James Hutchison, Castle Stuart head green keeper
We’re just two weeks away from re-opening for the 2018 season, and the green keeping staff have completed a number of projects on the course.
One of the biggest undertakings each year is gorse management and over the last three months a team of four staff has been working on cutting back the area of gorse on the course. It’s not the most glamorous part of the job, but it is an essential task to control the plant from spreading and for the overall look of the site.
In all we have seven staff working during the close season. Joining us this year is Ethan Ramsay who started his green keeping apprenticeship in January and will be mixing his time on the course with studying for Scottish vocational qualifications in sports turf maintenance at SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College, in Fife.
Ethan was well known to us, having spent time at Castle Stuart on work experience and was also part of the bunker squad during the 2016 Scottish Open and he is already proving to be a valuable member of the team.
The most obvious change returning players will notice when we re-open on 23 March is on the practice area where we’ve filled in the front bunker. The change was necessary as we felt that, with the bunker where it was, golfers were being encouraged over to the left side of the chipping area to practise, rather than pitching over the bunker.
The left side of the area was, therefore, being worn out with divots rather than the wear being spread over the whole area. With no front bunker, we hope the full area will get used. By the time the course re-opens, we will have also re-shaped the bunker at the back of the chipping green.
Some bunkers on the course have also been give a facelift. Reveted bunkers usually have a lifespan of about five years and we are carrying out repairs on seven bunkers which have suffered general wear and tear. Those players with an eye for detail can spot the upgrades on holes, 2, 3, 5, 15 and 17.
Another small but noticeable change is the tarring of the path from the clubhouse to the starter’s hut. This not only makes the approach to the first tee look nicer, it also makes it easier for players with buggies and trollies and prevents loose stones from migrating on to the practice putting green.
Other work includes new rubber mats on walkways between some greens and tees, aeration of all the tees, greens and fairways and top-dressing fairways, while all the fairways have also been verti-drained and a few new drains put in around the course.
The team has also been trimming and re-planting heather. When we opened the course, heather from the Dava Moor was translocated to Castle Stuart and it has helped attract bees to the area.
This is part of a strategy to protect and enhance the ecology of the site which is in a sensitive environmental area. However, with careful husbandry, which includes using the least amount of pesticides and chemicals on the course, we can safeguard and enhance the wildlife around Castle Stuart.
The reward for this is seeing species such as deer at the 5th hole, sand martins making nests on the 13th and being able to see seals, oyster catchers and heron on the shore, as well as badgers, owls, falcons and even sea eagles.
There’s a lot more than just golfers on the course, and our work is aimed at looking after every user.