TU Munich conducts research on the subject of ecology and golf

Prof. Dr. Johannes Kollmann is Managing Director of the Research Department Ecology and Ecosystem Management at the Technical University of Munich. Since 2017 he has also been implementing international projects within the framework of Golf & Nature of the German Golf Association. Golf meets science – an interview

As a non-golfer, how did you come across golf projects in the first place?

Kollmann: In 2017, I became aware of the ecological aspects of golf through Norwegian cooperation partners. The colleagues from Scandinavia in particular are doing particularly innovative research on upgrading golf courses. This is how I came into contact with the German Golf Association.

You are not a golfer yourself, what reservations did you have?

Kollmann: I was already familiar with the subject of golf from my student days in Freiburg. In the 1980s, when golf courses were in full growth, the subject of golf had a rather negative connotation in conservation circles. However, in recent years I have got the impression that there is a lot of potential for nature conservation upgrading of golf courses in Germany, for example, and I then looked at several courses. I found that many have been upgraded very successfully. We have also proven this through student work, with clear indications of how landscape and nature change positively through golf courses, what types of vegetation appear and how many animal species live there. There are really excellent examples, such as the Valley or Woerthsee golf courses in the Munich area.

What is wrong with the cooperation?

Kollmann: The challenge lies in communicating with the golfers, because some of them are a special type of person. They are often powerful personalities with a lot of influence in business and society, but their approach is sometimes a bit down-to-earth. When we then explain the scientific approach and our goals to them, it is often an interesting mix. You have to create a special communication so that you really get golfers excited about the topic of ecological upgrading of golf courses and that they understand the complexity of the ecosystems on their courses in the basics.

How many projects are you currently running in connection with golf and nature?

Kollmann: At the moment there is a cooperation project with the Scandinavian Golf Association, which I am working on as a German partner. Then I have just applied for a new large project at the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, which is in the preliminary examination. That would extend to all of Germany. And finally, I supervise several student projects and theses that support a project for the ecological upgrading of hard roughs financed by the German Golf Association.

Prof. Dr. Johannes Kollmann (2nd from right) with Dr. Gunther Hardt, responsible for the Golf & Nature project at the German Golf Association, at a field demonstration with the greenkeepers of the Munich GC

How do your students react to golf projects?

Kollmann: You study landscape architecture and landscape planning at the TUM in Weihenstephan and are therefore familiar with practice-oriented ecological work. Many also know that golf courses are designed objects that can be used to make money and deserve respect accordingly. There’s no big frown, and because it’s a more original topic than what we usually do, “Golf & Nature” is in high demand. A student who has done a project at the Munich Golf Club is a golfer himself, but these are exceptions.

Your approach and working methods are scientific. In the golf courses, when it comes to ecology, you mostly meet laypeople – how difficult is it then to find a working level?

Kollmann: Not really, but of course that depends on the individual personalities. Sometimes we have a dialogue through the ‘pane of glass’, but overall the communication is going well and is profitable for both sides. I learn a lot.

What has positively surprised you in your work on golf courses, what is negative?

Kollmann: It is positive when greenkeepers with a good feeling for ecological locations and with many years of experience bring about lasting changes, such as Hans Ruhdorfer at GC Wörthsee. A lot is implemented here, and when there is free rein from the club management – as in this case – positive things happen for nature, for example when flower strips are set up or trees are planted. What is negative about some clubs is the somewhat superficial treatment of the subject with correspondingly undifferentiated course management, for example by mulching hard roughs at the wrong time. In the case of grassland with previous agricultural use and a correspondingly high nutrient content, this leads to grass-dominated, species-poor stands that are of little interest to insects.

On golf courses there are often cases of a kind of allotment gardening that has little to do with ecology – does that bother you?

Kollmann: We often have this case in the immediate vicinity of the clubhouses when a kind of representative country house look is to be created with ornamental plants in the DIY store style. This is often a strong contrast to the more natural parts of the system. Sometimes, however, the wrong species are planted in natural-like situations, i.e. shade plants in full sun, acidic soil species on chalky soil, etc. That bothers me, mainly because it makes neither economic nor ecological sense. This even happens with golf courses that are otherwise very positively positioned: On the one hand there is a really successful, flowery and structured lean lawn on gravel – almost a nature reserve – and next to it are yellow irises and cattails planted at the pond, which stand out go there because the location doesn’t suit.

In addition to the pure golf holes, does the ecological orientation of the areas perhaps require more knowledge than is often the case?

Kollmann: It’s not easy and good will alone is not enough. In addition, some golf courses have great difficulties with the local conditions. Here in the Munich area, the GC Munich Eichenried is a case that is struggling with drained and heavily decomposed fen soil. Then you have violent soil settlements and enormous nutrient release. So a really difficult story, but also an interesting challenge that we are happy to face in cooperation with the operators.