Some of our most precious golfing treasures are fading away with every passing tide and storm. This special NCG investigation looks at how coastal erosion is changing the links landscape
What is coastal erosion?
Coastal erosion is described by the British Geological Survey as “the removal of material from the coast by wave action, tidal currents and/or the activities of man, typically causing a landward retreat of the coastline”.
Waves are formed when wind blows over the sea. There are two types – constructive and destructive – and the latter aids coastal erosion.
Waves can smash against a cliff, causing the rock to break apart, and this is called hydraulic action. Pebbles can grind along a rock platform over time, making them smooth, and this is known as abrasion.
Attrition describes where the sea carries rocks and they knock against each other, while sea water can also dissolve certain kinds of rocks. This is called solution.
Dunes are a prominent feature of coastlines and have an important role to play in the aesthetics of links golf. Many were formed thousands of years ago when sand was produced by glaciers and delivered to the coast by rivers.
The coast and those dunes are constantly modified by tides, winds and waves and are always changing – both growing and eroding – over time.
The issue now is several-fold. We’ve developed land near coasts for human habitation and built towns. Erosion is threatening them, and golf courses are a part of that.
We’ve manufactured conditions in bays and harbours – by carrying out activities like dredging – and they have altered the properties of the coast somewhere else, which can accelerate or change the natural erosion process.
Our climate, and in particular rising sea levels and extreme weather events, is also playing a more and more significant role.
A big storm, for example, can massively quicken erosion – stripping away metres of dunes in a single night.
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