Guildford Golf Club on the Merrow Downs enjoys a wealth of history and tradition, home to one of the finest all-weather courses in the South of England. A private Members' Club, founded in 1886, Guildford is the oldest golf course in Surrey.
Guildford Golf Club not only provides an attractive and varied setting for golf, but equally supports considerable ecological and landscape interest. Situated on the eastern perimeter of Guilford in the Surrey countryside, Guildford Golf Club supports a well-established 18-hole golf course, which forms an integral part of the regional golfing community. The Course is largely downland in character however does still retain a number of chalk heathland areas, which are the traditional habitats on the golf course. This type of landscape is slowly disappearing from our countryside, which in turn will reduce the diversity of plants and animals found on the course. Neglect, mis-management or over-management can reduce the value of these areas for wild life and it is therefore important that consideration is given to balancing the actual needs of golf with those of local indigenous wildlife.
It is the Club's long-term aim to restore its character to one of downland and heathland nature. Guildford now has in-place a woodland management plan that will give focus to the management of woodlands around the golf course. In previous years, several areas of the golf course which were previously grassland or low scrub have been allowed (due to a lack of management) to follow the pattern of natural succession and become dominated by scrub trees such as hawthorn, blackthorn, birch and oak, which in some places has enhanced the aesthetic and ecological value whereas in others has actually detracted from the course as a whole.
Following liaison with numerous sources including, Robert McGibbon from the Heathland Restoration Project, Isobel Girvan from Surrey Wildlife Trust and Lee Penrose Ecologist at STRI (Sports Turf Research Institute) all have suggested that the sites be restored to enable a rare habitat the chance to survive. These sites are rich in plant, insect and animal life that if neglected could be lost forever.
Some impressive scrub clearance work has been undertaken in order to expose the low lying Ling (Calluna vulgaris), bell heather ( Erica cinerea) and western gorse (Ulex gallii) followed by localised scarification. Due to the rapid regeneration of gorse (Ulex europaeus) in certain areas of the course its continual management should be considered of great importance if it's to remain visually impressive and ecologically viable. It should therefore be the aim of any management to retain gorse in its healthiest state and also ensure that individuals do not reach a height whereby they block the outstanding views that are such an important feature of the course.
Grassland management is also important to enhance the Downs. The Club has a policy of cutting and collecting all areas of rough grassland on a cyclical basis in order to retain low levels of nutrients within the soil. This work will prevent encroachment of the broad-leafed grasses which are less aesthetically and ecologically pleasing whilst having the ability to trap stray golf balls and provide a poor golfing hazard. Any management that is carried out in these rough areas is limited to times outside the bird, small mammal and invertebrate breeding season i.e. April to August, and therefore carried out between September and March. Within the grassland management plan are designated areas for composting, which once established will provide the Club with its own compost for borders surrounding the Clubhouse and create an external revenue.
The introduction of Dormouse nesting boxes in conjunction with the Surrey Wildlife Trust is an excellent initiative which should provide ecological benefits over time. The Stag Beetle piles dotted around the course are also an impressive ecological project, which will attract the attention of Members as well as the targeted beetles. The publicity raised from all the above work may help to transform the usual image of golf as a selfish land use with no interest in the countryside or wildlife.
One of the most valuable and memorable features of the Golf Course are the outstanding views north towards central London and over the South Downs it will be imperative that the woodland management plan takes account of these views and ensures that previously high quality views can be restored. This will involve removal of much of the quick growing scrub amongst the lower canopy of perimeter woodlands whilst retaining some of the larger feature trees to act as defining features and to retain the ecological corridor effect of the site.