Environmental protection becomes part of the strategy

“We depend on acceptance” – according to Jean-Claude Parent, President of the GC Owingen-Überlingen and Chairman of the Marketing Committee of the German Golf Association, golf can hardly ignore the topic of sustainability. “The topic has now become extremely relevant.” Also because every golf course is part of society, but at the same time “above all has to work economically”. Subject areas such as “Golf & Nature” and sustainability, according to the marketing expert, will in future be an integral part of the development plans of the individual golf clubs.

Cooperation with external experts

Parent has followed the development of “Golf and Nature” at the Owingen-Überlingen Golf Club, which is now fully owned by the club. Here the topic has been slowly approached. A collaboration with Thomas Hepperle, honorary nature conservation officer in the Lake Constance area and active at the Heinz Sielmann Foundation, made the beginning. “He found the golf course scenically interesting,” Parent recalls. The various activities of the club, for example in the preservation of old fruit tree varieties or the care of high-quality extensive areas were assessed for the first time by an expert outside the golf scene.

This was followed by a cooperation with the Bund Naturschutz, BUND for short – a path that many golf courses still shy away from because there is a fear that this association is generally critical of golf courses. “We were actually surprised,” President Parent sums up his experience of the first contacts, “we had with Dr. Boll a contact person who approached the topic in a very cooperative manner.”

Convince with sincerity

According to Parent, it is essential for the success of any golf club, that the other person gets the feeling that the golf club is not simply doing greenwashing, but is seriously concerned about the environmental issue. In the case of Owingen-Überlingen, this developed into a productive cooperation: The BUND consultant even created a long-term concept for dealing with the topic of nature on the site. Continuity is another point that Parent Golfanlagen recommends with regard to the approach: “For me as club president, that’s essential, we have to get the members on board with the topic.”

Communicate the relevance of the environmental issue

Shaped by the experiences at Club Owingen-Überlingen, Parent defines the following essential points from a marketing perspective for the German golf landscape when it comes to golf and nature:

  • The numerous initiatives in the clubs and on site are not always reflected in a commitment to the DGV “Golf & Nature” program. “It’s a very complex program that was set up ambitiously by the association and doesn’t always reach the bottom.”
  • How can the topic be integrated into the processes of a club, that is already busy with personnel issues, member services or sport in everyday life? “Many clubs are of good will, but the manpower is often lacking.”
  • The points of contact between the topic of golf & nature and the member themselves must be identified. “We have to convey the relevance of the topic and enable the clubs to then implement projects at the grassroots level.”
  • How can the topic of golf and nature be combined with the topics of tourism and profitability? “In the meantime, we even sell eco-points at the GC Owingen-Überlingen,” says Parent, explaining the possibilities associated with sustainable management of a facility. And: In the course of a tourist orientation of regions, the nature and sustainability aspect can be worked out as a major strength of golf.

Easy entry with “Habitat Golf Course”

In Baden-Württemberg, the “Habitat Golf Course – we promote biodiversity” campaign has meanwhile found an entry into environmental issues that is comparatively uncomplicated and is therefore well accepted by the clubs. “We tried to set up a bottom-up process here, and it worked very well,” says the satisfied marketing expert. In other words: the direction of action comes from the clubs, i.e. from the base. Uncomplicated, small information events create an easy start, the costs are minimal. 56 golf courses in Baden-Württemberg are now participating.

The best thing about it – both the process from the grassroots and that from the association side towards the club are now mutually beneficial, according to experience in Baden-Württemberg. Beyond the golf course habitat project, one or the other golf course discovers, that it wants to deal even more with the subject of nature and the environment and registers with the DGV Golf & Nature program.

In the end, according to Parents’ experience, every system benefits from the commitment: “The doors in the approval process, with the authorities, open more easily.” The acceptance of golf is growing. “We used to be a problem for many, now we are part of the solution.”