Germany’s golf weather 2023 in a north-south comparison
Frequent extreme weather poses different challenges for German golf courses, as a north-south annual comparison shows. Golf Sustainable has made a research with the Marine Golf Club Sylt and the Golf Club Garmisch-Partenkirchen and outlined the challenges faced by the two golf clubs before the different weather conditions in 2023 based on weather data.
The rise in the average annual temperature, the ever-increasing number of hot days, increased heat stress in cities, more frequent droughts and heavy rainfall and an increase in winter precipitation: This accumulation of weather extremes was most recently documented at the 13th Extreme Weather Congress in Hamburg on September 27, 2023. “This year, the picture of global climate change is becoming very frightening in extreme weather situations,” said the renowned climate researcher Annette Menzel in a recent interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung. It is precisely these extreme weather changes that golf course managers often have to take into account when operating the courses.
The golf clubs located in the south and north of the federal republic face very different challenges. The amount of precipitation is much lower in the north than in the south of Germany. The Marine Golf Club Sylt reports an amount of 708 mm for 2023 (as of 20.12.203) from its own weather station, which is not only below its own multi-year annual average (785 mm) and the national average (905 mm), but also far from values in the foothills of the Alps. According to the German Weather Service (DWD), Garmisch-Partenkirchen enjoyed more than twice as much precipitation in 2023 as the North Sea island (1597 mm).
At the golf club in Sylt, the amount of precipitation in 2023 was higher than the record low of 2022 (535 mm) since records began 20 years ago. For the Sylt team led by CEO Roland Grüger, however, increased precipitation must be viewed in a differentiated way. On the one hand, the soil dries out quickly anyway due to the strong winds on the North Sea and water may well be needed here – as in 2023 during isolated dry periods. However, heavy rainfall on greens without built-in drainage and impermeable clay soil often also has a counterproductive effect.
In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, on the other hand, you rarely have to worry about the course being too dry. On the contrary: the golf course in Oberau is part of the Loisach Valley, which is blessed with plenty of groundwater, is located in a landscape and drinking water protection area and, as part of acooperation with the Munich municipal utilities to protect water resources for the Bavarian metropolis, is a role model among golf courses. “Drought is rarely a problem, everything is lush green here, unless we don’t have any rain for six or seven weeks in summer,” says sports manager Christian Fellner.
Heavy rain and flooding
When it comes to water as a resource, the Werdenfels team led by board member Fellner and head greenkeeper David Malcolm often has too much of a good thing. It is not unusual for the club, which is only allowed to protect the area around the clubhouse with a dam, to be flooded by the Loisach, especially when it rains continuously. Parts of the pitch are then under water, which can sometimes lead to the closure and costly and time-consuming renovation of bunkers or other pitch facilities. In 2012, flooding and a mudslide led to damage totalling 400,000 euros. In 2023, the weather gods were almost merciful by Garmisch-Partenkirchen standards. “We had water on the course twice, once just before Father’s Day and once later,” reports Fellner.
In 2022, Oberau was hit by a powerful hailstorm, which also affected the golf course, which suffered from the small impacts for several days. However, the damage was not as severe as Bad Bayersoien in neighbouring Ammertal this year. The facility was also spared rockfall and mudslides.
Sylt is also familiar with flooding. “We occasionally have floods,” says Grüger. An elevated sea level that reaches the golf course is generally not uncommon. Flooding was also part of everyday life in 2023, although this was a far cry from the heavy rainfall damage in southern Germany, such as in Nuremberg in early August 2023.
The biggest challenge for the North Frisians is the fierce wind that sweeps across the island. This was also the case this year. Gusts of wind, which according to the DWD correspond to warning level 1 from a speed of over 14 m/s, occurred ten times in 2023 and thus more frequently than in the previous year. On August 11, a heavy squall with a speed of 28.4 m/s swept over the course according to the records of the Sylt Marine Golf Club. “We had more summer storms than before,” says head greenkeeper André Bockwoldt. Tree branches had broken off and the site could not be watered for several days due to the persistent wind.
Temperature, heat and UV radiation
In terms of temperatures, southern locations in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are ahead of the rest, especially in the summer months. The DWD reported no fewer than 15 hot days (daily maximum temperature of over 30 degrees Celsius) for Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 2023. According to the “Alpine Climate” report published by the DWD, GeoSpere Austria and the Federal Office of Metereology and Climatology MeteoSwiss, there was a significant heatwave at the beginning of July 2023 in the municipality on the Zugspitze – even at higher altitudes – with a three-day period north of the Alps and in Valais.
A repeat in late August was followed by the warmest September in the Alpine region since records began. “Bavaria will approach the climate conditions of northern Italy,” predicts climate researcher Menzel. A pattern that some golf course operators in southern Germany will probably have to adapt to from now on.
But Sylt is also increasingly experiencing high temperatures. Although the average air temperature on the golf course in 2023 was rarely above 20 degrees Celsius (namely only three times in June/July), increased UV radiation of over 6 ET0 (mm) was measured here on three days in June. With 1,741 hours of sunshine measured at the DWD weather station List/Sylt in 2023, the island in Schleswig-Holstein receives more sunshine per year than Garmisch-Partenkirchen (1,656 hours).
Measures and exchange
The challenges for golf course operators are great in view of the extreme weather conditions. Accordingly, numerous measures have already been taken. In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, they once reacted to the location in the flood area when building the course, built the aforementioned dam, raised all the greens and tees – and, for example, also built the latest training building at the driving range on stilts; the tee hut has flaps on the lower edge so that the water can drain away.
In addition to the measures on their own course, the Sylt team is also looking to exchange information with the other three facilities on the island so that they can support each other in emergency situations. “We are in the process of setting up a machine pool,” Grüger reveals. The greenkeepers at Marine GC Sylt, GC Budersand Sylt, GC Morsum on Sylt and GC Sylt are in daily contact with each other. Simply because they all travel to and from the island from the mainland to their place of work every day. On the ferry, there is an intensive exchange of ideas independent of the employer. “We have no secrets from each other,” confirms Bockwoldt.