Stuart McColm, general manager, Castle Stuart Golf Links
Managing a golf course is about caring for the non-paying users as well as those visitors who hand over green fees.
Castle Stuart has earned a reputation for sustainable and environmentally-friendly course management, which has brought us awards from bodies such as GEO (Golf Environment Organization), but also rewards such as an abundance of wildlife.
Our careful husbandry of a sensitive area has seen us create and develop a course to European Tour standards on a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation which is home to everything from bees to bats and otters to ospreys. Because of this we have limited the use of pesticides and chemicals and encouraged habitats which help the general ecosystem.
The Highland climate means there can be wild fluctuations in temperatures and conditions and, therefore, the course and the habitats it supports has to be managed accordingly. Our new head greenkeeper James Hutchison, who has been with us since the course was under construction, is passionate about developing the course in a way that suits our human and non-human users.
Other courses face similar challenges, albeit it in different conditions, as we found out recently when we hosted the latest event in the Leading Edge series of conferences. The event brought together a number of course and club managers to look at the difficulties and successes of running golf clubs in challenging conditions worldwide.
The Al Mouj Golf resort in Muscat, Oman, has temperatures of over 40C every day from April to September, which presents a different working environment to that of Castle Stuart.
The Championship course, designed by Greg Norman, which hosts the NBO Classic and European Challenge Tour Final: ‘Road to Oman’, was GEO certified this year.
It is on the migratory flight path for birds between Africa and Asia-Europe and of the 500-plus species of birds identified in Oman, 174 species have been confirmed at Al Mouj Golf since December 2011.
Steve Johnson, the course superintendent, described how this 247-acre site includes 98 acres of irrigated fine turf, requiring 2,200 sprinkler heads and six 500 gallon-per-minute pumps.
Staff are working to change a number of tee areas from the open clean-cut design of the original construction to a more natural set up in line with the rest of the course. This has not only reduced maintenance to a minimum, but has also cut water, fertilizer, chemicals, machinery, fuel and man hours costs and encouraged more wildlife.
Similar varieties of plants used elsewhere on the course were transplanted and care was taken to plant them as natural looking as possible. After just six weeks, a bird’s egg was spotted at the newly-altered 11th tee and a few days later a baby grey francolin was hatched.
So, like at Castle Stuart, the work has definitely benefited birds and insects by creating additional habitat and has also saved the course money and manpower, which has been used elsewhere.
The Leading Edge event, held in conjunction with GEO and Jacobsen, also heard from director Paul Armitage about the work continuing on Le Golf National, venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup and 2024 Olympic golf tournament.
Paul stressed the need for golf courses to adapt to suit changing markets and to create resorts that combine sport, nature and a friendly atmosphere, with sustainability one of the key factors in its growth.
As course managers we strive to make golf courses as attractive, playable and accessible as possible for golfers, but we also have a wider duty to safeguard and, where possible, enhance the environment in which we work.
The Leading Edge event also included contributions from David Roy, a past president of the Club Managers Association of Europe; Dr Thom Nikolai, renowned professor of turfgrass agronomy at Michigan State University; and David Withers, former president and CEO of Jacobsen.