The hickory experience at Kingarrock Golf Course, only 10 miles from St Andrews, takes you on a journey back in time to the 1920’s and 30’s when life, and golf, were played somewhat differently to today. Curator David Anderson, tells the remarkable story of the Sharp family, who were passionate about the game of golf, to the point of having a 9-hole course built in the grounds of their estate. The course was abandoned in 1939 to support the war effort and was used for crop growing or animal grazing until David, with assistance from top amateur golfer and course architect Peter McEvoy, resurrected it in 2002. Kingarrock Golf Course re-opened for the first time in over 70 years on the 28th June 2008.“
Kingarrock Golf Course re-opened for the first time in over 70 years on the 28th June 2008
This is, however, no conventional 9-hole golf course. Play is restricted to the use of hickory clubs and there is a minimum one hour gap between tee times, so that visitors can enjoy the same sense of solitude on the course that was given to the Sharp family’s house guests.
All players are provided with original hickory clubs, an old golf bag, with balls and tees that represent the early 20th century golfing experience. The former Sharp family home, Hill of Tarvit mansionhouse watches over play. The entire estate is now operated by the National Trust for Scotland and visitors can tour the house and grounds, as well as participating in croquet and golf ‘games’ on the lawn and testing their hickory skills on what David fondly refers to as “the field”.
“The field” is somewhat more than an open area of grass. It is completely recognisable as a 9-hole golf course, with a few twists. Lone greenkeeper, Colin Smith, is very protective of the way the course is cared for – and the fact that playing conditions reflect the ‘period’ theme, rather than the highly manicured look that is currently in favour. There are weeds on the greens. There are weeds on the fairways. This does not matter, it is all part of the hickory experience in which hundreds of golfers have been thrilled to partake. Kingarrock adheres as best as it can to 1920’s course maintenance practices. Very old gang mowers that were pulled by horses cut the fairways and no chemicals are used. Top dressing consists of mole hills collected from inside the perimeter of the field, burned with dead wood from the estate to 100 degrees Centigrade and, once cool, hand-shovelled onto the greens. The first ever dusting of nitrogen fertiliser has just been applied.
Kingarrock is more than a working museum of golf. It is a test-bed for past practices which may have a place in the increasingly regulated world in which we now live. Perhaps the best example of this is been the use of a plant, yellow rattle, to help manage areas of dense grassland rough. This is a ‘parasitic’ plant that taps into the roots of grasses and clover, which can be beneficial for wildflowers as the yellow rattle reduces the competitiveness of the coarser grasses. Yellow rattle is hemi-parasitic, in that it can photosynthesise and produce its own food but relies on host plants for water and minerals. Yellow rattle seed is now harvested at the end of the summer, dried and stored to be sown out to other areas of the course.
David receives advice and support from the Scottish Golf Environment Group, and they suggested using yellow rattle and have worked with Kingarrock on other conservation projects.
Always looking for opportunities to increase wildlife in “the field”, a pond was dug out three years ago and this has now become a haven for wetland plants and animals. There are plans to improve the pond by getting a source of slowly running water to it. When the course was created, a 200-year old underground cundy (a stone-lined box drain) was opened and repaired. This now forms a wonderful feature crossing the carry to the par 3, 7th hole. Plans are in place to divert the cundy so that water flows into the pond, which will oxygenate the water and reduce the risk of algal blooms.
The Kingarrock Golf Course serves many purposes and its value as a wildlife sanctuary is now on record following a BioBlitz event, run by Fife Nature Records Centre, which saw surveys taken of the flowering plant and insect populations across the estate. This ‘snapshot’ was taken on 29 July 2013. 22 species of flowering plant and 23 insects (18 of these being moths) were counted. The moth traps on the golf course held the highest number of individual moths. A further survey, covering a broader range of animals, is likely to take place in 2014.
There is a lot happening at Kingarrock, and much we can learn from as regulation and cost impact on how we manage golf courses.
“The field” at Hill of Tarvit is a greenkeeping relic, a taste of past times, but it is also a test bed for long-forgotten practices that can play a role in modern course management.
More than anything, hickory golf is great fun!