Each year, The R&A organises a field study trip to Askernish, the rediscovered Old Tom Morris designed course on South Uist, for its greenkeeping scholars. Askernish is a links situated on the west coast of the island, in amongst the machair – an important habitat for a vast and colourful array of wild flowers and pollinators. The course is managed on a limited budget, but provides a notable and enjoyable golfing challenge. The Askernish experience is, more often than not, the antithesis of the type of course the scholars are used to working on. The week involves expert-led sessions on the environment, course design, greenkeeping and business, all focussed around The R&A’s advocacy of sustainable course development and management.
21 September 2014 saw seven scholars arriving at Benbecula Airport, accompanied by Steve Isaac (Director – Golf Course Management at The R&A), Stewart Brown (Team Leader - Sportsturf and Mechanisation at Myerscough College) and Dr Paul Miller (Lecturer, SRUC Elmwood Campus). Through the week, they were joined by Johanne Ferguson (Operations Manager for the Outer Hebrides for Scottish Natural Heritage), Tom Mackenzie (Partner at the golf course architect firm
Mackenzie and Ebert Ltd and Vice-President of EIGCA), Huw Francis (Chief Executive of Stòras Uibhist, the community company) and Allan MacDonald (Head Greenkeeper at Askernish Golf Club and a former scholar himself).
Johanne Ferguson explained the importance of the machair ecosystem and its unique biodiversity, which has, in part, evolved as a consequence of crofting practices. Her local knowledge, and the fact that she is herself a crofter, provided a fascinating insight into the environment of the island. The acceptance of the golf course within this special environment brought home the message that golf and nature can happily co-exist.“
The golf course architecture session provided scholars with the opportunity to show their design talents
Allan MacDonald told the group about how Askernish was maintained with extremely low inputs, including no irrigation and the only pesticide applied to the site being three herbicide treatments to the greens since the course was restored in 2007. Huw Francis put the Askernish project into the context of the community company’s activities, including the development of a new £10 million marina at nearby Lochboisdale.
The golf course architecture session, with Tom Mackenzie, provided scholars with the opportunity to show their design talents, with them being asked to produce a layout of three new holes to form a loop joining the existing location of the 4th green back to the 5th tee.
Greenkeeping day saw exercises in putting surface assessment, ranking of parameters considered important objectives in golf course management, sustainability and the relevance of the Askernish experience to modern greenkeeping. This led one of the scholars, Alastair MacGadie to comment:
“I have learnt so much, the trip has given me a whole new perspective to greenkeeping and my general cultural practices at work.”
The entire week was thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated by the scholars; Oliver Grice-Hewitt, Daniel Karlsson, Alastair MacGadie, Dwane Martin, John Reid, Liam Rowlands and David Thompson. They clearly grasped the purpose of the trip, as in response to a question during a summing-up session about what they would do to “improve” the Askernish golf course, David Thompson said “Nothing. Nothing at all. Askernish and South Uist is a special place.”
Paul Miller, on his fifth Field Study to Askernish, believes this education experience is of real value to the scholars, reflecting that “this trip opens up possibilities for the scholars which they may not have considered previously. It is a highlight of my year, with the trip and the scholarship programme getting better each year.”
The R&A is committed to supporting greenkeeper education and the Askernish Field Study is just one of the opportunities available to its scholars. Read this brochure about the Greenkeeping Scholarship Programme to learn more.