Environmental stewardship is central to the ethos across all Resonance Golf Collection courses. The impact of pesticides on wildlife and groundwater, water scarcity and energy costs are daily considerations in striking a balance between sustainability and enduring playability.
Richard Mérieux, our Superintendent, discusses the ecological initiatives undertaken at Golf d’Opio-Valbonne.
Golf de d’Opio-Valbonne has been deeply committed for several years already to ecological transition, with every action on the course carefully considered to ensure respect for the natural resources and biodiversity that surround us.
Richard, our Superintendent, focuses his work around three pillars that constitute the fundamentals of responsible course management:
- Water management
- Preserving biodiversity
- Controlled use of products
1. Water management
Our water originates from subterranean rivers that meander beneath the vast expanse of the Alpes-Maritimes region. Therefore, we utilize boreholes, which are redirected toward an existing retention basin that dates back to the course’s inception in 1966. This basin holds a capacity of 5000 cubic meters, serving as a reserve buffer during challenging times.
While we consistently strive to enhance our irrigation system, there is room for improvement. The initial network was conceived during a period when resource conservation was far from a primary concern. Furthermore, the prevailing philosophy was one of envisioning a golf course as an expanse of complete greenery. As a result, numerous sprinklers are now rendered redundant or require reconfiguration in terms of their zoning, as they are watering areas beyond the playable zones.
The fundamental premise of any irrigation system should be straightforward: refrain from watering the roughs and focus solely on the playing areas. Consequently, we are engaged in refining certain sprinklers, transitioning from full-circle patterns that occasionally extended to the adjacent road or forest, to more precise sprinkler designs. The objective is to consistently optimize water efficiency. This led us to implement zoned irrigation for the fairways. During droughts, we can now target only a narrow strip of fairway, approximately 25 meters wide, rather than the standard 40 meters. This allows us to maintain tighter control over water consumption and also preserve the quality of the playing areas.
A pivotal avenue for conserving water lies in the analysis of the grass varieties employed. Transitioning the flora is a potent tool for reducing water consumption. We are acquainted with specific grasses that exhibit superior resilience to drought, lower water requirements, and the ability to withstand winter conditions. However, the terrain’s features, the exposure, the local climatic profile, and even certain areas must be conducive to their integration. A grass such as Bermudagrass thrives in warm temperatures, abundant light, and colonizes in a manner akin to couch grass but in a finer manner. Yet, at Opio-Valbonne, we contend with undulating terrain, limited exposure due to the prevalence of trees, and even zones that experience particularly cold winters. We possess an area nicknamed the “icebox” around holes 11, 12, and 13, as it barely thaws during the winter months. Consequently, contrary to the majority of courses in the region that sow Bermudagrass, we have opted for a blend of grasses comprised of ryegrass, fescue, and bentgrass.
Conversations with various government agencies regarding water matters have become considerably more open in the past year. The drought of 2022 facilitated an extensive exchange of insights into our operational methods, our resource preservation policies. The state authorities now possess a deeper understanding of our practices. During inspections and various meetings, we were able to comprehensively outline our challenges and the measures we’ve already undertaken to enhance resource conservation. This communication and transparency are essential.
2. Biodiversity preservation
Opio-Valbonne encompasses a multitude of microclimates. Direct sunlight isn’t uniformly present across the course, rendering it quite demanding to maintain. Such a layout necessitates particular attention to air circulation. The meticulous care of the forest and the selective approach to deforestation are crucial to encouraging the flow of both air and light over the playing areas. Notably, everything that is trimmed is mulched and returned to the site, enriching the soil. Even the larger wood chips are not removed; they serve to construct wooden walls throughout the course. I’ve even fashioned a serpentine wall along the 11th hole. Initially, golfers didn’t quite grasp the concept; they thought we were squandering wood, and some even left with a log or two in hand. Yet, these types of walls not only enhance the landscape, but they also serve as ideal habitats for insects. This is why we’ve retained the dead olive tree stumps on the 17th hole. Not only do they possess aesthetic value, but they also provide an apt means of honoring the site’s past as a former olive grove. Moreover, we contribute to preserving the site’s biodiversity by offering these natural nesting spots.
The 18th tee presents yet another prime example of the ongoing dialogue we maintain with nature. The tee platforms on this par 3 are composed of synthetic material to safeguard the surrounding trees. Opting for a traditional tee would have necessitated clearing the forest, effectively leading to the removal of certain trees. However, this would have significantly altered the overall ambiance of the location. The decision to use a synthetic tee is thus aligned with our commitment to preserving the site’s integrity, rather than compromising its character for the sake of the course.
3. Controlled use of products
For numerous years, we have been experimenting with methods to fortify plants and best shield them from disease attacks that could lead to catastrophic outcomes. As we delve deeper into understanding the sites we work on – the subsoil composition, the climate, the grasses that thrive or struggle – we progressively improve our ability to limit the impact or virulence of certain diseases. However, finding the right formula, identifying the sensitive areas of the course, and consequently anticipating things broadly to ultimately reduce the reliance on products takes time. In fact, I wouldn’t speak of a “zero pesticide” approach, but rather a “zero synthetic product” strategy. There will still be pesticides after 2025, but they will need to carry a certified organic label. We also need to focus on how we amend our terrains. Personally, I prefer to finely distribute our fertilizer applications to ensure that plants receive only what they require, while being certain that nothing leaches into nearby watercourses.
If we aim to limit diseases like dollar spot or fusarium, thereby avoiding product usage, we must focus on soil management and consider the prevailing climate. Soil management serves to aerate the earth, enhance water penetration, and facilitate gas exchange. Subsequently, we need to remain vigilant regarding the climate, weather conditions, and storm events that can foster the proliferation of bacteria, fungi, and consequently, diseases. In practical terms, some years, consistent soil management might suffice without necessarily resorting to intricate fertilization or treatment strategies, while in other instances, unfavorable climatic conditions might work against us. Thus, forgoing synthetic products will inevitably bring about greater complexity, dependent on the course’s circumstances. It’s an important message to convey to golfers: future conditions will necessitate heightened tolerance and understanding.
Interview with Guillaume Verney-Carron, Manager of Golf d’Opio-Valbonne
At Opio-Valbonne, we are fortunate to serve as stewards of 220 hectares of nature across the entire estate. Thus, we strive for the most comprehensive understanding possible of what needs safeguarding and how we can optimally interact with this biodiversity. Conducting a precise assessment allows us to validate or adjust the measures we’ve already implemented in relation to specific species. We have a genuine need for knowledge. This label, and particularly the survey of species it entails, enables us to acquire a deeper understanding of the fauna and flora inhabiting the course. It also serves as a crucial communication tool not only for players but also during public meetings that we increasingly hold with municipalities, regions, and other public stakeholders.