This year’s R&A Greenkeeping Scholars pilgrimage to Askernish Golf Club on the Western Isles of Scotland brought a piece of modern technology to a course that has been founded on low input management. Scholar, Craig Cameron, brought his Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone, with him on the trip and produced some wonderful footage of this remarkable golf course.
Craig and the other scholars that made the trip; Colm Daly, Simon Dexter, Gavin Jones, Tom Freeman, Josh Webber, Aaron Winfield, Tom Wood, enjoyed a week packed with education and the opportunity to experience playing Askernish in sun, wind and rain!
Johanne Ferguson, Scottish Natural Heritage’s Operations Manager for the Western Isles, provided the scholars with a fascinating insight into the precious machair habitat in which the golf course sits and its close relationship with local crofting.
Allan MacDonald, Head (and only full-time) Greenkeeper at Askernish, provided information on the business of running the club, which was put into the island context by Huw Francis, Chief Executive of Stòras Uibhist, a social enterprise owning and managing the islands of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist on behalf of the community.
Allan also ran through the basic maintenance programme which is bringing about a year on year improvement of the course, particularly the putting surfaces. Whilst green speed measured in at a slow, by modern standards, 6 foot 6 inches, the Holing Out Test demonstrated great reliability and the likelihood of holing putts from up to 9 feet being 9 out of 10.
Sustainable golf course design was the remit of Tom Mackenzie, Partner in the Mackenzie & Ebert course design team and current President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA). The scholars were given a challenging exercise of designing a three-hole layout to land at the north end of the existing course, with some excellent results.
The annual trip to Askernish is now an established and highly anticipated highlight of the R&A greenkeeping scholarship programme. Whilst course maintenance may be basic, the quality of the course is extremely high and a visit brings the message home that given a good foundation, management of golf courses does not have to be intensive or overly expensive.