Founder Ed Sandison started with a biodegradable golf tee. Next is a sustainable-based clothing line and "if I need to ruffle some feathers to get dialogue going about the environment, guilty as charged,” he says
Ed Sandison has been driven by two passions, both serving as reoccurring themes throughout his life.
In his mind, he presumed golf and marine biology would one day prove to be a catalyst for change. Happily, Sandison would assume a Sherpa role guiding advocates toward the mountain of environmental sustainability.
With climate change pretty much a part of everyday conversation, the former marine biologist inferred sustainability must rise to the golf industry forefront.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to the ocean, marine life and the habitats,” said an ebullient Sandison over Zoom. “We are seeing marine environments damaged by plastic pollution to an alarming level. It’s not just a golf issue. It’s a threat to the planet. Each time I would play golf, I’d always notice all the plastic tees thrown about, just lying there by the sea.”
That became the impetus to self-fund Oceantee, a sustainable UK-based golf business, in June of 2018. The goal? To supply premium quality golf products to players, clubs, owners and organizations globally that don’t have a negative effect on the environment.
“Change can only happen when people are forced to question themselves and myriad issues,” he said.
In the early 2000s, former U.S. Golf Association executive director and CEO Mike Davis shone a spotlight on course sustainability, as well as water conservation. For years, both were backburner topics. Awareness started moving the needle. Since then, peripheral sustainability matters that never received a second thought are now being re-examined. For instance, the R&A led a charge to ban single-use plastic water bottles at the British Open and install refillable drink stations.
“If we’re not looking at alternatives on the golf course that help the environment, it will be a huge, wasted opportunity,” said Sandison, adding that eliminating plastic packaging should be a top priority.
After Oceantee took off, the biodegradable bamboo tee — strong, flexible, quick to grow without chemicals or excessive water — launched as its first product. A campaign, or challenge, was initiated to get 25 clubs in England to sign up to purchase 100,000 bamboo tees.
It didn’t take long for England’s oldest course to sign on. Royal North Devon Golf Club in Northam, located near Westward Ho! Beach in the British Isles, banned plastic tees at the start of 2020. Local wildlife had been harmed. Some were eating the plastic tees.
“Our course is by the coast, and with plastic pollution hitting the headlines we decided two years ago to ban plastic tees,” said Mark Evans, RND general manager. “When the beach clean volunteers picked up rubbish, they highlighted this issue to the club.
“Every company should be looking at ways of reducing their waste, so it’s good that we have companies like Oceantee, who help in the playing of golf becoming more sustainable.”
For its efforts, Oceantee became the first ever sports brand to be recognized by the Global Good Awards in September. It won in the Best Start-up category after judges said the “sector [was] long overdue for innovation.” One judge likened bamboo tees to a recent shift in plastic straw usage.
Bamboo tees are just the tip of the iceberg. Sandison said more than 95 percent of golf apparel contains virgin plastics, such as elastane, nylon and polyester. Oceantee plans on rolling out clothing made from textile innovations that are, ultimately, biodegradable. All the clothing names are dubbed after endangered sea creatures.
Sandison has structured Oceantee to also focus on outreach programs. Eco-friendly partnerships have formed with England’s Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), Ladies European Tour (LET), the European Tour’s Oman Open and the Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Swing.
Additionally, Oceantee developed a rapport with the GEO Foundation, which aims to champion environment, climate and community actions across women’s golf.
Moreover, Oceantee signed on as a PGA partner and headline sponsor of the new-look Women’s Professional Golf Association (WPGA) Series to help grow the women’s game. And last May, the PGA National Pro-Am Championship — Europe’s largest pro-am — announced Oceantee would be the tournament’s official supplier.
At the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open in August, Oceantee teamed up with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to hold workshops that explored Scottish marine wildlife and the effects of litter on Largo Bay’s white sandy beaches prior to the tournament.
Going forward, Sandison said Oceantee and the MCS will continue providing educational opportunities to golf clubs and tournaments.
Outreach endeavors appear to be working. LET player and Sky Sports Golf on-course presenter Inci Mehmet admitted she knew little about sustainability until an Oceantee Instagram post caught her attention.
“It comes down to how much people know,” Mehmet said. “If you don’t know what all of us can do, then you can never act on it and be proactive. The first step is education, then getting those messages out.
“We all know the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words.’ I want to learn; I want to know what I can do better to be a role model for the next generation and others who love the game of golf.”
Sandison echoed that. Sounding more convincing than any infomercial ad, he doubled down.
“If I need to ruffle some feathers to get dialogue going about the environment, guilty as charged,” he said. “The environment is everyone’s responsibility. Golf is one of the few sports where you’re invading nature and leaving an imprint. There is no doubt golfers, all golfers, can and should lead the charge for conservation and change.”