve their resilience to future sea-level rise.”

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Steve Isaac, the R&A's director sustainability, added: “This marks our initial investment in research, education and communication projects in support of our Golf Course 2030 initiative. We are funding these projects to develop best practice in sustainability and provide solutions to golf course managers that will help to sustain and improve the standard of golf course conditions and playability for the benefit of those who enjoy the sport. 

“The results of the projects being funded will contribute significantly towards meeting the aims of Golf Course 2030 and provide insights to the golf industry as we consider how to address the challenges and opportunities presented by a changing climate, resource constraints and regulation on golf course management.”

Grant funding includes a salary component for a Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews.

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