Building a County Network

In 2019 two golf clubs in Leicestershire – Longcliffe GC and Market Harborough GC – began to work together on environmental issues. Interest in wildlife issues had arisen at both clubs separately and a personal connection resulted in the dialogue starting. The Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust was approached for advice on aspects of wildlife and biodiversity and began to offer support in terms of surveys and reports (for example, a plant and pond survey done at MHGC.) The two clubs began to think more widely about environmental issues. The realisation grew that there was so much more that could be done. The England Golf website at the time had an Environment Policy template that was a great model, and an officer at EG became involved, visiting the area and encouraging the initiative.

The idea of establishing a group of clubs led to an invitation to all the clubs in Leicestershire and Rutland to come to a meeting. (Leicestershire is organised alongside Rutland in many spheres, not least men’s and ladies’ golf, and the wildlife trust.) England Golf was very supportive, as was the trust and the Midland Golfer magazine. The ‘meeting’ – which developed into a small morning conference – was planned for late March 2020…then guess what happened?

As the grip of the pandemic loosened, the conference was re-arranged for September 2021 courtesy of Longcliffe GC. A dozen clubs sent representatives, from about 25 across the two counties. We were very pleased with this level of interest. The main speaker was the CEO of the wildlife trust at the time, Tim Graham.

It was clear from the discussions and feedback that the clubs wanted to stay in touch, and to develop a network. Volunteers were requested to form a Steering Group (there were plenty) and the Leicestershire and Rutland Greener Golf network was launched. The group met in October 2021 for the first time.  It was clear that the clubs wanted a way of staying in touch with each other, rather than simply meeting once or twice a year at conferences. A Whatsapp group seemed too limiting so the best way forward seemed to be a website.

Since then, the Steering Group has met four times. It comprises volunteers, club managers, green keepers, and representatives from various agencies, most recently BIGGA and the Leicestershire and Rutland Golf Union (LRGU). A second conference was held in February 2022 – focussed on issues facing greenkeepers. Tom Flavelle, (then head greenkeeper at Cosby GC and now at Copt Heath GC) gave a great presentation on reducing chemicals, and developing wildflower areas. (See his case study, under ‘Chemicals’). Following that it was decided to do something different: we wanted the chance to visit each other’s clubs, to actually see things that were happening. So, the first site visit – courtesy of The Luffenham Heath GC – was arranged in June 2022. That was brilliant. Tom Sharpe, the general manager, and Jonny Peacock, the course manager, were inspirational.

Having found a generous sponsor, a small group of us have now managed to set up the website – www. Although the original idea was to be useful to clubs in Leicestershire and Rutland, the site has the wider aim of allowing any club or individual to explore what can be done and what is working. To begin with most of the material will be from the local area, but we are clear that the site should be open to all and offer experience and advice freely (with suitable disclaimers, of course.)

We are told by England Golf, who continue to support the initiative really well, that at the moment (July 2022) we are the only county-based network of clubs meeting to share ideas and solutions on sustainability. That feels good, but we hope we won’t be the only one for long.

We are a free-standing, independent group of volunteers. We are not a committee and have no formal posts or structures. We do, however, have an agreed PROJECT PLAN, and ‘leadership’ group. We are working in collaboration with a range of different organisations. At the moment, we are happy with these arrangements although how we ensure ‘sustainability’ for the group itself remains to be seen.

What are the key things about setting up a county group?  What advice would we offer?

– It only needs a couple of people to get it going

– Establish links to local wildlife and environmental organisations

– Get a range of people involved: be as inclusive as possible

– There is plenty of goodwill and willingness out there, and you need to talk to people

– Be OPEN. Have a plan.

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