Carbon Par 1

Estimating the carbon status of land used by Icelandic golf courses

By Edwin Roald

Climate change is among the world's most pressing contemporary issues. It has been widely reported that an increase in greenhouse gasses, including CO2, is directly linked to rising temperatures and sea levels, declining air quality and unstable, extreme weather. Carbon sequestration, the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide, is key to mitigating climate change. Common sequestration methods are forestry, various geoengineering techniques and changes in land use. The latter includes reclaiming or avoiding the draining of wetlands, which releases CO2.

Grass can store carbon

Generally, golf courses can be considered large land users. The development of some of them has included wetland drainage or the use of previously drained wetlands. Emissions from golf courses on drained organic soils can thus be very high, while courses on mineral soils can sequester carbon. Grass, golf’s quintessential playing surface, can sequester considerable levels of carbon (Zirkle et al, 2011). Furthermore, managed grasslands, or turf, can sequester more carbon than unmanaged (Bandaranayake, 2003).

Obviously, the calculation of a golf facility’s complete carbon footprint must account for management inputs, including emissions from mowers, energy used to pump irrigation water and the manufacturing and delivery of products such as fertilizer and seeds. However, with recent breakthroughs in electric, autonomous mowers and continued innovation in renewable energy, such as small wind turbines and solar cells, a new reality may present itself. Drawing on new knowledge from research performed by Pirchio et al (2018), the hypothesis is that the more frequent mowing made possible by robots may speed up carbon sequestration or achieve equal sequestration with lower fertilizer applications.

This is the topic of Carbon Par, one of STERF’s newly funded research projects, operated by Eureka Golf in collaboration with The Agricultural University of Iceland, and the first ever STERF-funded project operated entirely in Iceland. The project, which runs from 2020 to 2022, will estimate the carbon status of land used by Icelandic golf courses, setting a benchmark for each golf club to improve upon and hopefully play a meaningful role in combating climate change.

Can golf clubs improve the carbon status of their land-use?

The project’s aim is to answer the following research questions:

a) What is the CO2 loss and carbon storage from land use of cultivated and managed areas on Icelandic golf courses, in total and by facility?
b) Can the estimation process be streamlined beyond the project description? If yes, how?
c) What is required in terms of funding, time and other resources to produce a similar estimation for other Scandinavian countries?
d) Are there marked trends revealing or suggesting how golf facilities can, in a general sense, easily improve their carbon status from land use without negatively influencing the playing experience? If yes, what are they?

The carbon leaderboard

Carbon status from land use on all golf facilities within the Golf Union of Iceland will be estimated through mapping, references to a national soil databases, soil sampling, interviews and analysis. Perimeters of various golf course turf elements, such as fairways and managed roughs, will be drafted up using underlying geo-referenced aerial photographs. Where required, contact will be made with facility representatives to verify borders of pre-existing wetlands and/or 3-4 other basic soil types.

Soil samples will be collected from a selection of golf facilities and analysed by dry combustion, delivering %C and %N content. Access to IGLUD (Icelandic Geographic Land-Use Database) and the ÝMIR-soil database will allow soil C content to be compared to comparable areas near the perimeter of the golf facilities, indicating loss or sequestration of C during the golf courses’ lifetime. The project will then produce:

a) a “leaderboard” of Icelandic golf facilities, by carbon status, or carbon par, from land use.

b) a breakdown of each/all courses by the chosen 3-4 basic soil types.

c) a report on the estimation process and recommended protocol for estimation in other countries.

d) an identification on wetlands that can be reclaimed.

e) general recommendations as to how golf facilities can make quick and easy improvements to their carbon status from land use.

A special effort will be made to avoid that suggestions in items d and e will negatively influence the golf playing experience.

Project emissions to be offset

In addition to communicating scientific results, dissemination will aim to provide inspirational leadership and raise awareness among golf course managers on climate change and realistic mitigation methods, as well as informing authorities and the non-golfing community on golf’s potential in this area.

CO2 emitted by the project will be offset through annual payments to the Icelandic Wetlands Fund and/or the Kolvidur Carbon Fund.


Bandaranayake, W., Y. L. Qian, W. J. Parton, D. S. Ojima, and R. F. Follett. 2003. Estimation of Soil Organic Carbon Changes in Turfgrass Systems Using the CENTURY Model. Agron. J. 95:558-563. doi:10.2134/agronj2003.5580

Grossi, N., Fontanelli, M., Garramone, E., Peruzzi, A., Raffaelli, M., Pirchio, M., Martelloni, L., Frasconi, C., Caturegli, L., Gaetani, M., Magni, S., McElroy, J., & Volterrani, M. 2016. Autonomous Mower Saves Energy and Improves Quality of Tall Fescue Lawn, HortTechnology hortte, 26(6), 825-830.

Pirchio, M., Fontanelli, M., Frasconi, C., Martelloni, L., Raffaelli, M., Peruzzi, A., Caturegli, L., Gaetani, M., Magni, S., Volterrani, M., & Grossi, N. 2018. Autonomous Rotary Mower versus Ordinary Reel Mower—Effects of Cutting Height and Nitrogen Rate on Manila Grass Turf Quality, HortTechnology hortte, 28(4), 509-515.

Zirkle, G., R. Lal, and B. Augustin. 2011. Modeling carbon sequestration in home lawns. HortScience 46(5): 808–814.

Arnalds. 2018. Moldin og hlýnun jarðar