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Ecology in Full Swing at Surrey’s ‘Nature Reserve’ Golf Club

Published on: 11 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 14 Jul, 2020

Looking back at the Effingham Golf Clubhouse across what used to be a concrete and tarmacadam tennis court, just one part of the ecological restoration programme.

By Chris Dick

High atop the North Downs with breathtaking views of the London skyline and northward over heavily wooded Wisley & Ockham Common towards Windsor Castle is a little-known Surrey gem.

Hidden behind tall brick walls, in its listed Georgian home, sits Effingham Golf Club.

To many it epitomises a traditional members’ club. But the setting belies its modern approach, with a newly refurbished pro shop and a GC2 simulator/swing studio.

But the hitherto hidden gem is the area of surrounding meadows, fields, farmland, woods and downlands which have undergone a dramatic transformation.

A 10-year ecology programme to transform the traditionally maintained and manicured grounds into a wildlife- and eco-friendly habitat has been completed in five years.

Course manager Jon Budd (L) with greenkeeper Darren Paintin, part of the eight-strong team looking after the grounds

“When the changes started, many were probably more interested in playing, rather than learning, for example, that 16 different types of grasses were growing alongside the fairways, where they had just lost balls,” said course manager Jon Budd.

“Golf courses used to have a bad name for using harmful chemicals and damaging the countryside,” he added. “But all that’s changed. Members and their families understand the environment much better now.

“Chris Packham and the BBC Springwatch team have done much to increase awareness, particularly among children. The club is now a member of Surrey Wildlife Trust, although that might have had something to do with one of the former captains being a chairman of the trust.

“Now it’s all about education which is why we are inviting local schools, such as St Lawrence Primary, to visit for nature walks once this coronavirus is out of the way.”

In 2019, after advice from the STRI Group (an independent body originally set up by the government to advise on best ecology practices) and the implementation of an ecology plan, the club opened to judgement on what had been achieved.

That year the judge’s first visit lasted three hours, starting by asking what the project the club wanted judged.

Mr Budd said: “We were standing with our backs to the clubhouse and I spread my arms out wide to encompass the entire 264 acres, which includes a fully working farm and fields, and said, ‘This’.”

Members were delighted to find their club named in the top five of a national ecology competition held by the STRI and first in the smaller Downlands category.

“After the general manager, Steve Slinger, and I had been up to receive the award in Harrowgate, it was put on display in the clubhouse and we got a proper budget. Anyone who treats being a golf course groundsman as just another job will never understand what it’s all about.

“This year we have gone straight into the finals for the main award with our eyes set on winning.

“Of course, the award is secondary to what we are trying to achieve here. We want people to know about us and the benefits this approach has brought. It’s still a private members’ club. But it would be great to change the way people think about golf clubs. They have changed.

“By sowing the right downland grasses and flowers and leaving them to grow we’ve encouraged the insects. This, in turn, has encouraged small vertebrates and they bring in all sorts of birds of prey. It’s common to hear owls and see buzzards, red kites, kestrels and sparrowhawks as well as many others.”

The competition results will be announced in January 2021.

Fellow greenkeeper Darren Paintin, who has worked at the club for 21 years, said: “Really, this is just a large nature reserve where people play golf.”

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Responses to Ecology in Full Swing at Surrey’s ‘Nature Reserve’ Golf Club

  1. Laurel Sayer Reply

    July 14, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Well earned congratulations to EGC. I’ve been doing a lot of walking there in the past few months and the wildflower areas look stunning.

    What an example of what can be achieved, lets hope others follow.

    • Harry Eve Reply

      July 18, 2020 at 10:37 am

      I also visit this wonderful course (not to play golf – my liking for the rough is too much of a handicap to impose on members).

      When you talk to the staff who manage the grounds you quickly gain an appreciation of their enthusiasm and understanding of the value of the land to wildlife. They have shown what can be achieved with a positive attitude towards nature. The future can be better if others follow their example.

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