Floodlight on the Range: Bright but highly controversial

A drink in one hand, the golf club in the other, party atmosphere on the driving range. The excitement about the floodlit range or the brightly lit golf course on holiday is usually great: a putting tournament at night certainly sets the mood. In addition, one knows the numerous party photos of US driving ranges, which attract visitors even at night. Why not, so the attraction of golf is undoubtedly promoted.

Things get tricky when a practice range or golf holes on a course in the middle of nature are brightly lit instead of an urban driving range. Floodlights on golf courses, although increasingly popular outside of holiday areas, are problematic because they are considered harmful when it comes to insect conservation.

About half of all insect species are nocturnal. For their orientation, they need the darkness and natural light of the moon and stars to find their way around, avoid predators, search for food, and reproduce. According to Maja Grubisic of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, who conducted a study on the effects of light pollution on insects, “an artificially illuminated night disrupts this natural behaviour – with negative effects on survival rates.” According to their study, flying insects are attracted to artificial light sources and then die there from exhaustion or as easy prey for predators. The light also attracts insects away from other, darker ecosystems, depleting insect populations.

Coordination with nature conservation authorities necessary

The problem is known to nature conservation authorities throughout Germany. The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation has published a guide to redesigning and retrofitting outdoor lighting systems that explains the issue of light pollution in detail. Therefore, the installation of a floodlight system on a driving range is not a project that can be implemented quickly. Without early coordination with the local authorities and their approval, the installation of a floodlight system makes no sense. And even if all permits are in place, a floodlight installation can cause massive public anger. This was the experience at least of the GC Augsburg in Bavaria, which finally stopped its plans after a Facebook group called “Burgwalden defends itself – no floodlights at Augsburg Golf Club.”

Light pollution nationally and internationally

Throughout Europe, regulations on the subject of light pollution vary. In Spain or Italy, there are federal laws that have as a direct objective the control or limitation of light pollution. There is no such law in Germany. However, with the amendment of the Federal Nature Conservation Act, Section 41a has been redrafted since 2022, which lists, among other things, “substantial alterations” to lighting on streets and roads, as well as exterior lighting of structures.

Separate law for Baden-Württemberg

For floodlighting on golf courses, this means that even if the planned installation of the floodlighting is not subject to official approval, “the authority responsible for nature conservation and landscape management must be notified in writing or electronically prior to its implementation if the light emissions emanating from it are likely to cause significant adverse effects on animals and plants of wild species.”

In Baden-Württemberg, the issue has been addressed in a new regulation of the Nature Conservation Act since July 22, 2020. Here, paragraph 21 states “Interference with insect fauna by artificial lighting in outdoor areas shall be avoided. When installing lighting systems in outdoor areas, the effects on insect fauna, in particular their impairment and damage, must be reviewed and the objectives of species protection must be taken into account. Illuminations,
located in or radiating into nature reserves, national parks, natural monuments, protected landscape features, and legally protected biotopes, shall be approved by or with the consent of the responsible nature conservation authority only in exceptional cases, unless required for traffic safety reasons.”

Observe spotlight types

Floodlighting systems are also a case for specialists because the exact technical details of the spotlights are important. Light control and light distribution play a role here.

One thing is certain: The issue is a sensitive one. Nothing really works without official agreement. The impact on the image of the golf facility should be considered. There is no way around the realization that the floodlights will certainly not have a positive effect on insect diversity. In this respect, the decision pro or contra remains with those responsible for the golf course – it is not uncomplicated.