The Wisley GC: Sustainability is part of the club’s DNA
“I’m fortunate to be employed at a golf club where you can make projects happen.” John Glendinning says this sentence at the end of a lengthy conversation in which he sets the record straight about what The Wisley Golf Club is about. After all, the image that the general public in London has of one of the UK’s leading clubs is told relatively quickly. According to various golf portals, the who’s who of the golf scene meets at the very expensive and very exclusive The Wisley. Colin Montgomerie is the club’s president, British Open winner Francesco Molinari can be seen training on the driving range, and CEOs are having lunch in the clubhouse. Slightly hidden at the end of a side road in the Surrey foothills, a gate opens to the visitor, leading to the 224-acre site with two championship courses.
“Our membership supports sustainability projects 100 per cent”
The size of the site, the exclusivity of membership, the proximity to a major city that needs space for housing and public sports areas – all this also means commitment to the golf club. The examination of one’s self-image is part of day-to-day business because exclusive private clubs in London are now very often confronted with the question of what benefit they have for the general public or to what extent they take resources away from it. The newspaper reports in which the extent to which private golf clubs occupy land that could also be made available to the public or could be used for house building are discussed quite seriously do not go unread by either the management team of The Wisley Golf Club or its members. “Our membership cares about how it is perceived. It supports all sustainability projects 100 per cent and pushes for implementation,” Glendinning notes.
The golf club’s general manager studied geology before ending up in the golf business in a roundabout way. For The Wisley Golf Club, he is a stroke of luck in times of climate change. Glendinning has already thoroughly researched and thought through questions of energy supply, water management and many other details relating to sustainability. Some projects that did not have to be approved by local authorities have long since been implemented. The club saves 50,000 plastic bottles a year by installing water fountains. The introduction of the paperless office has been accomplished and looking at the open spaces in front of the clubhouse, the manager notes, “We’ve increased the areas we mow intensively. 220 acres are available for fauna & flora“. The development of the meadows and rough areas and the monitoring of species are implemented with an external consulting firm. Since 2015 The Wisley Golf Club is also GEO certified.
Future-oriented water management
Regarding energy, the club’s management has reached its limits for the time being, at least as far as the clubhouse is concerned. “In the past, construction was done completely differently; you would never do something like that today,” is Glendinning’s summary, looking at the endlessly high walls of the clubhouse. The energy turnaround in the clubhouse is hardly feasible, but solar panels are in the long-term plan to be installed on various exterior buildings.
Where things get tricky is when it comes to water – a perennial issue in Greater London, too, where dry spells in recent years have sometimes left golfers looking at entirely brown courses. “Our members are happy to bear the cost of this if we can make ourselves more sustainable here,” Glendinning explains. Monthly laboratory testing of the water, which documents the harmlessness of the water quality on the golf course in terms of residues of pesticides or too much fertilizer, has been standard for years.
The club has been concerned with the goal of future-oriented water management for years. “Our water project has been running since 2016,” notes the manager. The purpose of self-sufficient supply and reduced consumption is high on his list of sustainability projects. A new water reservoir, with a capacity of around 15,000 m³, is not enough in times of drought, he says. Not even now, when the entire sprinkler system on one of the two courses has been replaced, it is now the best that irrigation technology currently offers, with water savings could be up to around 30 per cent.
Communication is crucial
In addition, the membership has undergone a process of adjustment: the watering of fairways and greens has to be reduced at certain times. At The Wisley, too, members no longer play on lush green fairways when the weather does not permit it. However, it is proving difficult to obtain permission for the club to have its well, so the club has set itself the goal of tackling the issue of water conservation from every conceivable angle.
“Communication is crucial,” Glendinning can tell us from his experience. It’s sometimes not easy to explain to members why the fairways of an expensive private club don’t always look lush and green. The realization that saving resources is independent of a golf club’s financial resources, however, has since set in among The Wisley’s membership. Ultimately, Glendinning concludes, the club is interested in continuing to be well-liked by the public. It is now a recognized fact that the question of how golf clubs deal with the resource of water plays a significant role in this.