Credit: Creative Commons

A Little Birdie Told Me: Old Course Could Disappear due to Climate Change

Niamh unpacks climate change’s inevitable effect on St Andrews’ Old Course.

St Andrews proudly has the title of the ‘Home of Golf’, holding the Old Course, the oldest and most famous golf course in the world. The Old Course has hosted The Open 29 times, more than any other golf course and has accounted for 4 out of the 7 highest attendances in the event’s history, setting the record six times since 1960.

The crowds didn’t fail to disappoint this year, setting a new attendance record as 290,000 spectators came to watch the 150th Open. The event has been estimated to generate £200 million for the Scottish economy, with £100 million coming from ticket sales alone. Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t argue that the golf industry breathes life (and tremendous amounts of money) into Scotland and its economy, but its future is looking bleak. A 2021 report by Climate Central claimed that the town of St Andrews, and the Old Course, could be devastated by rising sea levels and climate change within the next few decades.

Forget the floods of tourists, St Andrews might be underwater by 2050.

Credit: Niamh Molloy

For years we have been warned about the impact that climate change will have on all our lives, but it has always seemed like a distant future. Across the world, countries are ravaged by floods, forest fires and dangerously hot temperatures. It seems St Andrews could be next. In 2021, Climate Central released a report showing the projected impact of climate change on Scotland. Due to increased rainfall and rising sea levels, large areas of the country are expected to be flooded by 2050, and even more by 2100.

Some of the areas predicted to be hit in the next twenty-three years are Glasgow Airport, the Kelpies, and the Old Course— just some of the most important areas of the country for tourism. In 2019, a report by the Climate Coalition stated that, “Only a small increase in sea-level rise would imperil all of the world’s links courses before the end of the century”. It won’t take much more damage from us to our environment for it to deal a significant amount of damage back to us.

Credit: Creative Commons

Not only will this have a devasting cultural impact and take an emotional toll as it destroys key tourist and cultural landmarks and destinations, but it will also be extremely expensive. By 2050, it is estimated that £400 million worth of infrastructure and property across Scotland’s coastline will be at risk due to erosion of the coast and rising sea levels; this includes St Andrews’ famous golf courses and University of St Andrews buildings.

The potential destruction of one of the leading tertiary education facilities in the world for teaching and research is not something you can put a price on. And what about the residents of this town, the students, and alumni? Are we just expected to watch as this beautiful town that holds so many friendships, memories, and opportunities is flooded and destroyed?

Credit: Niamh Molloy

This isn’t a hopeless battle, or a fate set in stone; there are things one can do to reverse this change and protect the golf courses, beloved town, and planet. Research projects like the ones being undertaken by the School of Geography and Sustainable Development here at the University of St Andrews and the R&A Golf Course 2030 Project are crucial to help show the effects of climate change on golf courses and other open spaces, as well as providing solutions for a way of life where the grass is greener and stays green instead of being flooded and ruined.

It’s clear that climate change is not just an inevitable problem in the future and it’s an issue now—one we can counteract with raised awareness and collective action. The picturesque coastlines are one of the things that put St Andrews on the map; we can’t let rising sea levels because of our selfish destruction of the planet be the thing that wipes it off.



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