THE impact of climate change on links golf courses across the UK is to be investigated as alarming reports suggest that many are in danger of vanishing in less than a century due to climate change.

Scientists are to carry out a complete audit of the coastal golf courses of Great Britain and Ireland, and with five courses chosen in consultation with golf's governing body, the R&A to provide a more focused examination.

It forms part of a wider initiative being spearheaded by the R&A that has raised concerns about the effects of climate change on coastal courses.

One of the courses that researchers from the University of St Andrews will focus on is the home of golf, the Old Course in St Andrews.

READ MORE: The Cool List - 20 Scottish golf courses every fan must play 

Scientists estimate almost £400 million worth of damage could be caused by coastal erosion around Scotland alone.

The Climate Coalition, which represents more than 130 organisations in the Britain studying the effects of climate change, in a 2018 report, said that golf faced an "unexpected threat" from even a slight rise in sea levels, and Open Championship venues such as St Andrews could be under water by 2100.

The report, which added that six of the UK’s seven wettest years on record have occurred since 2000, predicted that “golf courses will crumble into the sea”.

“Climate change is already impacting our ability to play and watch the sports we love,” said the report, adding that extreme weather is a factor in declining participation and lost revenue.

One in six Scottish golf courses were on the coast, where they are at the most risk of erosion due to rising sea levels.

In 2017, it emerged that owners of the 458-year-old Montrose Golf Links, was considering launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise £5 million to save what is reputedly the fifth oldest golf course in the world that is losing more than two metres a year to the sea.

By then it had already had to move three of its holes.

In a study published in 2015 Fraser Milne, a post-doctoral researcher at Dundee University, estimated that the North Sea has crept 70m towards Montrose in the previous 30 years.

The new three-year project, led by Professor Bill Austin, of the University of St Andrews is part of an action plan by the R&A . which granted £90,000 towards the research looking into wider challenges facing the sport’s sustainability.

Mr Austin said St Andrews would be their first detailed study site, while a further four are being picked based on sea-level trends around the whole of the United Kingdom.

"We will develop some of the project methods here in St Andrews, in collaboration with local green keepers from the Links Trust, before extending out to other sites, both here in Scotland and across the wider GB & Ireland network," he said.

"I’m not a keen golfer – so there is no danger of the project only visiting championship courses – indeed we’ve discussed with the R&A that we need to understand conditions across a range of course types and resourcing levels.

"We will use a GIS (geographic information system) approach to deliver the full-scale picture and eventually we hope to deliver climate mitigation and adaptation advice from the project itself.

"I’m excited to be working on a project that can make a difference and delighted that the R&A have seen fit to fund this research."

In 2018, the Royal Dornoch Golf Club supported a pioneering project that it was hoped would help prevent part of its course succumbing to coastal erosion.

A number of gaps in the saltmarsh habitat in the Dornoch Firth meant part of Royal Dornoch’s Struie Course had been vulnerable to flooding and being lost to the power of the waves.

The new project aimed to transplant hundreds of greenhouse-grown native saltmarsh plants to help restore the natural defences.

Dr Clare Maynard, a research scientist at St Andrews University and chair of the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology (MASTS) Coastal Forum, was the project manager of Green Shores, the £155,000 scheme promoting the restoration of saltmarshes.

And Royal Dornoch Golf Club provided £10,000 a year for three years towards the project to help safeguard the 10th fairway on its Struie Course, which had been under attack from the sea.

Coastal change and its impact on golf courses was identified last year by the R&A as one of a handful of priority issues to be investigated over the next three years.

The Coastal Change Action Plan is a key component of its Golf Course 2030, an initiative to consider the impact, both positive and negative, of the changing climate, resource constraints and regulation on golf course condition and playability.

And R&A report into the climate change issues facing golf courses seen by the Herald says that 32% of the Northern Ireland coast and 44% of England and Wales is "armoured" - the practice of using physical structures to protect shorelines from coastal erosion.

But in Scotland it is just 6%.

"Today, coastal management is covered by a complex patchwork of legislation and is carried out by a variety of organisations with different responsibilities," said the report.

"Current shoreline management tends to be reacting and poorly structured in some areas and continuation of current practice will lead to coastal degradation and loss of amenity value.

"Shoreline Management Plans have the ambition to provide a structured and consistent framework and this may be better achieved when they are refreshed in coming years."

READ MORE: Climate change threatens to kill off golf in the country where it was first played

Professor Bill Austin said: “The oceans and seas that surround many of the world’s top golf courses play a vital role in their future viability. Many are already seeing the impact of coastal erosion and flooding brought on by more storms and rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

"This research will allow us to consider all climate-related factors that will have an ever-lasting effect on the Home of Golf.

"Our research will also look at the blue carbon opportunities and the role of long-term carbon storage in Scotland’s coastal habitats surrounding golf courses. If we can protect these carbon-rich ecosystems we can prevent the release of greenhouse gases that would otherwise contribute to global warming, support their rich biodiversity and improve their resilience to future sea-level rise.”

Steve Isaac, sustainability director at The R&A, said, “This marks our initial investment in research, education and communication projects in support of our Golf Course 2030 initiative. We are funding these projects to develop best practice in sustainability and provide solutions to golf course managers that will help to sustain and improve the standard of golf course conditions and playability for the benefit of those who enjoy the sport.

“The results of the projects being funded will contribute significantly towards meeting the aims of Golf Course 2030 and provide insights to the golf industry as we consider how to address the challenges and opportunities presented by a changing climate, resource constraints and regulation on golf course management.”