Pack your waders, we’re going… golfing! How climate change is threatening UK sports

Pack your waders, we’re going… golfing! How climate change is threatening UK sports

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A new report by the UK-based Climate Coalition finds that Open Championship venues like the St Andrews Old Course could be under water by the end of the 21st century even with a small increase in sea level rise. The report, called Game Changer: How climate change is impacting sports in the UK, finds that golf, football and cricket will face the most severe consequences. The Scottish skiing industry gets a very dark prediction as well, with the Climate Coalition saying it could collapse within the next 50 years.

“Climate change is already impacting our ability to play and watch the sports we love,” the Climate Coalition writes, and adds that extreme weather leads to declining participation and lost revenue.

The Open Championship, the UK’s only major professional golf tournament, is hosted on links courses including St Andrews, Royal Troon, Royal Birkdale, Hoylake, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Muirfield, Sandwich, Turnberry, Portrush, and 2018 venue Carnoustie. A links is the oldest form of golf courses and originated in Scotland. The name comes from the Scots language, meaning rising ground or ridge, and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes. As such, all links are at grave risk.

In Montrose, one of the world’s oldest golf courses with over 450 years, the third tee had to be sacrificed in 2017 due to reinforcement measures to protect the first and second tees from coastal erosion. In 2016, research done by the University of Dundee showed that in the past 30 years the North Sea has crept 70 metres towards Montrose.

“In a perfect storm we could lose 5-10 metres over just a couple of days and that could happen at pretty much any point.”

Director of the Montrose Golf Links explains in the report “As the sea rises and the coast falls away, we’re left with nowhere to go. Climate change is often seen as tomorrow’s problem – but it’s already eating away at our course. In a perfect storm we could lose 5-10 metres over just a couple of days and that could happen at pretty much any point.”

Other sports suffer too. In football, grassroots clubs are feeling the most severe impacts with bad weather reducing their playing seasons and flooding pitches. Cricket is also struggling, Cardiff-based club Glamorgan alone has lost 1,300 hours of cricket due to extreme weather and rainfall since 2000. The risk to the sport is so great it is already struggling to be commercially viable as less and less people get involved in the sport.

Interestingly enough, the solutions showcased in the report focus mostly on renewable energy and sustainability. While those are undoubtedly extremely important, it is clear sports need to adapt to changing climate conditions and build resilience to slow onset and sudden extreme weather events. Otherwise, economic losses could become an existential threat to the UK sports industry.


Download the Climate Coalition report Game Changer: How climate change is impacting sports in the UK by clicking here.

Visit the Climate Coalition website.

Cover photo by Andrew Rice on Unsplash

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