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GEO Certified: Numbers Count! - The Use of OnCourse in the Netherlands

Tjeerd de Zwaan -

Recently, Wassenaarse Golfclub Rozenstein in the Netherlands received congratulations from GEO Headquarters on the “completion of the OnCourse portal for this year”. Congratulations were certainly welcome as the work coordinated by the club’s Sustainability Committee involved the complete transfer of data going back to 2015 to the new OnCourse platform.

Admittedly, in terms of time and effort, the road to completion of the latest version of OnCourse has been rather more strenuous than an 18-hole round of golf and remains, on top of that, work in progress if the system is to be used to its full advantage, at club level and nationally.

To ensure broad user profitability, the Netherlands Golf Federation (NGF) has insisted that the so called “Dutch portal” be tailored specifically to reflect the needs and requirements of GolfNL, the structure of local clubs and, not least or last, the importance of golf’s compliance with relevant legislation.

As far as the NGF is concerned, the process begins with the latter and does not stop with the completion of the annual data. So, in the case of the Netherlands, the kind invitation of GEO to clubs to consider, subsequently, the “extra distinction” of applying for “GEO Certified” is not optional, but mandatory, and for a good reason.

If golf is to be accepted as a serious player, operating at all levels, it needs a strong profile and positive proof that the sport is an integral part of society and effectively involved in the issues which drive the national debate. Expressing good intentions about sustainability through OnCourse is important, but certainly not enough in the competitive political environment in which Golf – and not just Golf – is expected to operate in the Netherlands.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, which in the case of golf means striving for a maximum number of GEO Certified clubs. At present, the NGF counts 98 certified clubs and 60 clubs working with OnCourse, and aims for more. When push comes to shove, verifiable numbers of certified clubs have impact, good intentions rather less so!

Golf in the Netherlands has come to appreciate what it means to be part of the solution, instead of being vilified for being part of the nation’s ills. The advantages thus gained are considerable as a recent example will show. In the ongoing discussion about the Green Deal Sport regarding the gradual phasing out of chemicals on sport surfaces (see the first Sustainability Experts Group Newsletter), political reality and technical possibility continue to struggle for precedence.

In a context of intense political pressure, it is quite an accomplishment for the “Golf Alliance”, the combined forces of the NGF, NVG (owners) and NGA (greenkeepers) to be tasked to prepare and present to the Minister – on behalf of the other co-signatories – a list of possible exceptions to the zero-use rule as from 2020. Even though Minister and Parliament will have the final say in the matter, the prominence of Golf amidst its peers is remarkable and goes to show what constructive, forward looking cooperation across “ideological” boundaries can achieve.

In the meantime, Wassenaarse Golfclub Rozenstein has applied for the nomination of an auditor with a view to assessing the developments and achievements since the club was last certified in May 2016. Over the last few years, Committed to Green/GEO has become part and parcel of the club’s sustainable management efforts.

In line with the experience at national level, the club realizes the importance of reaching-out to relevant stakeholders, be they the powerful local Water Authority as regulator of the water quantity and quality in the area or the two rather different local golf clubs with whom the club is engaged in a sustainability threesome which meets regularly to talk about best practices. All three are GEO Certified: numbers count!