04 Jul 2022 | Industry news |

Glenelg recognised with sustainability award

by Dane Heverin

The Glenelg team at the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association awards night.
The Glenelg team at the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association awards night.

Indigenous vegetation, and local (and not so local) wildlife are thriving at Glenelg Golf Club are thriving and that is why the Adelaide club have been recognised with the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association’s (ASTMA) Claude Crockford Sustainability & Environmental Award.

At last month’s award ceremony in Melbourne, Glenelg’s superintendent Tim Warren and biodiversity manager Monina Gilbey became the first South Australians to receive the honour, while Gilbey is only the second ever woman to win the accolade since its inception in 1996.

Gilbey is not a golfer. In fact, she laughs as she tells people that she is “actually not interested in playing golf”.

Instead she has been drawn to the game by the beautiful garden beds, the singing birds, the frogs in the ponds and all the other natural wonders that can be found living within the green space.

“Golf was never on my radar,” Gilbey said. “I’d known Tim for years through my garden design stuff. I was between jobs and he rang me one day and offered me this job at Glenelg Golf Club and I was like ‘why would I want to work at a golf course?’

“He said ‘you never know. You might enjoy it. Just see what happens’. And I love it. It’s a great place to work.”

Awards are not new to Gilbey as she claimed many during her days making public gardens, schools, coastal areas and other spaces more sustainable, but a significant difference in her move to golf has been navigating the male-dominated landscape.

She is one of two women on Glenelg’s team of 15 - Warren’s daughter, Sophie, is an apprentice greenkeeper - while the ASTMA figures show that only 1.4% of the workforce are female. 

Gilbey loves her team and is not intimidated by those numbers, although she is very eager to have more female colleagues.

“I’m hoping that this encourages more women to pursue working in golf,” she said.

“I don’t think women really think about it and I guess you can’t be what you can’t see. You don’t really see photos of female greenkeepers or see them on the golf course or meet them. In my job, which is even more specialised on the biodiversity and vegetation side of it, you don’t even know those things exist.

“I get to work in 49 hectares of land everyday which is fantastic and I think people don’t realise how great an environment it is to be in. They don’t really realise what’s there.”

What is there is a flourishing world distinct from suburbia.

At Glenelg a healthy frog population inhabits the ponds alongside rafts of ducks, spectacular birds rest on tree branches with their calls clear for all to hear, plants glisten in the sunlight, butterflies flutter among those plants and bees work to serve their queen.

“Golf courses are like the last arc of protected habitat,” Gilbey said.

“We did this insect survey across Adelaide and the first month of the study found that our golf course was more biodiverse than a remnant land site. The scientist doing the survey said we probably have so many insects because we have water. 

“That insect biodiversity leads to bird diversity, microbat biodiversity because insects are so important. We recently had a bat survey as well and they found four types of microbats and one of them was not regularly found on the Adelaide plains. 

“Grange Golf Club was the same so clearly they’re finding food and safety. Where else are these animals going to go?”

They are coming from far and wide to spend time at Glenelg too. 

“A couple of times we’ve found migratory birds. They’re called red-necked stints. These are birds that fly from Siberia to the Coorong here in South Australia which is at the mouth of the Murray River,” Gilbey said.

“They fly backwards and forwards each year and they come through our course sometimes and have a rest before the next leg of their journey, and you think ‘where else would they rest if they didn’t have the golf course?’ They can come to a safe place.”

Calls for golf courses to be transformed into open parkland since they were transformed into dog walking tracks, picnic spaces, bike paths and more during Covid-19 lockdowns at Northcote in Melbourne and Moore Park in Sydney have deeply concerned Gilbey.

She fears that there would be no safe spaces left in suburban areas for native vegetation and wildlife if courses ceased to operate.

“I was talking to a friend about biodiversity and my work not long ago and a woman came up to me and said ‘how can you be a biodiversity manager at a golf course? What would there even be to manage?’” Gilbey said. 

“She said ‘during the lockdown they opened up the golf course and we were able to go in there and walk around and we saw what a waste the land was’. 

“This is what we’re fighting against. We have to convince people about the importance of having that land. 

“I said to her, and she didn’t believe me, ‘the fact that it’s private land and it’s protected from people is the reason why we’ve been able to protect the animals and the plants’. 

“People coming into the course with dogs and kids and balls flying everywhere, every square inch would be trashed. The dogs would be chasing the birds, balls would be going into nests of birds, it would just be terrible.”

Having those types of conversations is something Gilbey never envisioned for herself.

“It’s pretty amazing I landed here really,” she said.

One thing she has always envisioned however, is creating a better environment for vegetation and wildlife that habit it and she has no shortage of ideas of how to keep doing that at Glenelg.

“Tim mentioned when he accepted that award that ‘if you think my ideas are crazy, you should hear Monina’s’,” she said with a laugh. 

“But that’s kind of what gets you places - thinking outside the box.”

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