Eight R&A Greenkeeping Scholars, with tutors from Myerscough and SRUC Elmwood Colleges, spent a week in September on South Uist learning how different a business it can be running a golf course on a very tight budget. Their experiences up to this point have been based on reasonably well-resourced facilities, and some have worked at prestigious and high end courses. Their time at Askernish Golf Club put a whole new perspective on how they view sustainable course management.
The week’s education provision started with environmental and social issues, with the Area Operations Manager for Scottish Natural Heritage, Johanne Ferguson, giving a fantastic insight into the importance of the machair habitat and the way that the golf course is managed to protect it and to fit in with other local land uses, such as crofting.
The business of greenkeeping and club operation gave Allan MacDonald (Head Greenkeeper and book-keeper at Askernish) the opportunity to expose Scholars to the reality of extreme rural existence. Allan described the finances of the golf club itself and put its wider financial contribution to the local economy into perspective. Being an island setting anyone coming for golf almost always stays for one or two nights, thus boosting local accommodation and food and beverage providers.
Tom Mackenzie, of Mackenzie & Ebert golf course architects, explained the importance of design to the sustainability agenda and gave the Scholars a chance to design three holes out on the site; one that has many alternative holes waiting to be discovered in amongst the natural dunescape.
Paul Miller (SRUC Elmwood) and Andy Owen (Myerscough) brought the week’s formal education to a conclusion with an interactive session which clearly showed that the Scholars had absorbed all they had heard and seen through the week, and how they might apply aspects of it to a less resource-limited situation.
Playing the course through their time on the island made all involved appreciate that whilst rustic in appearance, Askernish is able to serve up a challenging golf experience with very reliable, if not fast, putting surfaces. Jezz Ellwood, a journalist from Golf Monthly, accompanied the Scholars for part of the trip. He last visited Askernish five years ago and was impressed with how the course had progressed.
Feedback from the Scholars on their trip was hugely positive, with one remarking: “One of the most important and enjoyable weeks of my professional career. Can I come back next year?”
The annual trip to Askernish is part of the added value that an R&A Scholarship brings to greenkeeper education.