Castle Stuart Director of Golf Jeremy Matte is spending much of January in his native US promoting the course and the wider Highlands to potential visitors and taking the best ideas from other clubs back to Scotland.
In this blog, Jeremy, who is travelling hundreds of miles, touring golf facilities in South Carolina and Florida, details his initial few dates.
MAKING MY PITCH FOR CASTLE STUART IN THE US
My first highlight was a visit to Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. I was hosted by dear friends, Bob and Beverly Chell, to whom my wife and I became extremely close while working at Carnegie Abbey in Newport RI and Beverly actually married Carrie and I back in 2007.
It was a fantastic golfing experience on the Arnold Palmer design. It was great to catch up with Scott Hunter, the Director of Golf, who we met at the 2016 PGA show and who also brought a group of Wexford members to Castle Stuart later that same year. Also interesting to meet the teaching professional, James Scales who, like myself, moved country back in 2009, when he went from Ireland to the USA.
For me, the biggest revelation from the day came in the golfing experience. I can’t recall playing many Arnold Palmer designs previously, so I feel I went into the round with a pretty open mind. I really enjoyed the overall layout of the course and found some similarities to the design philosophies that Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse had at Castle Stuart. Wexford Plantation, even from the medal tees, isn’t overly difficult/penal off the tee – and variable pin positions can be a consideration when choosing a line to the fairway.
What was even more intriguing was the green complexes and specifically the surrounds. Most American courses use bunkers as the first, second and third line of defence around the greens. This is not the case at Wexford Plantation, a 2011 redesign by the Arnold Palmer Design Co where generally there is only a single bunker around the green. With large runoff areas, tightly mown, for bail out areas around a majority of the greens – somewhat similar to the style that you and I have grown accustomed to playing at Castle Stuart, where greenside bunkering is not the main line of defence.
Wexford Plantation, and its course design, certainly has an appreciation for the art of recovery and options around the green. While I chose to pitch the ball on most occasions, mostly due to softer/lusher playing surfaces than we experience in Scotland, my playing partner (and dear friend Tristan Mouligne) often made the choice of putting the ball from off the greens – not the norm with American designed courses. So, certainly the appreciation from a design aspect of options and engagement that we talk about regularly with Mark’s works at both Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart.
To me it was obvious that APDC have an appreciation for the creative and recovery aspect of the game of golf.
A visit to Secession Golf Club, in Beaufort South Carolina, is special and you can feel it the moment you drive onto the property. After an introduction by Sandy Grant of Tulloch Homes – a corporate client at Castle Stuart and member at Secession – I was a guest of the PGA Director of Golf, Mike Harmon – or the “Old Pro” as he’s referred to by the members for the past 27 years and is stated on his parking spot.
The one thing that stood out to me was that Secession is a golf club that understands what it is, and sticks to that identity. Pure golf; No homes, no carts, caddies for everyone. In my travels I’ve found that the best clubs know what they are and stick close to what that is. Not trying to be everything to everyone.
This reminded me how lucky I’ve been to be part of the Castle Stuart team since we opened in 2009. In that relatively short period we’ve not wavered on who we are, and what our identity is. A golf course that can test the best, but is playable for the rest. A clubhouse full of staff that offers great service in a relaxed and inviting setting. Some would say ‘professionally casual’ – you’ll be well looked after but without the formalities of white gloves or jacket & ties.
A lesson for all of us working in the golf industry – and certainly one I was reminded of on this visit.