Huntercombe wins Syngenta Operation Pollinator Award

Sustainability
Bluebells at Huntercombe Golf Club

Huntercombe Golf Club has won the prestigious Syngenta Operation Pollinator Award at the 29th Golf Environment Awards.

Golf Course Manager Grant Stewart and his team were recognised at the awards which took place at the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) in Harrogate last week.

The award celebrates golf clubs that establish and manage areas of pollen and nectar-rich wildflower habitats, creating essential food and nesting resources for pollinators, including native bees, butterflies and insects.

Judges recognised Huntercombe’s extensive approach to habitat conservation including cultivation of wildflower meadows and bluebells, installation of beehives, hedgehog hotels and boxes for birds and bats.

Stewart said: "In the 1980's golf courses had a bad reputation for heavy use of pesticides and chemicals. Now, that's completely changed. We use nature to solve problems in turf management now. It's about managing your land in the most eco-friendly way."

Originally from Lossiemouth, Stewart has worked at Moray Golf Club, Fairmont St Andrews and Sunningdale Golf Club before moving to Huntercombe as course manager.

He says encouraging populations of hedgehogs and smaller birds at Huntercombe has helped control earthworms and the damage caused by worm casts on fine turf.

Marcus Lovelock, General Manager at Huntercombe Golf Club, said: “Grant and his team are top professionals and it’s been really special to see their conservation work come to fruition.

"I’ve never worked with anyone that has such a keen interest and understanding of the ecological value of a golf course.”

Huntercombe Golf Club greenkeepers at the STRI Golf Environment Awards

Huntercombe is located within the Chiltern Oxfordshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is considered one of the UK’s finest inland courses. 

Designed by Willie Park Jr. and laid out across a natural plateau, the 6,310-yard layout comprises chalk, acid and neutral grasslands and supports more than 30 species of butterfly and moth.

The club chronicles all species of flora, fauna, bird and wildlife in its own nature guide and works in partnership with Butterfly Conservation’s Upper Thames group to lead guided walks.

Lovelock says members have loved seeing the chronicling of Huntercombe’s wildlife populations, including high-priority conservation-level species such as the small skipper, chalk hill blue, small tortoiseshell, small heath, purple hairstreak, small copper and gatekeeper butterflies.

Huntercombe GC

Huntercombe retains golf design firm Lobb + Partners and recently restored areas of the course in keeping with Park Jr’s original design, which has helped with habitat creation and conservation.

Trees and shrubs have been extensively cleared to revive lost or overgrown areas that have been repurposed for pollinating habitats.

Huntercombe is best known for its ‘Park Pits,’ more than 100 deep grass hollows that flank its fairways and greens and are used to cultivate wild thyme to support mining bees.

Wild thyme growing in 'Park Pits'

New ‘Park Pits’ have been added to the par-five 16th hole, directing golfers away from nearby housing while providing extra habitats for pollinators.

Huntercombe Golf Club was a finalist in several Golf Environment Awards categories in 2021, 2022 and 2023, including the Syngenta Operation Pollinator Award. 

Lovelock described the award win as 'brilliant' and deserved recognition for the club's greenkeeping team.

This year’s Syngenta Operation Pollinator finalists were:

  • Goring & Streatley Golf Club, Berkshire

  • Heswall Golf Club, Wirral

  • Warren Golf Club, Devon

  • Huntercombe Golf Club, Oxfordshire

Huntercombe will receive a grant to help fund new ecological and environmental projects, benefit from a visit from a specialist agronomy consultant and will be entered into the Foundation Award in Amenity Horticulture Course.

Grant Stewart was also a finalist in the Conservation Champion of the Year category.

Other winners at the 2024 STRI Golf Environment Awards included:

Ecological Project of the Year

  • Canterbury Golf Club

Conservation Champion of the Year

  • John Milne, Garmouth and Kingston Golf Club

Sustainable Project of the Year

  • Royal Dornoch Golf Club

International Environmental Golf Course

  • Golf della Montecchia, Italy

UK Environmental Golf Course of the Year

  • Colmworth Golf Club

     

Tina Jessop, Head of Brand and Communications at STRI Group said: “The GEAs shine a light on the impressive work from each finalist, and we hope these awards will continue to empower all golf clubs to begin implementing environmentally sound practices on their courses.”

Get involved: Find out more about Operation Pollinator.